Long Fall — Chapter 44

First up tonight in Biotech Legacy: Long Fall, we take a gander at Chapter 44: To Live and Wander.

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.

Time to ramble…


Chapter 44
To Live and Wander

On their return trip aboard the limping Pegasus, Jack and Amira looked out over the strange scene with sadness and regret. The Eireki starship Legacy lay across thirteen kilometers of snow in a canyon she’d excavated with her emergency landing. Her coloration was weak, and her skin seemed to sag limply.

The smaller factory hull remained connected by a single thin bridge that was bent up at an awkward angle. She was a weak and dying animal.

The rest of the Legacy Fleet had set down in a wide circle to guard their wounded flagship, a few hundred of them arrayed like flocks of birds hunting for worms in the snow. They were mostly small gunships shaped like living torpedoes, except for a single large cruiser with a more triangular layout.

“That’s Faulkland’s ship,” Amira said. “The Phoenix.”

“Not much of a match for the Nefrem behemoth,” Jack said glumly while measuring it with his eyes. He figured the prince’s so-called Splinter Legion would be the size of a standard Nefrem invasion force, outnumbering this fleet ten to one.

But the prince was making desperate moves, and such behavior was utterly foreign to Nefrem-kind, at least so far as Jack understood them. They only ever pressed forward, a crushing wave of cloned minds tuned to absolute precision, who never tired, never faltered, and never accepted defeat.

Jack felt a dangerous and fascinating possibility that this rebellious prince could represent something wholly new. Perhaps something that could be reasoned with… bargained with.

But Jack doubted a Nefrem mind could ever stray that far, and the prince had already proven himself brutal and pitiless. His words and actions were in accord, the products of a warped mind with no regard for the sanctity of life.

Jack looked at Amira, who stood beside him in remarkably good health. Her upgrades could apparently take one hell of a licking.

“We can’t fight them,” Jack said to her.

Amira nodded. “I know. But what other choice do we have?”

“Coalition,” Jack offered. “If we all attack at once, maybe we can surprise them. The New Union, Oikeyans, Arkang…”

“No.”

Silence.

Amira’s eyes were locked on the city Yuon Kwon. “The Unies hate us some way I can’t comprehend,” she said. “They tried to murder us all… and if I were driven like that, I know what my next move would be.”

Jack simply couldn’t believe it. The idea was preposterous. How could good men and women ally themselves with a slavering beast that ate worlds? How could their hatred be so strong?

“We have to try,” he said. “Otherwise, the Garden’s lost.” Something about that sounded strange in his mouth, and he wasn’t sure why.

As the Pegasus flew under Amiasha’s dome, Sal turned and walked away saying, “You can’t always fix things with a bandage and a fucking kiss on the cheek, Jack.”

She left him to stand there alone watching the alien city rush by in shades of peach and blue, with swarms of living traffic filling the air all around. This place had once been a beacon of light for Jack, and the sight of it still filled him with hope. Back then, he lived in the shadows and communed with Amiasha in secret, helping the mighty Yuon Kwon foster the precious colony inside, but mostly he just watched it all happen from the sidelines, desperate to see his gambit pay out.

It wasn’t long before Amira Saladin started working to transform the colony into a full-fledged civilization, and when that finally day arrived, Jack immediately grew restless. He was filled deep inside with worry that others out there needed help; people were suffering and dying alone, and he wasn’t doing a damned thing about it.

He became so depressed, so unbearable that Lisa finally begged him to go…

The Pegasus set down opposite one of the Fleet’s shuttle on the grass outside Amiasha’s pavilion. Jack scanned the area and saw a group of mixed species, and both Kai and Alex Faulkland were there. The sight of them filled him with dread, and he couldn’t quite pinpoint why. The hollow-drive inside of him simultaneously stoked itself to a fury, which he wrestled back to calm.

His feet remained planted on the bridge, and he simply stood there chewing on everything that had gone so very wrong recently.

***

Amira jogged down the Pegasus’ port access ramp, fiddling with her left wrist as she went. She’d built nerve transducers into her arms, giving her precision enough to make microscopic adjustments while on the move.

With a flourish, she finished patching the short that had made Fenris’ gravity cannon so expensive to use, then she looked up at the open field and the peculiar alien cathedral on the other side.

The council were huddled near the cathedral’s entrance, where they were having a heated debate with Alex Faulkland. A humanoid creature in an unfamiliar white and blue uniform stood back and to his side.

The group stopped squabbling completely and turned as Amira neared, and she felt like she suddenly had a dozen extra kilos on her shoulders. She despised having that kind of attention, largely due to being raised in a place where it was impossible to find that many people standing around without work to get done.

Damn, she missed that planet.

She marched up and poked the admiral’s chest. “What the hell is your starship doing on my front lawn, Faulkland?”

The aging astronaut glared at her, his face becoming all crow’s feet and no eyes. “Dying,” he said. “There was a terrorist attack, and it nearly cut her in two. She doesn’t have long, Sal.”

Amira winced, but it didn’t blunt her attack. “What was the point of your fucking isolation if you couldn’t even keep attackers out of your own chicken-shit fleet?”

Faulkland took a strained breath and said, “We screwed up, but this isn’t the time. You know that.”

