Long Fall — Chapter 36

And happy Dia De Los Muertos! Today in Biotech Legacy: Long Fall, we’re charging head-first into Chapter 36: The Astronomer Who Fell Into a Well, which is named for a really short one of Aesop’s fables with a really long title.

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? Good. Watch your step.


Chapter 36
The Astronomer Who Fell Into a Well

The Eireki construct blasted through one wall after another for the next thirty minutes, carving a straight line towards its goal. It left a trail of dead and mangled troopers behind it in numbers that simply boggled Kai’s mind.

It was a needless waste of strategic assets, but Kai understood why the Fleet troops didn’t pull back. If they believed there was any chance at all of eliminating the threat, they would continue to fling themselves into its ravenous jaws until none were left standing.

Despite their best efforts, the enemy reached its target virtually unscathed, and Kai arrived several seconds later, accompanied by both Admiral Faulkland and Esperanza Moreno. He’d have preferred to face the menace alone but their involvement proved non-negotiable.

They set down on an octagonal landing pad in a small ante-chamber, opposite a defensive wall with a hole tunneled through it. A large cavity lay beyond, crossed by twisting walkways and a tangled thicket of heavy cables. Kai could see the Eireki construct marching determinedly out, while further on, a caged light throbbed at the chamber’s core.

His two companions spot-checked sizeable cannons affixed to their hips, which were more powerful versions of the rifles Kai had seen earlier. He walked out ahead and waved for them to follow.

Legacy’s hollow-drive chamber reminded Kai of some Somari underground installations, which were slightly smaller cylinders set upright instead of on their sides. He had penetrated two such facilities in the years before one world order arose, and the familiarity gave him a dangerous measure of confidence.

He couldn’t afford to be confident, no matter what advantages his new allies had provided him.

Kai turned to his teammates as they lifted up into the air. Their flight was stiff and graceless, quite unlike Donovan who moved with the deftness of a native animal. The observation gave Kai pause, but there was no other option. They would have to manage.

He looked to the front again, then dropped to all fours and pounced forward. He sailed through the open air and began to swing from cable to cable, sometimes spinning around one to change course toward the next. This was much like how his forebears had moved through the trees, but modern Somari refused to do so after childhood, believing it to be primitive and unsophisticated. Sinit-class infiltrators like Kai received special training however, as their work often took them away from the civilized ground.

He could feel the ship’s nearly imperceptible touch as he went, tracking him in anticipation of their plan.

It didn’t take long to outpace the monstrous construct’s plodding progress, but unlike before, it now subtly reacted to Kai’s position. It had finally come to appreciate him as a threat, and that realization stoked the perilous confidence sparking up inside him.

Kai hit a particularly large cable and clutched tight, then reoriented himself and prepared to attack. He signaled to his team, channeled force and heat into his legs and thrust out across the air.

The enemy construct stopped and turned to face him while beams of searing light crashed into it. Kai landed on the catwalk with a roll, came to his feet and sprinted forward while his momentarily disoriented target stumbled onto its back foot.

Then the chamber’s walls blasted jets of chilled biological plasma, forming a fog so dense that none of Kai’s senses could penetrate it. Instead, his mission-comp analyzed the roll and swirl of the inert clouds, and statistically reconstructed the moving objects within.

The instant before he crossed into frigid vapor, Kai commanded his muscle machinery to flare with power and his entire body began to glow like an incandescent filament about to burn out. Miraculously, the heat stabilized as he pierced the cloud’s skin, and he managed to neither immolate himself nor fall prey to shock.

A flickering spectre of the construct loomed ahead of him, blinded and confused by the sudden assault. It twisted back and forth at the waist, searching all around for the impending attack, but its senses weren’t sophisticated enough.

One step away, Kai’s super-charged muscles contracted and then burst out, driving his fist forward with a speed and force he’d never thought possible. At the same time, Legacy’s gravitational forces adeptly pressed along the chain of muscle and bone, further accelerating his attack.

His knuckles struck. The chamber echoed with the deafening crack of a one-tonne bomb, and the force of it flung the construct backward, trailed by spinning vortices of gaseous coolant.

The infiltrator jumped down and spun about the walkway, the massive chamber spiraling around him as he approached the enemy’s side. He was still inverted when he struck, kicking twice before returning to his feet, then he drove his elbow through its face.

