More than one chapter in a day? What madness is this?! Well, I want to get Biotech Legacy: Long Fall out around mid-November, so I’m in the last sprint here. Tonight’s second feature is Chapter 37: Vigil, which is a title I originally wanted to use for the second book in a completely different series altogether. That’s just how these things go, though… You don’t use something you like? Shove it in your pocked and save it for later.
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.
Okee-dokee. Let’s get in a somber mood!
The black queen was slain.
He’d driven his fist into her heart before the darkness came, but now he found himself out in the open air, plummeting further and further down, seemingly without end. He marveled at how high up he’d been, and as he fell down through a warm and velvety shadow, he wondered just how much further he had to fall.
Light flickered in his eyes. Winds whistled all around, batting him about just as they had that one time he fell out of the skies over China. Where the fuck am I?
He flipped end over end, alternating pale sky and white Earth. There wasn’t time to right himself, nor even to reach back and look for a ripcord.
The ground hit Jack like an express train.
But the shock of the impact passed and he was surprised to find himself in little pain. His arms and legs wriggled, buried deep in a snow drift and partially into the hard-packed soiled beneath it. He flexed and dirt crunched out of his way.
He dug himself free and stood gingerly while packed clumps of snow slid off him and dropped to the ground. The sky looked even more dire from the ground, as sick and ghastly as a coma patient. Mist and kicked-up frost swirled across the landscape, whipped about by merciless winds, with a mammoth shadow the size of a mountain looming somewhere out beyond.
“I should be freezing,” Jack whispered to himself. He felt the cold, but didn’t find it unpleasant. A moment later, he discovered a hooded poncho on his shoulders, tattered and barely proof against the cutting winds.
He didn’t question the garment’s mysterious appearance. He simply clutched it tightly around himself and set out, marching through knee-high powder, pace after long pace.
He made quick work of the distance, never feeling even a hint of tiredness, soreness, or hunger as he went. He’d been in conditions like this before, but those were harrowing treks despite the experienced corpsmen on their team. Back then, it’d been a struggle just to make it another thirty meters without collapsing, but now he’d covered more than a klick without the slightest strain.
Eventually, he penetrated the clawing winds and sulking mists, and found the alien city called Amiasha waiting on the other side. Jack hadn’t seen his good friend in seven months, and the time hadn’t treated the Yuon Kwon well at all. His skin looked sallow and soft, and vapid colors seemed to float about him.
Jack came to one of the wide ramps, each larger than a regulation football field, and was surprised to find it completely empty of traffic. He assumed the storm had something to do with it, but some of the hardier Oikeyans would usually venture out even in the harshest conditions. Jack hadn’t met the storm that would slow a rhino down.
He hurried up the ramp to a similarly vacant street and continued on into the warehouse district. The air was warmer there and moist, always breathing softly on a slow rhythm like a sleeping dog. The tempo was slower than normal, depressed. Jack might have worried if he knew more about alien medicine.
The story was the same everywhere he went, full of shuttered doors and clear skylanes. He didn’t bother to knock on any of the doors, at least partly out of fear that no one would answer. He was terrified that the city he helped create might already be dead.
Down one block and then the next, Jack marched in toward Amiasha’s central stalk, a fat pillar over a kilometer high connecting the streets to the city’s far ceiling. That was where Jack had first communed with the creature, and if all else failed, it was the one place he was sure to find answers.
When the gargantuan structure had come to completely dominate the sky in front of him, Jack finally discovered some signs of life. Human and Oikeyan stood mingled together in a wide circle, some with bio-lanterns and others with burning candles. The Sey Chen in the group levitated bright balls of amber light between their hands. There were likely a few hundred standing there without moving, and no words passing among them.
Jack reached the edge of the crowd and slipped in. His curiosity had the better of him, and he just had to know what commanded such reverence. As he gently nudged past a rhino, his understanding of the group changed.
This might not be reverence, but fear. They’d come to watch over Amiasha’s still unhealed wound, where the omnibody infection had once festered. But why carry candles for that? What was the purpose?
Jack hunched down beside a jackrabbit who held a small and ornately designed lantern, and he gently tapped her shoulder. In reasonably fluent Mirresh, he whispered below his breath, “Pardon, but why do we watch?”
