Long Fall — Chapter 41

Sorry about the pause yesterday folks… decided to take Sunday to myself, but progress resumes today with Chapter 41: Four Lions.

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 the safari begin.


Chapter 41
Four Lions

Daniel Grey was Orion.

Its metallic arms were his arms. Its pumps were his heart, its sensors were his eyes and ears, and its fusion furnace burned to give him life.

Daniel Grey was Orion, and he blasted out above the flaming jungle. Powered legs launched him up into the air, and rockets on his sides and back flashed to life, growling as they pushed him higher still. Alien filth filled the air all around him, and he unleashed the monstrous light of his particle cannon in their directions as he passed.

Ceramic birds shattered against the canvas of the sky, their glassy remains shimmering as they fell to the inferno below.

Bright outlines marked out the various combatants in the center of his vision, while at the edges, graphs and charts oscillated as they tracked his vital stats. So far, all was green and good. He was performing around 80% of peak, and nothing out there had posed much of a challenge yet.

“Orion Prime reporting. All systems nominal,” he said. “Proceeding to objective site.”

“Roger, Orion Prime. You are cleared to engage the anomaly. Protect the structure’s integrity at all costs.”

“Understood,” he said, and charged across the open field. Alien forces turned and ran at his approach, and he casually cut down whatever remained in range. The rest of his forces quickly moved to secure the area, and he angled in toward the cracked mound.

He dropped down to a trot, driven by mechanical legs whose strength seemed endless. The deformed landscape loomed up ahead of him, and he glanced all about looking for his target. Motion near the base of the hill caught his attention, then disappeared into one of the many darkened cavities.

Daniel charged forward and a shape flashed out of the shadows, striking him viciously. He skidded back on his feet, leaned forward and came to a quick stop.

A humanoid figure redrawn with the swooping lines of a jungle cat stood in front of him. Its skin was a mesh of blown glass, and its eyes burned the color of tropical waters.

Daniel’s robotic voice came forth low and sure. “Halt,” he said.

The target didn’t halt. Daniel raised his arm and fired.

A green beam stabbed out but the target had already moved, dancing clear of the weapon’s aim and pushing forward on sickly graceful steps. Daniel cranked his mechanized body around and threw a punch while his other arm’s beam continued to fire, slicing through the air and then the land.

The target batted the punch upward with one fist and bashed Daniel’s elbow with the other. Artificial muscles stretched but managed to absorb the blow.

Without missing a beat, Daniel ignited his thrusters and drove his foot up through the target’s chin. The thunderous impact launched the thing up into the air and backward, spiraliing and flipping end over end.

Daniel brought his other arm back and fired again, but the target somehow righted itself in the air and avoided the beam’s bright core. Superheated particles scraped along its surface at nearly the speed of light, leaving a single shallow wound and nothing more.

“Presence of enemy Ultra Unit confirmed,” Daniel said. “Please advise, HQ.”

“Support inbound, Orion Prime. ETA thirty seconds. Sit tight.”

“Sitting really fucking tight,” Daniel digitally grumbled.

***

Jack watched the black-skinned monster cautiously. It stood two-and-a-half meters tall and vaguely resembled a grizzly bear, despite three metallic tusks on the front of its broad head. The electrified muscles inside of it seemed to be a refined version of the jetman’s, and Jack reasoned (based in part on the last fifteen seconds worth of sparring) that this must be the New Union’s Newtype Combatant.

Jack decided to call him Smokey for lack of a better name, and Smokey looked pissed. Sadly, Jack very much doubted the monster’s righteous anger had much to do with the multiple forest fires darkening the late day sky.

The two stood still and regarded one another while the battlefield around them emptied. Soldiers on both sides must have noticed there were two titans clashing nearby… or something even more terrible was coming.

Jack felt a tingle at the back of his head, running down along the small spikes which ringed his skull like a dinosaur king’s crown. Something terrible was coming.

“Energy,” a quiet and waking voice within him warned. “Heat.”

His chest puffed-up and he felt the strange lifeform inside of him surge. His hollow-drive burned brightly, splashing power over his bio-engingeered muscles.

