Long Fall — Chapter 34

Aloha! Tonight’s episode of Biotech Legacy: Long Fall is Chapter 34: The Devil Awakes, which sort of begins the slow climb up to the book’s climax.

In other news, I finished the first draft of Long Fall yesterday morning. This particular ride ends at Chapter 52, and if you’re interested in such things, I’ll be showing the completed chapter list on the Books page a little later tonight. As for the remaining 18 chapters after this one, I’m planning to power through them in the next 7 days… so expect lots of updates!

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.

Alrighty… Let’s get diabolical.


Chapter 34
The Devil Awakes

Marcus flew through the hospital’s main hall at a deliberate pace, and the staff stopped to watch him pass. The fact his presence attracted this much attention was a bad sign, and he knew it. He’d become such an unusual sight aboard his own flagship that people couldn’t help but stare and wonder.

His link represented the last real connection in his life, and it was with an unfathomable alien consciousness, driven partly mad by long isolation. He couldn’t escape the feeling things were falling apart.

Nurses and doctors parted way as he flew past, up through the hospital’s vertical tube and into Deep Well Six, the Fleet’s secure research division.

Marcus felt more at home there, if only because the scientists were so used to freaks that he barely even registered. They all spent their days tearing alien technologies apart in hopes of unlocking ancient secrets, and Marcus was commonplace, another Eireki artifact in the circus sideshow.

The containment lab at the end of the hall beckoned to him, but he had other business to attend to. Instead, he turned and entered a dissection room, which was cut in half by a clear wall.

The other side featured a large examination table with an unusual corpse laid out on top, while cases containing the remains of various creature and living machines filled the rest of the space. Even the observation area was bitterly cold, and Marcus could see puffs of his own breath in the air.

“Is this the sample from Charon?” he asked.

Doctor Kinnison looked up from his work and said, “Yes, Commander. Catalogue Reference Iota 12, recovered by The Beagle.”

Marcus drifted up to the window while his eyes adapted to the harsh overhead light. The specimen had been completely stripped, its hardened skin cut away and muscles drawn apart, but the outline was still unnervingly familiar. “What have you found so far?” he asked.

Kinnison set down his tools and walked around the table while removing his facemask. “Well, it’s 163.5 kilos, but unusually compact for the weight. Its muscles appear to be roughly twice as dense as our own, and more cleverly designed.”

Trying not to shiver, Marcus ventured, “Like Amira’s myofiber then.”

“Similar, to be sure. This is a different implementation, though, more powerful and more durable than Miss Saladin’s product.”

“What else?”

“In addition to the organs we’d expect, there are several additions which I’ve yet to identify. Perhaps sensory organs, but it will take time to confirm. Regardless, they appear to be symbiotic organism introduced during gestation. They’re fully integrated in all but genetics.”

Marcus’ eyes tightened as he stared at the disassembled monster. The sight of it filled him with indescribable dread. “And those genetics, Doctor Kinnison?”

“I thought you knew, sir… It’s human. There are hardly perceptible differences, but it’s human.”

Then there could be no doubt. The creature wasn’t a match for any of the phenotypes in his memory, but this thing was Nefrem. What else could it be?

“I’ll leave you to your work, Doctor,” Marcus said as he turned to leave. “Keep me updated.”

“As time allows, Commander.”

Marcus headed back into the hall and then toward the containment lab. Its iris burst as he approached and he passed inside. The research team had been working around the clock, and the room smelled of coffee and unwashed clothes. Kai was there sitting cross-legged on the floor, and St. Martin stood a meter away from the tank with her arms crossed.

Marcus floated up beside her and studied her for a moment. Even after three days without sleep, and three years of endless stress, she was somehow as beautiful as the day he first saw her nearly two decades before. In his mind’s eye, sunlight was still shining on her black ponytail as she walked across the faculty terrace clutching a stack of old notebooks tightly to her chest.

There’d been a certain bounce to her walk that made Marcus think she was looking forward to whatever the day had in store, and at the time, he wanted nothing more in the world than to run and catch-up.

The earpiece of her glasses had fresh tooth marks, and when Marcus noticed that, he realized he’d been staring just a little too hard.

“I’m out of my depth,” she said.

Marcus turned and looked toward the tank, and he was baffled all over again. The space inside was filled by a constantly shifting field of light and color, forming briefly into geometric patterns before disassembling and turning into something new, and it was frankly difficult to look at. He couldn’t understand how St. Martin had managed to watch it so intently the whole time.

“Legacy assures me this is all perfectly normal,” Marcus said. As far as she was aware, anyway. The ship had very little recollection of the Yakara bonding process, but this seemed to match the scattered Eireki memories she could scrape.

“You know what I’ve learned here, Marc?”

“What?

“Precisely fuck all.” She fidgeted and tightened her arms around herself. “It’s nothing like I expected, and I don’t have any clue what I’m looking at. I was hoping to learn something… anything at all from studying this, but it’s just completely beyond me.”

It wasn’t as Marcus expected either. He’d imagined something fleshy and organic like in the old documentaries they watched in school. Something like a cicada’s journey from larva, to nymph, to finally climbing out of its own skin and spreading its still wet wings.

Instead, there was only this perplexing light, the product of an ancient intelligence far beyond his own. He was watching the metamorphosis of a unique life-form which derived power like nothing else in the universe.