The jackrabbit responded in the Kitsu whisper, too quiet for humans to hear. “To mourn and to pray,” she said.
The fact that Jack had heard her clearly didn’t immediately grab him. He had other things to deal with. “I apologize for my slowness, but… for what?”
“We pray for ourselves,” she said lightly, “and we mourn Charlie Hernandez.”
The name had struck him like a gavel, and sent him lurching several steps out onto the new flesh. His hands darted out and caught him, and as they contacted the floor, he could feel Amiasha’s sadness, weakness, and fear. He knew that Amiasha could feel him, too.
Jack looked down at those hands and he could feel his heart flare to life. But not thumping. It burned constantly like a blowtorch, crackling and spitting out sparks. His fingers were long, slender, composed of oddly squared off edges. Rather than skin, there was a beautiful ceramic pattern laid-out like stained glass.
What am I? he thought.
“You’re back,” Amiasha said through their connection. “That’s all that matters right now, Jack Hernandez.”
“I’ve come back,” Jack mumbled.
Others had started paying attention to him. “What did he say?” someone asked in a hoarse voice.
The jackrabbit peered at him with her big black eyes. “What are you doing there? Step away from that place. It is not for you.”
“I’m so sorry,” Jack said, not sure whether he was speaking to the jackrabbit or someone else. He tried to stand but clumsily slipped, fell back instead.
A human voice shouted, “Who are you?”
He felt some phantom impulse inside himself twitch, and his poncho split into strips then raced away from him. He had no idea where it went. A second later, he felt a peculiar feeling on his face almost like centipedes walking away from his lips, forehead, nose, and toward his hairline. His soft skin touched the warm breeze, and somehow he’d never realized it was covered to begin with.
A gasp shot through the crowd. Jack stood up, dumfounded by what was happening, and then a memory splashed over him. This was exactly what Donovan had planned, and here it was unfolding completely outside his influence. Jack wondered just how often the fleet commander’s plots managed such a feat.
And before he knew it, he felt himself swept along… but without Donovan there, he realized it was in his own hands. It could unfold how he saw fit.
Jack calmed himself and climbed to his feet, severing the weak connection to Amiasha as he rose. His voice caught in his throat, but he forced it out. “I was Charlie Hernandez,” he said in a reinvigorated voice, which carried out across the crowd with an odd quality like a cave echo.
“How?” hushed voices asked. “Impossible!” others breathily gasped.
If this was going to work, he had to own it. They had to own it, too. “I was taken from this city while protecting you, and the ancient Eireki heard your calls. They remade me in their flesh, and sent me back to you.”
As he looked across the crowd, he could see all their ancestor races in his scattered memory. These were the species which the Eireki had guarded and fostered in their sanctuary, and their sight filled him with a warmth and love he struggled to fully comprehend.
If his recollection of theology was good (and it certainly wasn’t), it was probably time for a miracle. Jack strode out into the center of the sore, and again touched his hands to the raw flesh. He felt the connection with Amiasha twinkle back into existence, and he absorbed the Yuon Kwon’s pain into himself. He sublimated it, turned it to dust and watched it flutter away in the psychic winds.
Next, he gently channeled energy through the connection, filling the wounded skin of the creature with warmth. The color became richer while the surface almost instantly became firm. The healing was still incomplete, but he’d guided it back on track at least.
Jack stood and looked out across the onlookers again. Eyes in every shade of the rainbow watched him intently, confused and amazed at what they were seeing.
“Charlie?” a sweet voice said.
Jack flinched. “Charlie Hernandez is dead,” he said, the words like bitter medicine on his tongue. He looked out to the candles, the glittering orbs of living lightning, the ornate lanterns, but he refused to look for her face. “I’m Vigil,” he said, “and I’ve come back to protect you.”
When the last word was free of his lips, the caterpillars crawled back across his face and sealed into a mask, while the hooded poncho slid back out to cover him. Then he leapt up to the nearest rooftop and rushed away.
That was enough lying and posturing for one day. Rumour and legend would take care of the rest.
Next up is Chapter 38: Recombinant, which could be up later tonight, or early tomorrow.
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