Jack swelled with strength and dashed forward while the ground behind him exploded. A glance over his shoulder revealed a wing of gunships, each weighed down with heavy weapons that flashed and spat molten hate at the ground.

While the Earth’s skin was chewed up all around him, he ran and planned. Memories of running over fields and through forests as a child seemed to smolder in his mind, the youthful freedom given new life as he vaulted great cracks in the shredded soil. But no plan ever arrived.

“Throw” the groggy voice within him whispered.

Jack didn’t have time to argue with disembodied voices. He leaped forward, rolled, grabbed a broken piece of metal with both hands, and continued running. Another memory flashed through his mind, this one of Kai throwing a similar piece of debris, and Jack still felt awe at the way it had hurtled out into the misty blue distance.

A blast struck nearby and the ground beneath his feet turned to soft powder. He barely kept his footing as he ran and decided it was time. He spun, channeling all of his momentum into his arm and released the piece of metal like a throwing disc.

It sliced a wide arc through the air, swinging out to the side and curving back in to punch a hole through the lead gunship. Smoke boiled out of the vehicle and it listed to the side, dropped slowly from its high perch.

The others immediately pulled back, but Jack wouldn’t have any chance to celebrate. He turned and saw Smokey drawing a bead on him, and he leaned back just in time to avoid another searing beam of light.

Smokey jumped high into the air, a perfect black silhouette in front of the red and angry sun, who resumed fire as he rapidly returned to the Earth. Jack jumped clumsily back to avoid the fire, landed in a crouch and then launched forward to meet his foe.

A broad blade ratcheted forward from Smokey’s other arm, and flames burst from his back as he rocketed downward. At the same time, Jack spiraled up through the air like a rifle round. At the end of his path, Smokey pulled back his bladed arm.

Two immense forces collided and bathed the rubble-strewn field in ethereal light.

Smokey’s blade stabbed down through Jack’s shoulder, into his torso where it ripped through bundles of muscle and God knew what else, while his own knuckles blasted through Smokey’s head. Ropy metal tendons stretched, slackened, and absorbed the assault.

They struggled against each other, pirouetting on their way to the ground like mating hawks. Human ingenuity fought against the Eireki’s finest weapon, and the Eireki offering came up short. Smokey’s cannon arm crashed into Jack’s face again and again while the impaling sword stilled him, until finally the technological titan ignited its thrusters again and delivered Jack into the waiting arms of the Earth.

***

Zakesh flew out low above the jungle canopy. The Alarhya named Zelliar lay within her, a spirit and mind of unusual strength, bonded totally to the Yuon Kwon named Kinj Aum-Kesh. Together they were a weapon of untold beauty and power, a dark and hateful talon born to pierce the dying light.

Zakesh’s people, the brave troops of the Oikeyan Legion, had seen the wanton destruction and retreated in the face of dangers they could neither confront nor understand. They were powerless to hold this embattled ground, but Zakesh was not. Conflict’s seductive call sang out to her, and she howled with infinite fury in reply.

The black and burning trees gave way to the planet’s abused skin, where uncountable bodies lay rotting in pools of mixed blood. Further on, the ground had swollen like an abscess, with a dry and bent surface both cracked and crumbling.

And there at the foot of the hill fought two gods. A black electrical monster crouched atop its foe, which was more slender and coated in white and blue scales.

Zakesh slowed. If one eliminated the other, her own task would be half complete. Instead of attacking, she stopped in mid-air and watched, motivated by curiosity so great it overpowered her bottomless well of hate.

The large black god pounded on his smaller opponent’s face, causing that one to jerk and jolt. Dust rolled and buffeted all around them. All the while, Zakesh’s many eyes studied, absorbing several bands of light and threading them together into a single understanding. She learned the two god’s biorhythms and looked sharply for whatever deficit’s must surely exist.

The victim began to emit a signal which Zakesh heard as a low song full of anger and ruin. Two voices sung together, and each melody wandered in and around its partner. At the same time, the white god’s eyes began to glow an intense shade of blue.

He wrenched hard to the side, and the black god’s sword flexed, split, came undone. Splinters shot out and showered over the two fighting beasts.