And she did. She felt petty and childish, but Donovan and his fleet always had that effect on her. She forced herself back on track. “So… the Nefrem battle fleet.”

Faulkland nodded. “Punched through our automated defenses and wiped out our first response. Took a big bite out of the Moon in the process. By the time they got here, the rest of our ships were on the ground guarding Legacy. The bastards caught us flat footed.”

The old man looked the way he did after a long night of losing at cards.

Sympathy flickered in Amira’s heart. “It wouldn’t have mattered,” she said. “I got a pretty good look at their capabilities, and we weren’t prepared for anything like this.”

The power she faced had been above and beyond all of her expectations. Advances came so quickly to her technology that she’d gotten ahead of herself and thought she’d joined the big leagues, but it was all just delusion. She’d fooled herself into believing she could stand against her own natural predator, and the reckoning had been painful.

From the look on Faulkland’s face, her supposition didn’t make a difference. He’d have rather died in the first wave.

“What happened over there?” he asked.

“We failed,” she said. After a few seconds, she realized she was being tight lipped out of spite. “We maybe could’ve beaten the special units, but then this monster stormed the scene and swatted us all like rowdy children.”

“Just glad you made it back in one piece,” Faulkland said with an unclear amount of sincerity.

Amira felt weak. “I’m only alive because it wanted me to deliver a message.” She briefly considered her audience: an admiral on the edge of breaking, an overly ambitious councilwoman, and a diverse group of aliens who’d grown accustomed to living on the edge of terror.

It couldn’t be much worse.

She said, “He claims to have rebelled against Nemesis, and he’s here seeking asylum. Maybe integration. And he made it clear the offer only extends to humankind.”

Panic erupted among the council members, and Amira only wondered why it took them this long. They’d all been fucked for a while; the Nefrem’s conditions didn’t change the severity all that much.

“I don’t know what we can do,” Amira said. It was a foreign phrase in her mouth, backed by a similarly foreign feeling in her stomach. “Jack seems to think we could convince everyone to join together.” She felt like an idiot for even saying it.

Faulkland’s reaction was odd. His eyes flared with surprise, while fury rumbled along his upper lip. Then he calmed himself and said, “We’ll reach out, but it’s a pipe-dream. Lovely, but nothing more.”

Amira nodded. She could always tell when Faulkland was bluffing; she only wished she knew what it was about.

Sigrid Erikkson wore her usual cold expression. She was calculating things, and Amira had suspicions about what those calculations were. The woman wasn’t a xenophobe, but there was something disturbingly mercenary at her core.

Councilman Orokoa, a thoughtful rozom with a very proud horn on his snout, said, “If we can’t fight, then we must run.”

“We don’t have anywhere to go,” Faulkland said.

Amira said, “We could regroup on Mars. Fortify and plan a second return.”

At the mention of Mars, Faulkland shook his head. He looked her in the eyes, and “I’m sorry,” was all he said.

Amira managed to put her sadness aside. Living in a hostile frontier, everyone understood that death was always lurking around the next corner. Things happened, and you got used to losing people.

“Then there’s nowhere,” she said. “We stay and fight. We find a way to win.”

Orokoa exhaled loudly through his dorsal hole. He said, “We tire of fighting, Amira Saladin.”

“Then where the fuck do we go?”

Orokoa pointed to the sky. “We have wandered before,” he said, “and we could wander again.”

Quiet dropped over the group like a curtain. It was the sort of quiet produced by people who wanted desperately to argue, but had no good answers left.

Her father had once told her that when there were no more good answers, it was time to accept the bad ones. Amira said, “We begin preparations immediately. Councilmen, get all the housing on lock-down, militia armed and mobilized throughout the city, and all fighter wings prepped. We need to be off world in less than eighteen hours. Faulkland, tell Donovan his Fleet is on vanguard duty, at least until we’re off the ground. We can make longer term plans once we have some distance.”

Faulkland obviously had reservations, but he didn’t share them. Instead, his eyes burned like welding torches as he curtly said, “Understood.”

Amira gave everyone a nod and they broke, but Faulkland’s iron grip caught her arm before she could leave. She rounded on him, ready to unleash a likely lethal punch, but the look in his eyes disarmed her. It was humility.

“What?” she asked.

“There’s a situation aboard Legacy, and we need your help.”

“I can’t save your ship,” she said coldly, “and I have more important work than watching her die.”

“It’s not that… I can’t discuss it here, but… No matter how you feel about him, you owe him at least this much.”

Faulkland didn’t have to say who. Donovan needed her for some reason, and the fact he’d ceded control to his second in command pointed in the direction of debilitating injury. She’d wished that on him and more in the past, but the admiral was right: she didn’t hate him enough to damage her sense of loyalty.

She steadied herself and said, “I’ll meet you in Legacy’s port hangar in ten minutes.”

“The factory,” Faulkland said, and Amira nodded.

They shook hands, and it was the first time Amira had ever seen Faulkland look relieved. They headed for their respective ships, and that was the moment she noticed Faulkland’s bodyguard had disappeared. Under other circumstances, she was sure that fact would’ve disturbed her more.


Next will be Chapter 45: In Blessed Ignorance, which should be up a little later tonight.

~Chris

Copyright 2013. All rights (currently) reserved.

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