Long Fall — Chapter 35

Happy Halloween, everyone! In honor of this very special day, our little monster story in Biotech Legacy: Long Fall continues with Chapter 35: Juggernaut.

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 get started… ’cause once we’re rolling, nothing in the world can stop us.

Chapter 35

When the containment chamber’s outer wall exploded, Kai compressed time. His reality grew brighter and more richly colored, crackling with immediacy, and his awareness seemed to expand like a bird suddenly breaking through the jungle’s canopy into open sky.

Eighty-thousand shards of shattered armor tumbled through the air, flipping end-over-end or spinning like sawblades. Programmed systems inside of Kai’s mind calculated their paths, applied statistical models to the swarm and informed him of safe eddies in the surging tide.

Artifical muscles tightened smoothly, and the high-performance machinery functioned without want or waste, even after years of abuse and poor maintenance. He spun on a toe and stretched to avoid the sharpened missiles, and felt only a handful of gashes slice into the meat of his calf, his thigh, his bicep.

Time resumed its normal course and Kai appraised the situation quickly. The Eireki construct was on one knee with its red fist extended. Its pose was rock-solid, exhibiting a stillness known only to machines.

The others were gone, all except for Marcus Donovan who lay broken and bleeding on the floor. The shockwave came so quickly that the vessel’s gravity controls couldn’t compensate in time, not in this shielded hospital where her intelligence was kept at bay. As far as Kai understood it, only her instinctive reactions functioned here, and they failed to stop Donovan from hitting the far wall with the force of a fifty meter drop.

Kai looked to the Eireki construct and began determining the most effective attack vector, but he stopped himself in mid-thought. He knew what Jack would tell him: preserving life was the only priority.

Although it went against his nature, he complied. He rushed across the room and snatched Donovan from the floor, then dashed out through the open portal. The research team was still there in the hallway, running as quickly as their weak primate legs could carry them.

Kai paced out ahead of them and stopped a pair whose panic was still under control. “Take him,” Kai said while gently handing over the wounded fleet commander. “Get everyone as far from here as possible. I’ll attempt to slow it down.”

They ducked their heads and did as commanded, while Kai turned back toward the ruined lab. The lights there had turned dark and sickly yellow-green like a bruise spreading slowly across the living technology. Shadowy veins throbbed behind the walls, and everything solid seemed to sag limply.

A stream of text flashed across the surface of his mission-comp. “You mustn’t face this unit, Sinit. The things I’ve detected about it are… astounding.”

Burning eyes appeared in the flickering darkness, and the construct approached with a gait devoid of living grace. The brilliantly engineered geometry of it swayed as it stepped, and it stared straight ahead without twitch or indecision.

Kai’s other hand touched the gauntlet and he said to his computer, “I have no other choice, my friend. I will wake Jack Hernandez or else destroy the abomination he’s become. We must not allow it to harm anyone else.”

“There is a third, more likely option.”

“No, there isn’t,” Kai replied

The mission-comp held its silence for a beat, then let out a sigh of resignation. “Why am I always saying goodbye to you?” it asked.

Kai said, “Because you’re fallible, little one. There are things in this world that your statistical models cannot predict… and Jack Hernandez is among them.”

The mission-comp radiated agreement, and Kai snapped into combat posture. His degrading muscle machinery stood at the ready, slack and prepared to push in any direction. He tightened his eyes and watched the target advance.

The enemy construct drew near but nothing about its motion hinted it was aware of Kai at all. It simply plodded onward with the resolve of a locomotive, neither of its glowing eyes so much as blinking.

“Jack!” Kai barked.

The construct didn’t react.

Kai faded back from his front-foot and loosened his frame.

The construct stepped forward and struck without telegraphing the motion. The red arm raced in at the speed of sound, and Kai barely managed to intercept the blow.

He attempted to disperse the shock throughout his body and into the floor, but it was too much. His internal structure shuddered under the assault, which drove him back across the slick surface.

“Your skeleton is holding, Sinit,” the mission-comp said while Kai retreated several paces. “May I suggest dodging rather than blocking? No answer? Oh, do as you wish. You always do.”

The Eireki construct continued its march onward, and Kai prepared once again. The enemy took a long stride, then attacked on the next.