The white god sprang up while his enemy dodged back in surprise. He planted his still functioning arm on his foe’s shoulder, vaulted overhead with a flip, locked that arm around the throat and squeezed.

The black god would not be defeated. Vents on his back yawned and fire poured out. The other tried for a moment to hold on, but quickly relented, rolling away with his multi-colored scales glistening wetly.

At this rate, neither would be dead by nightfall, when Zakesh’s strength would begin to atrophy. The rivers of her patience did not run deep.

Zakesh dove in. While streaking toward the black god, her shoulder cannon barked a hot bolt of plasma at the other. She’d decided to take them both while they were distracted, to rend them and leave their pieces littered on the battlefield to fertilize new growth in the spring.

Her bolt caught the white god unaware, and he let out a sharp cry as he flopped to the ground. In the same instant, Zakesh reached the black god and her four clawed hands slashed out, tearing deep gashes in his carapace.

Sparks and drops of heated metal burst out of the wounds. Zakesh pushed on, slash after slash, then brought her cannon forth and fired. The point blank impact splashed back onto her, and she laughed with madness.

As the black god tilted back, stumbled and fell, Zakesh directed her voice toward his head and screamed in radio waves. The metal helmet bubbled, crumpled, and partially fell away. Inside was metal and more metal beyond with no meat at all.

The black god, some kind of unholy golem, raised his arm and golden light smote Zakesh in the chest. Part of the weapon’s energy sprayed away off her hardened shell, but still much of it struck hard and hot, tearing laminate layers away from her.

Before the next golden lance could hit, Zakesh had slithered through the air riding waves of cosmic radiation which she propelled herself against. She wheeled about and sliced back in, bringing her razor-sharp fingers back to once again maul her enemy.

She managed a few fast strikes which broke away more of his skin, but it wasn’t enough. She would need time to find the dark god’s weakness, but the honored elders didn’t grant it to her her; the fate they chose for Zakesh seemed altogether more cruel.

She felt another force shivering across her shell, something approaching quickly from above with wells of strength as bafflingly deep as those of the the gods she presently fought. She and the black god both turned and looked to see a slight figure gliding in against the hurt and faded sky. As this thing came nearer, wings of golden light grew from its back and gently brought it to the soil.

It arrived in the shape of a Nefrem, clad in mirrored skin of gold and bronze. The way it moved, breathed, pulsed with strength all smelt of the Earth-Nefrem’s powered shells. This was some kind of exoskeleton, but somehow also elevated to the level of divinity.

The golden god shouted something in the incomprehensible human tongues. In response, both Zakesh and the black god raised their weapons and fired. Their respective weapons turned the golden newcomer into a shower of spent energy.

When their shooting stopped, the target remained standing. The golden god held one hand before it, crackling with electricity, and a bubble of magnetic radiation wobbled around it and collapsed.

Zakesh cursed the ancient elders and their wrath, and rushed to find a new position.

***

Amira Saladin stood up straight and shook her hand. Her fingers tingled like she’d just knocked her funnybone, and that probably meant a short in one of her internal battery connections. Likely the banks embedded in her wrist.

Data from Fenris’ sensor suite was displayed directly on her eyes using a hacked version of the Eireki hologram technology. Her fluorescing microbes swam on the surface of an eyeball, bending and generating light to project a cohesive image. In this case, they told her that she still had 98% charge left.

Her headset computer measured the two target’s speeds, output levels, network activity. One thing it didn’t tell her—but which she observed with her own two eyes—was that the two bastards were terrified.

Amira had really come to appreciate making a big entrance. She found that the right theatrics could inflict psychological damage before she’d even spun up her weapons.

The predatory Yuon Kwon was the more aggressive of the two. It immediately turned its feigned retreat into a fresh attack, and Amira reacted accordingly. Her headset overclocked her mind and pulled time apart while she watched her pouncing enemy with admiration. It reminded her of scorpions filmed using high-speed photography, so fluid and full of instinctive grace. It slashed twice before stabbing with its barbed tail.

Inside of Fenris, Amira was faster. She took a boxing stance, batted away one hand and the other, then caught the tail beneath her right arm. She charged her free hand with amber light and jammed it into the Yuon Kwon’s glowing, blue-green eye.