Marcus said to her, “This creature has so much energy coursing through it that it doesn’t have to play by the same rules we do.” He wasn’t sure if that was true, but it was the bullshit he felt comfortable telling himself when no reasonable answer appeared.

He added, “You’ll figure it out, though. You always do, Julie.”

St. Martin finally looked away from the tank, closed her eyes and slowly shook her head at him. She hated when he called her Julie, and yet there was a hint of a smile on her too-full lips.

“Whoa! Did you see that?” he whooped while pointing at the tank excitedly.

St. Martin’s attention snapped back to the lightshow. “What? What was it?”

Marcus said, “It kind of looked like a duck for a second… but it’s gone. Maybe it’ll come back.”

She swatted his shoulder and gave him a playful glare. She never recrossed her arms.

After a moment, Marcus pulled his legs up and sat cross-legged in mid-air, accidentally aping Kai’s pose. He rested his head on his hand and said, “So, have we been able to detect anything in there?”

“Just… brightness,” St. Martin said, wrinkling her nose.

“Doctor,” one of the researchers called out. “I’m getting something here. Power output is dropping dramatically, and the active spectra are narrowing.”

Marcus and St. Martin both turned back to the tank and watched with renewed vigor.

“Does this mean it’s almost over?” she asked.

“I have no idea,” he replied.

The patterns seemed to be coalescing into something. The shapes inside them were smaller, simpler, denser, no longer flickering polygons but instead a sea of small triangles that undulated and contracted. The triangle mesh became a cage that shrank down and in, until the fierce light at the center began to take shape.

“IR band is off the charts… This thing’s getting hot!”

Mist suddenly filled the tank, hiding a wobbling light somewhere inside which illuminated eddies and curling billows as it bounced.

“What’s going on?” St. Martin demanded.

“The fog came from Legacy,” Marcus said while the ship explained it across the link. “Instinctual. She felt a heat spike and tried to douse it.”

The misty tank grew dark and the entire room collectively held their breath. The first clouds passed on and revealed generations of thinner offspring, but the floodlights refused to penetrate more than a few inches.

A thump sounded out like a ten-tonne pile driver, and Marcus stood upright while sliding St. Martin behind him. The dozens of researchers ducked behind their desks, computers, and their own hands. Kai remained calmly seated on the floor.

“Anybody?” Marcus said.

One of the younger researchers climbed back into her chair and pounded furiously at her keyboard. “Uh… anomalous readings, Commander.”

“God damn it,” Marcus growled. He accessed the workstation through his link and inspected the record. He started to normalize the data when another thump came.

Marcus looked up at the glass in time to see a fist covered in red tile, which immediately withdrew back into the tumbling fog. A glance over his shoulder revealed Kai standing at his side.

“It’ll hold,” Marcus shouted to his team. He took control of the walls and made them thicker, the new material pouring in from ceiling and floor. At the same time, he switched them from a hardened shell to indestructably soft.

He could now make out a silhouette inside the tank, shaped like a man but oddly thin and made of too many acute angles. Eyes appeared in the darkness as two points of brightly flaring cyan light.

Marcus felt a kind of fear that was altogether new, which crawled down from his scalp, clawed at his back and pulled at his lungs. It was the absolute faith that something angry and powerful wanted to kill him.

The figure strode out of the dark clouds like a firefighter returning from a vanquished blaze, revealing itself in the lab’s pale light, a piece of living machinery that was not yet complete. The body was like an empty framework formed of long and curved muscles, supporting clumps of smaller components that were interconnected by thick cords and slender filaments. Around the torso, these artificial muscles became a ribcage, thin blades radiating out from the pulsing hollow-drive at its core.

Armored tiles took shape on its surface then wheeled into place. The gaps between muscles filled themselves and the tiles slid over to cover them until the being was whole. The creature stood calmly full of death, a cubist version of man in swaths of deep blue and off-white, except for the right hand clad in shades of dark red and burnt orange.

The head was an insect-like helmet topped with stubby spikes like a crown made of some beast’s gaping jaw. Flexing gills flanked the face, and thin tubes connected the jawline to throat and collar. Inside the mask, two cyan eyes burned with unspent fury.

The creature drew back its red hand and struck again. The resulting shockwave caused the tank’s wall to flex outward, then snap back and vibrate like the surface of a trampoline.

“I don’t think we’re safe here,” Kai said. He actually sounded frightened.

Marcus had trouble believing it, but the damned alien was probably right. “Everyone out,” he barked, and the team sprinted for the iris. “Kai, I need you to…”

Before Marcus could complete his thought, something exploded. There was a sound like a sonic boom, and he flew through the air until the far wall violently stopped him. Debris pelted him all over, large panes and small shards, and the pain was immediate. His flesh tore away in hunks like a hand in a garbage disposal.

Marcus cried out, and the skin around his face constricted into a tight mask. Blood poured down from above his eyes, and he tried to blink it away. He managed to see a shape approaching, and then he blacked out. It didn’t matter… he really didn’t want to see the next part anyway.


Be honest… is that what you expected to happen?

Next up (hopefully tomorrow) will be Chapter 35: Juggernaut, followed in short order by 36 and 37. Be well rested. 😉

~Chris

Copyright 2013. All rights (currently) reserved.

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