As Kai had hoped, the second strike was the same as the first, an identical motion on the same unerring rhythm. He slid around it this time while his arms flashed out and grasped the offending arm. One hand gripped the wrist while the other latched on at the elbow, and he flexed.

Every biomechanical muscle worked together in unison, producing terrible heat as he drove the Eireki construct into the wall face-first. The impact sounded out like an artillery shell against walls that were no longer animate and pliable, but the construct seemed totally unfazed.

Kai held the arm bar firm, and his enemy remained pinned. None of its limbs could reach him, and for at least a few spare seconds, he was safe.

The locked arm began to quake.

“The construct’s power source is increasing output. You haven’t much time. Break the elbow.”

Kai ignored his companion and its disturbingly cheery demeanor. “Jack,” he said, “you must wake up. I know you’re in there.”

The locked arm started to convulse as it strained against Kai’s hold.

“Break it, Kai.”

He felt the enemy’s wrist begin to slip from his grip, and he ran out of time. His anatomy wasn’t built for sustained output like this, and the heat became incredible.

Kai clenched around the wrist, pulled back his other hand and drove it through the construct’s elbow with all the strength he could muster.

The joint hyperextended but remained unbroken, and quickly snapped back into place.

The Eireki construct turned its head at an unnatural angle and looked Kai in the face. Through the reflective visor, he could see the shadows of a human face lurking within, its expression twisted by boundless anger. And behind those eyes which burned like emergency signals against the night sky, there was nothing at all but wrath.

“Jack!” Kai cried out.

The construct’s free hand dug into the wall while its trapped arm flexed, producing a force so immediate, so limitless that Kai could do nothing to fight back. It spun him about and grabbed him at the throat, then raised him up and slammed him down into the floor.

Ceramic skin shattered and the ailing flesh behind it gave way. The construct lifted him again and thrust him back down. Damaged nerves across his body flared and failed, causing muscles to twitch and seize.

The Eireki construct stood while the dust cloud settled. Its spine arched and shoulders stretched backward as light pulsed out from its chest and streaked to the tips of its fingers and toes.

“I’m putting out fires as quickly as I can,” the mission-comp said. “Seven seconds until baseline mobility is restored.”

Then I’m dead, Kai thought as his vision flickered and shook. He wanted to scream with fury, but his tortured body wouldn’t obey.

Then, much to Kai’s surprise, the Eireki construct turned, walked off to the vertical transport shaft, and leapt down.

After seven seconds, order came to the rioting chaos inside of Kai, and his spasming muscles relaxed.

“Not to sound too fatalistic,” the mission-comp said in his mind, “but why didn’t it finish you?”

Kai sat up groggily and climbed out of the cracked depression in the floor. He brought his left hand to his wrist and said, “I’m not sure… but that must not have been its intention. I think it was only interested in removing the obstacle.”

He shook his head and debris scattered away with a clatter, and he could feel his energy output leveling out. “Can you detect anything else in this facility?”

After a few seconds, the mission-comp said, “Yes. The hospital was successfully evacuated. You bought them enough time, Kai.”

He stood and straightened his uniform, which had been torn to tatters from the beating. The self-sealing material was already beginning to repair itself. “Anything else?”

“Several bulkheads have been locked down to halt the construct’s progress. It has already broken the first.”

“Of course,” Kai said out loud. He took a step and nearly fell over, only catching himself as he stumbled against the slackened wall.

“Slowly, Sinit. It will take me several minutes yet to return all systems to full functionality.”

Kai pushed against the wall and stood upright, wracked by ache and exhaustion like he hadn’t felt since the Nefrem invasion of Oikeya. “Waste heat built up too quickly,” he said to the computer. “I won’t be able to stop it like this.”

Against his mission-comp’s advice, Kai took another halting step and managed to remain on his feet, but it was taxing.

“To be quite honest, I don’t think you’d be able to stop it any which way… but I see your point. Unfortunately, I can’t do anything about it. The micro-structures responsible for radiating waste heat are some of the finest and most delicate in your design. Roughly 40% have simply decayed over the years.”

Kai groaned and took another step, adapting his gait to compensate for whatever muscles remained out of order. The next came more easily, and soon he was walking at an agonizingly slow pace.

The mission-comp giggled with delight.

