Long Fall — Chapter 28

Time for some rapid-fire storytelling. Today in Biotech Legacy: Long Fall, we’re taking a look at two chapters; first up is Chapter 28: Space Commando, which you may recognize from its recent, neatly packaged release as part of Out in the Styx.

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.

Let’s go!

Chapter 28
Space Commando

“This is the personal log of Crewman Larry Hopkins, assigned to the Interplanetary Shuttle Beagle, Legacy Fleet. If you’re listening to this recording, then I’m already dead.”

Larry jogged down a long corridor lit by flashing red bulbs. Unlike the Eireki ships, this outpost wasn’t really biological at all, and its interior seemed as slipshod and barebones as a dockside warehouse. It reminded Larry of where he spent most of his childhood, and consequently, he couldn’t stand the place.

He stopped short of an intersection and gave each side-tunnel a tactical peek. Both sides were as clear as his intestines after a curry lunch.

He moved on. “While on mission to repair an automated defense outpost, the machinery here detected an enemy vessel and opened fired, but some of its malfunctioning system blew out in the process. This left my team and I stranded inside the facility, and being the only one with the requisite skills, I took it upon myself to cross the base and release us from this latest predicament.”

He thought about his teammates with a sneer. They both deserved to rot in Hell, but the Legacy Fleet was badly in need of heroes. Detailing the crap-show idiot circus that went on aboard The Beagle wouldn’t help anyone.

“I’ve encountered the intruder twice now, and narrowly avoided detection both times thanks to some clever application of emergency hardware. I tapped into the backbone network and have occasionally been able to track the invader’s movements by the surges it causes in the power grid.”

He turned a corner and arrived at a non-operational lift. Following Fleet Protocol 286.C, he removed the access panel, keyed in the maintenance code, and engaged emergency power-up procedure. One green light turned on, then another, and a third.

“Bingo,” Larry said. He could hear the distant lift grind into motion far above him, and he triggered doors all over the floor to mask the sound. Then he settled in for what would be an interminably long five-minute wait.

“This thing that’s in here with us… I don’t know what it is. I barely saw it both times, and all I caught were glimpses and impressions. A single red-eye set off to the side. A hand with fingers like daggers. Footsteps as loud as a garbage truck.”

He took a deep breath and tried not to shudder. Then he said, “But whatever the heck it is, it moves like a man.”

He checked his phone’s display and found four minutes left on the countdown. This dead-end would be a particularly gruesome place to die, backed into the corner with no escape, and no choice but to watch his murderer approach. And what did he have to defend himself with? Nothing but a winning smile.

He thought he’d only lost himself in daydream for an instant, but the lift’s noisy arrival snapped him out of it. The doors slid open and Larry Hopkins eagerly stepped inside.

The metal coffin’s doors closed, and he looked over the keypad. The nearest external access hatch was on the upper maintenance decks, which meant he should take the lift up to Environmental Control and then climb the last two half-levels. But there was another option…

A label reading Security Station stared him in the face. Taking a side trip there would probably constitute refusal of a direct order before the courts martial, but in Larry’s defense, those orders were issued by a certifiable jack-ass… nevermind the fact he’d volunteered for it.

He punched the Security Station button and the lift began its ascent while he checked his phone and discovered he’d lost track of the invader completely. Troubling news. There was also a message from Nils, and Larry decided to leave it unopened for the time being.

He flicked his recorder back on. “I can’t help but think about the astronomical phenomenon we witnessed on the way here. What kind of force could cause such a vast field of space to light up like that? Was that the harbinger of this thing’s arrival?”

The lift lurched to a halt and the keypad blinked. Larry tapped in his access code and the doors slid open revealing another tunnel like the last. If it weren’t for his preternatural ability to navigate samey looking hallways, he’d have been lost an hour ago. It was just as well that neither of the two cowards had volunteered for the mission.

In the absence of good intel, Larry dashed down the corridor from one tactical position to the next. He surveyed quickly, scanned wall-markings that directed him to his goal, and moved with purpose.

Despite what a hateful, loathsome experience his imprisonment aboard the Copernicus Observatory had been, he nevertheless appreciated the twenty-five kilos it stripped off him. It’d certainly made him more fleet of foot.

It didn’t take long to reach the outpost’s meagre armory, which was little more than a closet with a double-sized lock on the door like something out of a cartoon. He entered the captain’s security code on the panel (Marco used his birthday… idiot), and tried not to grin too psychotically when the door opened with a click.

