It’s still Monday, right? Wait… Tuesday, you say? What the devil?
Well then, must be time for another piece of Biotech Legacy: Long Fall. Let’s have a look at Chapter 32: Complex Messiah, shall we?
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? Time to get expository.
Marcus Donovan opened his eyes.
He was on Retriever’s bridge, a small compartment lit in yellow with the remarkable disc of the Moon filling the forward view. The shuttle quickly approached the many-kilometer-long green dragon called Legacy, who sat motionless in the starry sky.
Marcus cleared his throat and said, “Jack Hernandez made contact with Legacy again.”
Rao turned away and fiddled with his hands while St. Martin asked, “Is he alright?”
“Seems to be. Legacy thinks she managed to repair whatever she broke the first time.”
There was more but he couldn’t figure out how to describe it. Jack had touched Marcus’ mind with a light touch, communicated with him and plucked out his recent memories like a child snatching dandelions. It occurred across a connection to Legacy that Marcus struggled to understand, revealing just how little he really understood about Legacy’s kind and the Eireki. They were a matched set, capable of a bond more profound than his own glitchy interface allowed, and he would never have it.
He curbed his jealousy. “When we get back, we should expect… Jesus, I’m not sure what to expect.” The words made him feel more than a little scared scared, and even more excited.
“Expect something,” Rao said. “Check.”
St. Martin simply nodded.
Marcus tried to relax, but the numerous bandages on his body wouldn’t permit it. His little stunt back in Amiasha had left him with fist-shaped divots missing all over his body, which had been eaten away by the rogue omnibodies before his viral code could infect them. They itched and stung, and he was going to be badly scarred when he healed. Leopard spotted.
Retriever flew into Legacy’s forward bay and set down on the shining pad. The shuttle’s rear ramp came down, and Marcus lifted himself up into the air and flew out while the others walked.
“Report directly to medical,” St. Martin said.
“I’m not running the show anymore,” Marcus replied. “Mr. Hernandez wants us to meet him in the projection room, and I’d recommend we do as he wishes.” With that, he zipped off into the transit tube and assumed the others would follow behind.
The tube deposited him in the round projection room. It was a domed chamber with concentric rings cut into the floor, each filled with fluid that glowed faintly blue. The fluid was an inert bioplasma doped with microscopic creatures which luminesced when excited.
Jack Hernandez stood on the far end of the room, wearing one of the white-and-cyan Legacy Fleet uniforms. He was still playing with the buttons and tugging on fabric to get it in place… the uniforms were usually custom tailored during fabrication, but he’d apparently grabbed a spare he found in a closet.
His sleeves were rolled up and Marcus noted that the bandages were gone from his arms. The wounds had healed enough that only reddish streaks remained on his olive-colored skin.
His face was gaunt, making his features sharper and more birdlike than seemed fitting. He had high cheekbones and a jutting chin, a nose that was long and mediterranean. Eyebrows were thick and bushy and his hair was still standing on end, the same as any psych patient who’d spent days tugging on it nonstop.
The look behind his eyes was one of exceptional calm, and Marcus wasn’t particularly surprised despite what Jack had been through. He’d felt it when Jack contacted him, strong and steady like a father’s guiding hand.
Marcus remained in the air and ducked his chin to Jack, who smiled and glanced to his partner, Kai. The alien stood silently by his side.
Rao and St. Martin arrived a few seconds later followed by Alex Faulkland, whose tightened jaw spoke volumes of his continuing displeasure.
“We have much to discuss,” Marcus said.
Jack gave him a knowing nod. Then he floated into the air and raised a gleaming fountain from the floor with a wave of his arm. The look on his face was one of wonder tempered only slightly by the constant worry everyone suffered since the invasion.
“Thank you all for coming,” Jack said. “This isn’t how I normally do… anything, really. But the situation’s changed.”
“Yeah,” Marcus said, “it always is.”
The misty air glittered and a thin simulacrum of smoke appeared in the air. Jack’s eyes flared and the smoke coalesced into an image which hovered in the center of the room. It was a planet eerily like Earth but with continents in all the wrong places, and it gleamed like a patchwork of emerald and sapphire.