“Are you laughing at me?”

“No, Sinit. Of course not. Well… maybe a little. But I was just thinking about something.”

Kai was standing like an ailing grandfather, and he forced himself upright despite the pain. “Do tell,” he said.

“The vessel’s ability to control gravity. She’ll certainly be able to incapacitate the Eireki construct.”

Kai had been so wrapped up in the moment that he’d failed entirely to think of the bigger picture, and his electronic friend was correct. He struggled to imagine a force in the universe that could overcome such power. Once the construct exited the hospital, he’d be completely inside her domain.

“Come, small friend. Let’s watch, shall we?”

He limped down the hall and came to the vertical tube’s wide mouth. The mission-comp had been working at a furious rate, and though he wasn’t fully restored yet, he already felt strong enough to defeat at least a few dozen human troops.

Noises echoed up the tube, loud crunches and even louder cracks, and the angle of their reflections told Kai much about their position. The enemy was making steady progress, and would be at the facility’s outer ring soon.

Kai jumped down, and thanks to the ship’s unconscious reflexes, he landed lightly on his feet. The hallway that presented itself was more destroyed than the one he left, marked every five meters by a ragged hole like a popped pustule. In the distance, the white-and-blue Eireki construct was busy bashing through yet another bulkhead.

“You should keep your distance,” the mission-comp said.

“There’s no need,” Kai replied. “It’s not interested in me. I’m still not sure what it’s after, though.”

He jogged lightly to catch up, but heeded his computer’s words for once and slowed well outside the enemy’s reach. Not that the range made much difference; he knew the construct could easily close in before he could react.

Kai watched with curiosity as the biomachine moved, as focused and blithely ignorant of his presence as a trained watchman being followed by a harmless bug. Its motions were precise to the micrometer, translating internal energy into devastating blows with near perfect efficiency. Its armored scales slid across each other, never colliding nor impeding its range of motion.

The mission-comp said, “This technology is of a sophistication level I can’t adequately comprehend. Is it not impressive?”

“It is,” Kai whispered. “I’ve never seen its equal.” Another moment later, he added, “I somehow doubt anyone has.”

The Eireki construct stepped to the final barricade and performed its attack one last time. The punch began at its feet, which planted at an oblique angle and twisted, driving its hips, shoulders, and blood red fist. The strike was pinpoint specific, causing the ceramic wall to shatter and crumble to dust, leaving only a torn wound in its wake.

The hospital’s outer ring waited beyond, filled completely by thirty-two soldiers in blue powered-armor. They waited in two ranks, those in the front kneeling, and the ones behind them standing straight, all training rifles on their unstoppable target.

Kai could see the nervousness in the troops. These weren’t hardened soldiers. It was clear that few had seen active duty at all, but he had to commend their bravery.

As he expected, the construct didn’t react to their presence at all. Instead, it stepped out of the hospital’s shield and Legacy took control.

The construct floated up from the ground while fundamental forces dominated it completely. Its arms and legs stretched to their furthest extent, and its head tilted backwards. It may as well have been a lily held tenderly in a woman’s soft fingers.

One of the armored troopers raised a hand. “Hold fire,” she said. “Admiral, it looks like Legacy has it contained.”

The other troopers visibly exhaled and loosened their grips.

Kai walked in a wide arc around the construct, analyzing the finer details of its body as he passed by. Each one only further convinced him of how purely magnificent a creation it was.

The mission-comp said, “We should meet with their leaders. I collected quite a lot of useful data on the construct.”

Kai appraised the soldier in command. Her shoulder bore a sigil which consisted of a pair of vertical stripes connected by thin lines at the top and bottom. Her name tag read Moreno.

Kai said, “Greetings, Captain Moreno. I am Sinit Kai.”

“I know who you are,” she replied. “And we appreciate the help.”

“You should find a more permanent containment solution, and quickly. I believe encasing it in the vessel’s material should suffice, provided it’s at least ten meters thick… and perhaps reinforced by some of the armor used in the outer hull.”

“Understood,” Captain Moreno said. “Did he speak to you at all?”

It was silent,” Kai replied. “I’m not sure whether Jack survives inside it or not.”