Inside, he found five Lancer carbines in a charging rack. The weapons looked like traditional rifles artfully melted into smooth shapes, with tips that came to a flat edge like a chisel. He snatched one from the rack and slung it over his shoulder by its strap.

Next, he took a defensive field projector. The magnetic device could deflect small-caliber bullets, and had proven even more effective against particle weapons in testing. In testing. He affixed the hexagonal puck to his skinsuit’s chest-plate and continued to scavenge.

Next he slipped on a grenade belt, took a demolition charge that looked rather like a throwing disc with a trademarked name, and then finally grabbed a red key hanging on a chain. That was used to engage the station’s self-destruct, a move he bitterly hoped would be unnecessary.

His phone beeped and another message from Nils started to collect cobwebs. Larry engaged the recorder instead.

“During the course of my mission, I’ve chosen to requisition small arms under Fleet Ordinance 67-K. I don’t know if these will help at all, but I’m grateful for whatever defense I can get. The fate of the whole solar system could be at stake.”

He shut the locker door, turned, and heard a metallic crunch. His heart raced as he unslung the carbine, crouched and aimed down the corridor.

A single bead of sweat rolled down the soft contours of his face. He never blinked.

No other noise came.

Larry flicked open his phone’s control panel and checked the power grid; the facility appeared as a glowing wireframe with power nodes marked as red orbs. One pulsed brightly on the level below, then the next, and another.

The creature must have tunneled through six floors.

Larry didn’t have time to think. The node beneath him began to burn brightly, and he knew it was time to move.

It was a shame to lose the demolition charge so quickly. He grabbed the platter-like device, set it to Anti-Vehicle with a thirty-second delay, then slapped it on the floor and ran. He dialed down his boots’ magnetic attraction as he went, allowing him to spring further off the floor and lengthen his stride, then turned them off completely and rocketed through the air.

The charge went boom.

He hit the far wall feet first, turned the magnets back on and sprinted down a side tunnel toward safety. Shrapnel peppered the place where he’d just stood, and he heard a furious roar like a lion made of rusted iron.

He crouched again—still standing on what logically should have been a wall—and waited. His posture was a perfect replication of the diagram on page 86 of the Legacy Fleet Training Manual, and the air inside his helmet smelled of testosterone and anger.

An aluminum eagle screamed.

Larry Hopkins steeled himself.

A shape appeared at the corner cloaked in billowing smoke, its hand gripping a wall which crumpled under its taloned fingers. The clouds parted and the thing’s twisted head looked at him. It was like a deformed and lopsided face obscenely overgrown with muscles, and its single off-center eye burned as bright and red as a firework about to explode.

Larry opened fire.

A yellow beam of excited particles glowed and glittered in the smoke-choked air. The superheated beam struck the creature’s rippling shoulder and washed off, in patterns like ragged flaps of cellophane fluttering in the wind.

It tilted its head to the side.

“Screw you,” Larry snarled.

The creature coiled back, letting out a low and throaty growl as it did.

This wasn’t how these things ever went in Larry’s imagination. There always seemed to be more time in his dreams, while reality just kept dashing forward without a break.

He slapped the carbine’s mode-selector and switched to full power, which Fleet protocol reserved for only the most dire situations. He began to fire a barrage of short blasts with one hand, and reached for a grenade with the other.

Each bolt knocked the vile creature backward like a rioter struck over and over with batons. As it stumbled, Larry stopped firing long enough to pull the grenade’s pin and throw.

He raised the carbine back up and held the trigger down, scoring the ceiling, walls and floor with particle fire. Then he ran.

The creature let out a squeal of annoyance, then the grenade went off with a sharp crack that gave Larry an instant head-ache. After that, he heard the tunnel collapse in on itself with a crunch.

He kept running at full steam. His thighs were beginning to burn, but he needed more distance. That’d buy him time, which he could hopefully turn into strategy. If this thing was still alive (and he was sure it was), then small arms clearly wouldn’t do the trick.

“Think, Larry… think,” he chanted as he rounded a corner. What the heck could slow this beast down? If only he had a wrecking ball handy…

He might’ve had the next best thing.

For a moment, the idea of turning tail and running occurred to him. He could probably make it to the hatch and out onto the surface if he booked it, but Marco had been wrong; the safety of The Beagle wasn’t the most important thing. Their primary directive was to protect the Fleet. Everything else was secondary… even their lives.

Larry circled around and found the tunnel that the creature had dug up through the floor, then he hopped inside, bouncing from one level to the next until he came to the artillery shaft. Once on the ground, he hurried off toward the massive Faraday cage that enclosed the outpost’s main weapon.