“This,” Jack said, “is a recreation of the Nefrem homeworld as it looked about seventy million years ago. At the time, the Nefrem were a lot like us… technological, curious, self-possessed. Then the Biotech Revolution came and they took a hard turn to the left.”
“A war?” Marcus asked.
“No,” Jack said. “Simple technological progress. They made a series of discoveries in short order that allowed them to reshape living tissue into any form they desired, and their entire civilization changed practically overnight.”
Jack’s hologram rolled into motion, and their perspective slid across the planet’s surface. The forests and grasslands subtly reconfigured, no longer wild and untamed, but instead neatly ordered and spaced.
“Their first step was to rebuild their ecosystem, turning the world into their own ideal habitat. Every plant and animal was replaced with a more refined version, and the entire system worked together like a well-oiled machine.”
Jack worked his jaw for a second, apparently disturbed by the recollections recently planted in his brain. “Once that was done,” he said, “they turned their focus on themselves.”
The view approached one of the many massive cities, and came down on a street where thousands of humans went about their daily business. Even from a bird’s-eye view, Marcus could tell the people were all too similar, not identical but like one family somehow grown completely out of control.
Jack went on. “Nefrem culture transformed around this new order. They became obsessed with perfecting their genetic code through scientific experimentation, and within just a few generations, sexual reproduction was a memory.”
The image zoomed back out until the planet was just a small marble, spinning in the darkness around a yellow sun, and surrounded by several similarly sized siblings. Arrowheads darted out of the planet’s surface and struck those other worlds, which then became virtual clones of the original.
“Within a hundred years, they’d colonized the rest of their solar system and remade it in their own image,” Jack said. “It was during this period that they first discovered mind-to-mind communication, and the pressures of interplanetary expansion pushed the technology forward. It didn’t take long before all Nefrem were born with the ability, and a new kind of unshakable peace swept over their people.”
Jack wiped a spot of blood from his nose. “All the pieces were finally in place, and they believed themselves perfect. That’s what Nefrem means. But that’s the thing about perfection… what do you do once you’ve gotten hold of it?”
Things began to happen quickly. Artificial structures sprang up around the colonized planets, and vast frameworks were constructed out in space.
“Thanks to their telepathic abilities, ideas could spread throughout their civilization at a rate you wouldn’t believe… even the dangerous ones. This particular idea spread like wildfire, becoming the core of their conviction. They believed it was their divine duty to spread the perfect code across the universe, and their entire civilization bent itself to the cause.”
The furthest, darkest planet came into view. Jack said, “Well, not quite their entire civilization. One of the worlds had extensive indigenous life before their arrival and the colonists wiped it clean, but the experience reverberated through them. Their guilt caused a different philosophy to spring up… one that considered all life sacred… and they carefully hid it from the rest of their kind.”
New arrowheads launched from all of the other planets and surrounded the dimmest one.
“When they were found out, the rest of the Nefrem quickly moved to intervene. They tried to convince the dissenters, but it was no use. Their belief had grown powerful in seclusion, and even the weight of several billion minds couldn’t dissuade them. Then the Nefrem’s anger and disgust reached a breaking point, and as one, they decided to destroy the infection.”
The arrowheads began to glow and the surface of the planet roiled.
“The Nefrem fleet used a novel combination of traditional weaponry and their psychic abilities to assault the planet, and millions of colonists screamed and died in agony.”
A single shining disc climbed up from the planet’s surface and slipped past the firing line.
“But a precious few managed to escape.”
Some of the fleet turned to engage, but before their weapons could fire, the disc simply vanished.
“The Nefrem called these survivors heretics, and they vowed to destroy them no matter the cost. Their word for heretic was Eireki.“
The holographic display dimmed and disappeared, then the room’s lights came up. Marcus felt like he’d just been kicked in the face by a mule. “I don’t understand,” he said. “Legacy doesn’t know any of that. Where’s this information coming from?”
Jack shook his head, wearing an expression like a grad student tutoring a middle-school kid in chemistry. “These are Eireki memories which were hidden from her, folded up like origami swans she couldn’t open. They needed an Eireki consciousness to read them, and that could only happen through full communion. What you have through that link isn’t complete. It’s like the difference between calling someone on the phone and actually sitting with them in their house.”