He looked to the Eireki construct and felt sadness and pity well up within his chest. Sadness for Jack whose spirit may’ve been devoured, and pity for himself, doomed to live and die unredeemed.

Kai said, “Now, I must meet with St. Martin and Faulkla…”

Before he could finish, one of the troopers shouted, “Captain, look!”

Kai and Captain Moreno both turned and reeled at what they saw. The Eireki construct’s chest was glowing as bright as the morning sun, shooting streamers of light throughout the rest of the mechanism. Against all reason in the universe, its arms and legs began to twitch, while a low and rage-filled voice rose up.

“Get your people back,” Kai shouted.

No one listened to him. Instead, the troopers tightened their firing line, and stared down their rifles’ barrels at the monster.

“Faulkland says it’ll hold.”

Kai backed up down the hall. He didn’t relish another confrontation with the Eireki construct, and couldn’t recall the last time he felt this afraid. “No offense, Captain, but Faulkland has no clue what he’s talking about. We need to leave this place.”

“No offense,” she said caustically in return, “but we have a job to do. If you’re not going to help us, then I have no more use for you.”

Kai respected that. They may have been green, but they were nonetheless soldiers. Pity they were all about to die.

The construct’s head ratcheted forward, overcoming Legacy’s mastery of gravity through brute force. Even watching it with his own eyes, Kai didn’t believe such a thing was possible.

Its armored fingers curled into fists, then its arms canted forward. Stress rippled across its muscles and the machine was clearly straining to the maximum. “Do I want to know how much energy is at play here?” he asked his computer through gesture.

The mission-comp’s reply was simple and bereft of levity. It said, “No.”

As the construct’s fists and knees came forward, the panels of its chest folded back to reveal the hollow-drive within. Small embers in rich yellow and indigo flowed out into the air, like the firing of a large rocket an instant before lift-off.

What came next changed Kai’s understanding of the situation completely. The light near the machine’s surface began to wave and buckle as if it were clear glass somehow smouldering, bubbling, and melting.

“What’s happening?” he tapped to the mission-comp.

“It appears to be producing its own gravity field,” the computer replied in disbelief.

All around them, the massive ship began to utter a deep howl as it fought back, and tunnels shuddered for kilometers around.

“She can’t hold it!” Kai shouted.

It was plainly obvious, but the troopers still wouldn’t hear reason. That left Kai with no choice but to stay. He was the only slim chance they had to survive once the Eireki construct’s onslaught resumed.

Steam pealed off the walls, and the rooms lighting turned to orange while the vessel battled on. But it was all for nothing.

Light bent around the construct for a meter around, causing the machine to fade to blackness while a halo of blinding white surrounded it. The gravitational battle was acting as a lens, and neither Kai nor his computer wanted to consider how much energy was being spent.

Legacy squeeled in a pitch that made even Kai’s ears hurt.

Then thunder struck and filled the air with shrapnel. When it cleared, the Eireki construct stood on the floor with ribbons of mist rolling off its shimmering skin. The panels of its chest closed to conceal the alien drive that gave it life, and its biomechanical body was once again whole.

“Are we combat ready?” Kai asked the computer.

“Roughly… no. But what choice do we have?”

In the next moment, Legacy made her last desperate attack. The walls and ceiling stretched into serpents which lashed out and took hold of the construct, but it was no use. It tore free of her grasp easily, and the starship finally gave in.

The armored troopers did not. “Fire!” Captain Moreno cried.

Yellow-tinted beams burst from their rifles and focused on the target’s chest. Energy cascaded off in more bands than Kai could perceive, but the invincible thing marched on, nearly as deterred as a Rozom soldier sprayed by a garden hose.

Kai tightened his fist, and cried out, “You have to retreat.” But he didn’t expect anyone to listen, and at that, he wasn’t disappointed.

The construct walked forward at an even pace while Kai prayed the troopers would retreat, but their bravery outweighed their reason. The machine drew its red hand across its body, and some of the troopers recoiled in fear. Then its demon hand struck and the armored troopers flew away, the force causing some of their suits to shatter and spray off in bits. The meat inside bent and tore, coating the wall behind in human blood.

Kai refused to believe what he was seeing, and he reacted too slowly. Three were dead before his feet left the floor, and more would follow in milliseconds.