Legacy assisted him so artfully that he completely forgot about her influence; he could focus on the fight while she worked quietly behind the scenes.

As the Eireki construct bounced up from the floor, it was already reacting. It slapped at the ground and launched itself back to its feet, and slid from there directly into a new attack pattern.

Kai prepared himself, and time congealed. The monstrous construct stepped forward with an excess of swagger, and adopted an unfamiliar stance. It kept its chin low, raised its rear hand as a guard but left the front loose for attack.

When it threw its first punch, Kai contorted to avoid the attack and sent his own strike around the construct’s arm and into its facemask. From there, he trapped and locked the extended arm, then torqued hard and slammed it back to the floor.

Still holding the appendage, he bent it back and held it as a lever, keeping his enemy safely pinned. Legacy’s limitless strength reinforced him, and the Eireki machine’s struggling simply couldn’t overcome him.

Time melted and poured forth.

“What now, Sinit?” the mission-comp asked, voice rich with curiosity.

“We wait,” he said, and hoped it would make a difference.

It did, but not the difference he was looking for. Before Kai could understand what was happening, the construct pushed back against its own joint and dislocated the shoulder with a loud crack. That gave it just enough leeway to twist free of the hold, and it capitalized on the opening with terrible swiftness. Blows came in quickly, battering the inside of Kai’s elbow, armpit, throat. Legacy could offer no help.

An armored hand gripped Kai about the face, pressing at his skull with crushing force, and it flung him into a thick conduit.

Things sparked and exploded around him while his vision was left a mess of flickering colors and darkness. Electricity wracked him, fouling his nerve pathways and causing him to jerk uncontrollably.

The mission-comp came to his rescue. What was initially chaotic became serenely orchestrated, and the energy flowed along his bones and into the armored knuckle guard. The clever move bought him just enough control to roll free of the damaged conduit and out to safety.

The visual errors retreated quickly and he relocated his foe, which had resumed its march to the hollow-drive. It was nearly there, and the two armored troopers held their fire for fear of damaging the ship’s living core.

Kai had no time to repair, nor to plan an attack. He had only desperation, but that was a weapon that’d served him well in the past. A battlecry welled up in his throat and surged out his mouth while he launched out across the chamber and once more into the fray.

The construct casually jumped up to the hollow-drive’s cage and climbed inside, where lights were now frantically dancing in fear. Kai reached the cage a quarter of a second later, grabbed hold and shoved himself inside.

He tried to compress time but his circuitry was exhausted, and Legacy’s coolant jets were out of range, so his body temperature spiked monumentally.

There would be only one chance. It came a moment too late.

The Eireki construct swung its fist back and drove it into the hollow-drive’s transparent casing. A thin crack appeared, but the structure didn’t give way.

As the thing reached back to hammer the device again, Kai lunged across the last few meters and bashed his knuckles into the side of its head. Energy surged through them both like an angry god’s rebuke, and all turned to purest white.

Unconsciousness took him.

***

The soft bliss of Marcus Donovan’s dreams gave way and he was thrust into lucidity. He floated disembodied in a shifting green mist, and the voice of Legacy howled all around him in anguish and mortal terror.

He scrambled to make some sense of the situation. His body lurked out beyond the edges of this place, flitting away from any attempt to grab hold of it, and his memory was a formless haze. But he was awake. Noncorporeal but awake.

“Why am I here?”

Legacy was too overcome to respond.

If the road to waking was blocked, he needed to find another path. He sent out riders that searched the expanse for open circuits, but only one presented itself. It was the link that bridged him to Legacy.

Whatever was going on, Marcus knew it was an emergency. Something unthinkable was happening, and it required his immediate intervention. A dark feeling told him he may already be too late.

A sea of mind lay on the other side, stormy, churning, and chaotic. It threatened to swallow him whole, and yet he had to try.

He stilled the core of fear that burnt brightly inside him and drove himself into the link. The green mist parted, giving way to a tunnel of streaking stars and the massive pull of a gas giant. He was immediately plummeting out of control, and try as he might, the fear would not be abated.

He screamed and the stars screamed with him.

Then the two were one, an imperfect amalgam that threatened to spin apart at any moment and be undone. He was the ship and Marcus Donovan at once, with only thin tendrils of naked desperation clutching at the mismatched seams.