The fact that this passed Marcus’ bullshit sniff-test really bothered him. It meant the unthinkable was probably true. “So, the Eireki are Nefrem.”
“And by extension,” St. Martin said, “so are we.”
Rao threw his arms up in the air and tried to speak, but didn’t manage to say anything. His cheeks turned red. Faulkland had the look of someone whose spare tire had just popped.
Jack was beginning to look a bit worn down, but he handled it gracefully. “After that, the Eireki wandered out into the stars and explored the galaxy, considering themselves students and stewards off all the life they found. One of their first discoveries was the Yuon Shien, a species native to the empty gulf between stars, and some of the Yuon Shien young were inspired to join the pilgrimage. They volunteered for genetic manipulation, and bonded with the Eireki as their living ships.
“A million years passed, and the Eireki thrived. They built a new homeworld and planted outposts throughout the surrounding wilderness like ranger stations. They kept an eye over everything in their domain and rescued whole ecosystems that were endangered by their environments. Then the Nefrem finally found them.”
Marcus was short on information, but his imagination could fill in the blanks. “I know the rest of this story, I think… the Nefrem were different, having turned their psychic weaponry into a choke-collar. Commanded by their living planet, they marched forth across the galaxy to eat everything and procreate.”
“That’s pretty much right,” Jack said. “And while their genes hadn’t changed in all that time, their philosophy had. It was no longer enough to fill the universe with their kind. They now believed that all life should spring from just one code. They wouldn’t rest until all things everywhere were Nefrem.”
Faulkland had his eyes pressed closed, and he looked to be doing long-division in his head. “Wait,” he said. “Didn’t the Nefrem have their own living ships? So there must be some other species.”
Marcus accessed a memory of a Nefrem cruiser, and he tried to analyze the shape. It didn’t resemble Legacy much at all but there was an odd familiarity about it. Features popped out at him and when he recognized them, it very nearly knocked the wind out of his chest. “The ships are human,” he said.
“How the fuck?” Faulkland said gracelessly.
Biology wasn’t Marcus’ field, and he struggled to find an explanation. That was why he had Juliette St. Martin on staff.
Behind her glasses, she squinted and said, “Epigenetics.” It took a few long seconds for her to put the picture together. “There must be much more to our genetic code than we ever thought possible. While gestating, they may be able to bring out different features in the fetus by altering its environment. Maybe something as simple as metering when certain hormones are introduced.”
“That’s not all,” Jack said. “They may be zealots, but the Nefrem are also very god damned smart. They record the code of everything they eat and use that information to design new organs, which are grown as mindless components. Those are combined with the genetically pure Nefrem to form hybrids.”
St. Martin had a grim sort of smile. “They create chimeras just to protect their fucking ideology,” she said. “It’s perverse.”
Very cleverly perverse, Marcus thought to himself. A foe with that sort of devotion would stop at nothing. He had no idea how to fight an enemy so totally alloyed to its beliefs, and the realization shook him.
To Marcus’ surprise, Kai spoke next. “What about the Oikeyans? They must factor into this somehow.”
Jack nodded. “The Eireki called this planet the Garden… the Oikeyan system, they called the Preserve. It’s where they took some of the species they rescued.”
“And my own people?” Kai asked. “How did we know about any of this?”
Jack looked apologetic as he said, “I don’t know.”
The alien seemed unaffected, but it was difficult to ever read his reactions. Marcus knew that if he’d been the one asking that question, he’d have felt very let down.
For his own part, though, Marcus felt more charged up than he had in a long time. His brain fired into action, and broke clean of the exhaustion that had been wracking him these past few years. “The Yuon Kwon must be some kind of evolutionary off-shoot from the Yuon Shien.”
“Must be,” Jack agreed. “I don’t know a lot about them either, but the name’s certainly a clue… and the fact they can link with us, of course.”
“That’s amazing,” St. Martin said. “Even with random mutation, the same pathways remain functional after so many million years.”
Jack shut his eyes for a moment. When he opened them again, he spoke. “You have to understand how the Eireki operated. They didn’t just tinker with an animal and call it a day… they modified everything in order to build a single cohesive mechanism. Plants, fungi, viruses… It all worked to a common purpose.”