The fingers of his left hand danced and primed his electric knuckle guard. It siphoned energy from tissue as he leapt forward, and he placed himself between the biomechanical menace and its waiting prey.

The next attack came and Kai intercepted it, knocking the fist off target with his own carefully placed punch. Before the enemy could change strategy, Kai flowed through his combat forms, assailing the beast’s face, chest, and short-ribs. He grasped its extended arm and spun himself around behind it, then drove his charged knuckles into the base of the automaton’s skull.

Several hundred kilowatts of electricity lashed out into the enemy’s nervous system, forcing its arms and head to jerk backward. It dropped to the floor, but immediately placed both hands down and raised itself up.

The troopers had regrouped and again opened fire to no effect, while the Eireki construct concerned itself with Kai. Its helmeted head twisted around and stared hate into his eyes, and it produced a noise that shook the bedrock of his spirit.

But he did not flee. Kai sank into a combat stance and waved the thing on, silently wondering just how long his tired bones could hold out against such a force.

Rather than standing, the Eireki construct wheeled about on its hands and thrust its feet at him. He vaulted overtop of the attack and struck twice with blows that rocked the thing left and right.

His feet touched down and he spun just in time to see the construct’s riposte. He crushed time into a dense point and yet the attack still came at a speed that defied all reason. His programmed instincts flared to life and his body reacted of its own accord, twisting in place to evade the impact… and in that, it was partially successful.

Kai flew back, tumbling end over end through the armored troopers. The force scattered them while he continued to flip, but he managed to right himself and land on one knee and the opposite fist.

He released his grasp on time and it rushed forward again as the human troops resumed their fire. Kai prepared to dive back in when a dark-blue hand took hold of his shoulder.

“Hold,” Captain Moreno said, and Kai obeyed. It was a rare voice that had such an effect on him.

He regarded the soldier whose squad was about to die fewer than ten paces away. “I have to stop it,” he growled. In his own ears, he sounded like some kind of evolutionary throwback, a bestial precursor to the Somari people yet to descend from the trees.

“You’ll get your chance,” she said, “but you’re the only weapon we have. Faulkland has other plans.”

Before Kai could break free of her childlike hold, Legacy’s infernal gravity lifted them into the air and flung both into a transit tube. The hospital and its unfinished battle shrank away from him, and Kai could only watch in anger and frustration.

Their trip was short, and at the other end they landed gently in a chamber which Kai had never seen before. It was long and multi-leveled with video feeds displayed on the inside surface of its white walls. They showed the rampaging construct from numerous angles, some zoomed in to dissect various features of the thing’s body, others analyzing the scene as a whole.

Each of the several dozen crew were encased in grey armor with gold accents. Either they believed themselves to be the next target, or they had no idea where the Eireki construct was headed. Kai found neither option particularly savory.

One of them approached him and opened its helmet, revealing the aged but unwithered face of Admiral Faulkland. Wrinkles hinted at a face that had once smiled a great deal in the past. “I’ve heard what you can do,” he said, “but it’s still hard to believe you’re standing after that kind of punishment.”

Kai said, “Had the construct been more thorough, I would not be.”

Faulkland nodded with grim understanding. “You managed to hold your own when you reengaged, though. Find a second wind or something?”

“No,” Kai said. “I simply fought smarter.” As much as some revered the first time doing something, Kai always preferred the second go. That was where refinement began, and refinement in his eyes was divine.

Faulkland’s focus kept straying to the monitors, but there somehow wasn’t a hint of fear anywhere in him. There was only weary resignation. He looked at Kai with determination burning inside, and said, “I need you to be honest. If you had all of our resources at your command, do you think you could beat it?”

A certain tingle told Kai his mission-comp was thinking hard. After nearly an entire second, it relayed a series of scenarios to him, and he picked the one that spoke to his spirit.

“Back in the laboratory, Legacy exhibited a useful behavior. She doused the containment chamber in some variety of inert coolant. Is it possible to lower its temperature further?”

Faulkland nodded. “Yeah, she can take it down near zero kelvin.”

“Then it may just be possible,” Kai said. With that, they walked toward the front of the room and made preparations.

Next up is Chapter 36: The Astronomer Who Fell Into a Well, coming your way real soon now.


Copyright 2013. All rights (currently) reserved.


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