He was in a panic, but recognizing the fact was enough to lead him back toward reason. He could feel the fear, mold it, and with some effort place it safely aside. With it still itching at the back of his minds, he looked past and searched throughout his cavernous body for information.

The smashed and bloody remains of Eireki littered his veins. Arterial walls had been shredded around a wound that stabbed deep into his core, and at its end, the hollow-drive screamed in pain.

His life energy leaked out as he drifted through the heavens, the shining Earth all the while beckoning him from below. But before he could sink into despair, his consciousness dove into the drive chamber and more closely examined the scene. The Yakara bezerker was there, brought to stillness but alive, with the alien infiltrator laid out beside it. Alex Faulkland and Esperanza Moreno hovered nearby encased in MASPEC armors.

They were flying the way he did, and it gave him a momentary spark of pride, but pride had to wait. His focus instead attacked the hollow-drive, washing over its shell with dozens of sensor organs. They found only a single incomplete crack. The machine was intact.

Marcus whispered to the drive and touched it lovingly, and the peculiar device returned, huffing and panting, to calm. You’re alright, he told it, you will heal.

And soon its soul once again sang brightly within him.

He sensed that as long as he didn’t reach above half-thrust, the device should hold. They could figure out a more permanent solution later.

His attention shifted from the chamber to the void outside, and the growing feel of atmosphere brushing along his side. He’d never been this intimately involved in guiding Legacy, so he simply had to hope that instinct would take care of it.

Marcus stoked the hollow-drive’s fire and felt an immediate surge in his flesh. Dozens of muscles lit up within him, lenses designed to focus gravitic force in order to manipulate artificial wells. He unleashed them, and it felt like grasping and pulling himself across a satin sheet.

Legacy and Marcus’ thirteen-kilometer body began to rise. Good, he thought to himself, just a bit more and I can push us into a stable orbit.

The hollow-drive’s casing held, and little by little, its output crackled and grew. The great ship flexed and slid out away from the Earth’s atmosphere easily… and then came a bang.

Pain thumped in Legacy’s forward arm, one of two structures that connected her primary hull to the eight-kilometer factory complex. Armor and meat tore away, and the blast pushed the two sides apart. He bent and strained, fighting with all his might to hold on, because he couldn’t lose the factory.

He lost focus, and gravity once again assailed him. Down and down, into the thick air that felt like water against his void-born hull. Down into the smothering chaos of density.

There could be no recovery any longer. He was too wounded and disoriented to right himself, and so he fell into the waiting Earth, rushing as best he could to protect the thousand Eireki inside. He triggered his emergency systems and all throughout him, the Eireki were wrapped in protective cocoons of white ceramic then spat out to drift like leaves in the wind.

The air grew hot like a blowtorch. Marcus tried to angle himself sideways, keeping his stronger side toward the ground in order to protect the nearly severed secondary hull. He tightened his lenses and shot gravity wells out above him, now too weak to overcome the planet’s own draw, but at least they slowed his descent.

He and Legacy struck the thicker air like a rubber ball hitting a gong. The tone resonated in the ship’s body, nearly shaking him to pieces, but he remained intact. Pierced, bleeding, broken and falling. Yet in one piece.

The rising wind rushed by like an endless stream of cotton sheets, and more than anything, he wanted to just give in. Close his eyes and let the world slam into him.

But even if Legacy wouldn’t, he still had to fight. It wasn’t his time yet.

He tilted in mid-air, allowing the blade-like shape of his body to cut the wind and change direction. He flexed and aimed himself northward, toward the soft snow, the somber cold, and the only ones left who might protect him.

Patches of flatland and rolling hills flew by underneath, and the sound grew unimaginably loud, not just a sibilant hush but now a shredding roar. His body rumbled along currents in the late autumn air, leaving a ghostly trail of steam through the falling snow.

He pulled back, screaming, and bashed into the ground. Several billion tonnes struck down, dug into the soil, and splashed a hot wave of debris more than ten kilometers into the distance.

The tectonic plate beneath him rumbled, shifted, and quaked… and Marcus allowed himself to sleep.


I literally can’t describe how jazzed I was to find the right title for this chapter. I was looking for something very specific, and it was one of those rare cases where I found exactly what I was looking for. I think I’m going to celebrate with some cake.

Next up is Chapter 37: Vigil, which may very well be here later today.

~Chris

Copyright 2013. All rights (currently) reserved.

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