St. Martin nodded. “The parts modify and influence one another, promoting or protecting whichever genes the Eireki desired. I get it.”
“Using those techniques, I think they may’ve hidden something for us,” Jack said. “The way Felix changed after we bonded… It just had to be their doing. They wanted us here now, working together.”
All Marcus could think of was the battle raging down on the surface. “If cooperation was what the they were after,” Marcus said, “then they failed badly.”
Jack’s face radiated bitter disappointment. “That brings me to our current situation,” he said. He nudged his chin back toward the center of the room, where smoke formed a new image. It was a round object with openings laid out in grids, like some kind of spore.
“The Golden Seed,” Marcus said.
Jack jabbed a finger at the image. “We need to destroy it.”
“It’s harmless,” Rao said with a harsh laugh. “You removed the hollow-drive yourself. Without a power source, it’s just a pile of junk.”
Kai took a step forward. He said, “I’m afrad not. Some of your kind have proven keenly adept at reverse engineering foreign technology.”
“And with those kinds of tools, they could easily wipe the Earth clean,” Jack added. “If the New Union gets ahold of it, they’ll turn it into some kind of biological weapons factory, or heaven knows what else.”
New Union forces had the upper hand. Faulkland’s best prediction had the Oikeyans pulling out and ceding the territory within the week, followed most likely by a full-scale retaliation. Open warfare was about to break out, but the New Union would possess the artifact before that happened.
“Then we’ll destroy it,” Marcus said. But even as he spoke, he wondered how he could pull it off. Legacy would have to blast through solid Earth, then have enough power left over to punch through the Seed’s shielding and burn every last scrap. He doubted she could do it in her current condition.
The other option was to send the Fleet down to claim it, but it would be a bloodbath. There were no two ways about that.
Faulkland was apparently following a similar train of thought. “We could wait for Union forces to raise the artifact, then torch it from orbit,” he offered.
“Waiting is dangerous,” Kai said. “The battlefield is about to change. Their orbital weapons will be in theater shortly, and according to my intelligence, both sides are also readying units which approach or exceed my own effectiveness.”
Marcus said, “We’re aware,” and Faulkland gave him a questioning glance. He went on. “When we started gathering information about you, it quickly became clear that you weren’t just outside the curve… you’re entirely off our charts. You became the model of a new classification which we call Newtype Combatants, and… we know of programs on the ground intent on manufacturing them.”
Kai said, “If my estimates are correct, two such unit may be ready in a matter of days.”
“We didn’t know that,” Marcus said. “Shit.”
He took stock of his resources and once again found them lacking. “Could you do it?” he asked of Kai.
The alien spy finally let loose an unmistakable emotion; his indomitable strength vanished momentarily from his posture, and he looked broken. He said, “If Jack wishes, I will try… but my chances of success are low. This construct isn’t what it once was.”
Marcus read the subtext. Kai believed these other newtype combatants vastly outmatched him, and that idea simply beggared belief. The speed with which the war had accelerated left Marcus at a loss for words.
When his people first suggested the possibility of newtype combatants, no one ever thought it could happen this quickly. The Fleet had bigger fish to fry, and they focused their efforts on building defenses, but Marcus now realized they’d been putting up a picket-fence while the house burned down.
He needed to have acted earlier. There was a time before the stakes had risen so high that he could have taken the reins, but only a dictator’s iron fist could have held the peace. The visions of what society might have become with his hand around its throat disgusted him.
If only he’d seen some other way…
He stared at the glowing image of the Seed while all of his shame and anger ran laps in his mind. Had Legacy come to them with a full complement of hollow-drives, she’d have virtually limitless power to spend on operations like this.
He looked at the internal structure of the Seed, which was visible through the shell like the inside of a jellyfish. An empty stalk sat in the center where once a miniature hollow-drive had been.
A dim recollection sparked somewhere in the back of his mind. He tried to wake Legacy to check the source, but she was sleeping soundly and wouldn’t be roused.
He had the shape of it, but the details just wouldn’t come to him. “What do you know about hollow-drives, Hernandez?”