She sent it sailing back, spasming. The weapon was a psychic disruptor, a very gross implementation of Eireki telepathic technology that delivered a mental shock on touch. And from the looks of things, what it lacked in elegance or technical proficiency, it made up for in brutality.

The Yuon Kwon hit the ground stiffly and began to jerk uncontrollably. Amira had no way to know if the effect was permanent, or if it would even last more than a few seconds. That left her no room for dawdling, as her father would say.

She turned and tracked the New Union trooper, a hulking man with a battletank for a mother. His plate armor was badly scarred revealing machinery within, but he was still standing and eager to fight.

The dark trooper snapped its arm up and fired a particle beam at her. This wasn’t some cheap imitation of her technology… it was a very deft derivative, using the same paints but resulting in a very different picture.

If the machine weren’t trying to kill her right that second, she might have considered it a love letter from another designer. But her technology was still superior and custom built for the task. Fenris’ magnetic field brushed the particle beam aside, and Amira marched on.

When the next blast came, she wasn’t so lucky. Its spectrum was altered enough to allow it partially past her defenses, and it scraped along her reflective skin like sandpaper.

She switched to IR mode and could see the target’s powerplant glowing at its core, spinning like a gyroscope made of flame. She watched conduits convey power to the weapon again, and as it fired she deftly sidestepped the attack.

On the next step, she brought her arms together and flipped up panels on both wrists, causing them to blossom like tropical flowers. She engaged the weapon and light rippled and warped around the space between her and the black trooper. Where it landed, it shredded the particle cannon to bits.

The weapon was a turbulent gravity pulse, and the effect was like a bullet striking a book, sending scraps of pages fluttering on the wind. But she gritted her teeth in anger when she saw how much battery it drained.

Things never performed as well in the field as they did in the lab.

The tingling in her right hand turned to burning, and she had a fair idea where the efficiency was being eaten up. Excess energy wasn’t returning to batteries… it was discharging down her wrist and out her fingers, and if she kept up like this, she’d have to rebuild the entire hand when she was done.

Amira tried not to imagine the awkward logistics of that operation as she continued the fight.

The Union trooper reacted swiftly, casting his broken weapon aside while he jetted out over the ground. He obtusely telegraphed a punch, and Amira faded back to intercept it, but the circumstances changed. The telegraph was a feint. Instead, the trooper hit her shoulder-first and drove her down into the ground.

Before they came to a stop, it began to pound on her face to a quick beat, and Fenris took the pummeling badly. The armor’s biomechanical tissues surged with fear, tightening as the shockwaves rocked it.

Amira needed to change the game fast or she wouldn’t have a face for much longer, but the enemy had her pinned. She had no choice but to take the punishment and wait for an opportunity to present itself.

This time, the opportunity’s name was Jack Hernandez. He crashed through the Union trooper, spun him in a wide circle and threw him across the broken terrain.

The trooper jumped back to his feet, but Amira was already in motion. She brought her arms together again and sent out another wave of gravitic force, which made a noise like the sky itself screaming.

The trooper tried to dodge, but the blast struck his shoulder and punched a hole straight to the other side. The armor surrounding it crunched and creased, while the arm continued to hang limply from a pair of strained cables and a twisted internal strut.

The Yuon Kwon swam back into the air and prepared to fire its cannon, but it stopped.

Everything everywhere stopped, except the suddenly violent wind and the raging fires they fanned. A moment later, a vast and glowing shape emerged from the deep and darkening sky, the length of it covered in a thousand red eyes that burned like funeral pyres.

All over the horizon, lights raced up to meet the kilometers-long ship. Explosions erupted along its surface but to no effect. Unimpeded, it languidly descended through the clouds and smoke until it crowded the sky.

The trooper and the Yuon Kwon stood frozen, while Jack limped over to Amira. They all stared upward in fear, in awe, in existential panic.

The Yuon Kwon uttered a radio signal. It said simply, “Nefrem.”


After this, we head into Chapter 42: Pureblood. I’ll see about getting that to you later tonight.

~Chris

Copyright 2013. All rights (currently) reserved.

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