In blatant disregard of Fleet Maintenance Standards, Item 21, Subsection 4, he did not engage the cannon’s safety before entering the enclosure.

The interior was dark. There were no emergency lights lining the walls, nor windows out to the starry night.

He activated his helmet’s active IR laser, and his phone built a replica of the scene. It revealed a tunnel covered in equipment, densely packed circuitry, flat electromagnetic discs, power conduits. The curved ceiling above was a huge piston used to push a projectile into place before firing, and Larry just so happened to be standing in the cannon’s barrel.

He wove his way through the waist-high machinery and came to a small clearing. There, he dialed down his magnetic boots again and proceeded to leap from alcove to alcove, all the way to the piston’s base.

He reengaged his boots when he got there and walked the last few meters, carefully stepping over a mazework of hoses, cables, and things that looked eager to stab through a skinsuit.

Then Larry stopped, took a look around and decided this was his spot. He activated the recorder. “This may well be my final entry,” he said. “Although I’ve been recording this log near whisper, I’ve come to believe the invader is following the sound of my voice… which is precisely why I’m speaking right now. With a little luck, he’ll take the bait.”

He checked his Lancer carbine and found the battery at sixty-percent. He set it to armor piercing mode, which fired bolts that were more tightly focused but required a half-second to recharge in between. The battery wouldn’t last long, so he’d have to make each shot count.

“If someone finds this,” he said, “I just want to tell you… uhh… that I love the Fleet with all my heart. I never really saw much to fight for in the world before, but this mission… Well, I’m proud just to have been a part of it.”

He heard a series of angry shouts. The alien bastard wasn’t one for subtlety.

He ducked behind a mechanism the size of a kitchen island and waited, rifle hot and ready to fire. He listened as the stalking monster stepped slowly through electronic bramble, stumbling every so often and growling with frustration.

Larry waited and breathed, and the time came.

In a smooth sweep, he stood, turned and opened fire. Zap, zap, zap. Each blast shattered the creature’s hardened skin like an egg shell, knocking shards off in a spray.

The thing leaned forward, flexed its hideous muscles and curled its bladed fingers. Its knotted head twisted upward and it bellowed low like the devil’s own steed.

The monstrous man lurched forward, sweeping steel equipment out of its way like dry brush, its crooked, hateful eye trained on Larry Hopkins the way a Komodo dragon stared at its next meal.

Larry put his crosshairs on that eye and fired, but the bolt went wide and glanced off an armored ring that surrounded it.

But it nevertheless knocked the beast off balance. In the next breath, he opened his phone’s interface, engaged the gargantuan cannon’s diagnostic routine, and watched with glee.

The glee faded quickly as nothing at all happened. He hastily skimmed through the system log in search of an error, while at the same time watching his dreaded foe shake off the blow and continue its charge.

His eyes locked. Power Failure. Reroute through contingency grid? Warning: May be hazardous if undiagnosed…

He skipped the rest and hit Yes, then aimed and resumed fire.

Lights in red and orange lit up in long strips for a half-kilometer into the tunnel’s distance. Meanwhile, he aimed for the rampaging invader’s throat and squeezed the trigger.

The blast landed true and the beast wailed. Another heart-beat later, the piston slammed down. The impact blew destroyed equipment into the air, and Larry barely had time to duck behind cover before the shrapnel struck all around.

Bits of broken hardware and metal shavings drifted by, settling slowly in the low gravity. He stood up and looked at the ruined weapon, and suddenly realized how the earlier shot had knocked everything off-line: the piston wasn’t supposed to come down quite like that.

He called it a lucky accident, and made his escape while thanking God for having mercy on him. He wasn’t sure whether the impact had killed his enemy, and frankly, he didn’t much care. That last attack was just about the best he could muster, and it’d bought him all the time currently for sale.

As he climbed through one of the many gates in the cannon’s protective cage, he noticed another notification light blinking. It was another message from Nils.

Larry sighed and opened it.

“Hey Hop. Hoping you’re outside, man. Sounds like this fucking thing is tearing the place to pieces. Haven’t heard back from you, so I’ll just assume you forgot how to open your mail program again, because… yeah. Just hoping that’s the case. Gimme a call, and stay sharp.”

“Stay sharp, Nils” Larry said to the air, and continued on his way.

Next up (in hopefully just a few minutes) will be Chapter 29: After These Messages…


Copyright 2013. All rights (currently) reserved.


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