Jack looked to the side, and then seemed confused for a second. “That’s what I brought back from the Seed,” he said in a revelatory whisper. “Um, they were the Eireki’s most closely guarded technology. The only life-form they ever created from scratch.”
“They’re adaptable, right?”
Jack smiled broadly, and it looked good on him. “Sort of,” he said after a moment. “They can interface with a wide variety of life-forms, but if the host isn’t built for it, the two are combined into one. It’s a permanent graft.”
Marcus’ own half-formed memories crystallized. “The elite Eireki troops were bonded with hollow-drives during the Nefrem War. They called the result Yakara,” he said.
When the word slipped off his lips, he remembered scattered images and flashes of the armored Eireki. They were no longer men but some kind of biotechnological hybrid, two creatures combined to form something different and new.
Everyone looked on in confusion, like they’d stumbled into a panel for a show they’d never heard of.
Jack said, “It should be possible for us to do the same. Then we’d have our own… newkind?”
“Newtype,” Marcus corrected him.
“Yeach, catchy,” Jack said sarcastically. “I’m really not sure, though. It would be like a hydrogen bomb in human form. Is there anyone in the world you’d feel comfortable giving that kind of power to?”
“Nagai,” Marcus said instantly, but Faulkland was already shaking his head.
Marcus would trust Kazuo Nagai with his family jewels, but the man was still comatose in a hospital bed, recovering from third degree burns and the loss of a leg. He was loyal to a fault, and as punishment, he’d never be whole again.
It didn’t matter, though; he was the wrong choice. The man was a trained and seasoned soldier, willing to carry out Marcus’ will with an armored fist, but he only thought in straight lines. He wasn’t the kind to ever look for a more creative solution.
Eight other candidates flashed through Marcus’ head, but none was the right fit. Not even Amira.
He felt an itch that demanded scratching, like there was some bigger target they could hit as long as they aimed true. But they only had one chance at it. Once this particular bullet flew, there could be no reloading.
He looked at Jack and something funny struck him. “I hope you don’t mind me asking, but… were you ever mistaken for your brother?”
“People used to ask if we were twins sometimes,” Jack said. “Why?”
“Marc?” St. Martin said in warning.
Like most warnings, Marcus ignored it and pressed on. “Look, this weapon that went off in Amiasha… the Compact knows it was our technology, and even though we stopped it, they’re still terrified of us. I need a way to bridge that distance, bring us together somehow, and I think there’s a way to accomplish that here.”
Jack looked stunned, lost. “I don’t think I know what you’re asking, Donovan.”
“I’m not asking anything yet,” he said. “Just suggesting. Hear me out… If I’ve learned anything from your story here, it’s that belief can be more powerful than any weapon. And right now, we’re in a position to wield it for good.”
Jack stared through him. Marcus found the feeling unsettling.
Marcus said, “The streets down there are filled with people weeping for your brother. He’s a hero, and… we can use that. We spin some bullshit about how the omnibody infection devoured Charlie, but it found his sacrifice worthy. And he returns, reborn through Eireki technology to protect the people.”
While Marcus’ ideas rattled off at high-speed, Jack began to wave his hands, then he stumbled back and fell.
Marcus said, “Jack… I’m sorry but we’re playing on a very large board, and every single move could be our last. We’ve already lost the New Union, and we’re going to lose the Western Oikeya before we’ve even met them. We don’t have to lose the Arkangel Compact, too.”
Jack remained on the floor, breathing heavily and staring blankly in front of him.
St. Martin put a hand on Marcus’ shoulder, but he couldn’t help giving just one more nudge. “Do you think you could you pull it off?”
Jack’s hands touched the floor, and Marcus experienced something he hadn’t since he first came aboard Legacy. Completely outside of his control, he lifted up into the air along with Faulkland, Rao, and St. Martin, and they were all flown out into the corridor, then on to the far side of the ship.
I hope that scratched your revelation itch. Join me this Thursday for Chapter 33: Soul Transistor, which should be a barrel full of laughs. Or tears. Barrel full of embarrassed blushing? Hmmm. It’ll definitely elicit a lot of some emotional response, whichever one that may be. It’s also looooooong.
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