Long Fall — Chapter 48

Afternoon, everybody! Ready for another one? Here’s Chapter 48: Basilisk.

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.

We have lift-off…


Chapter 48
Basilisk

The first wave of attackers arrived three hours and seventeen minutes later. New Union fighter jets blotted out the white and raging sky like a plague of locusts, their approach heralded by a screaming chorus of cruise missiles launched from some ship further on.

The powerful warheads exploded in red and orange balls of flame all around Amiasha’s shell like a wreath of furious roses. When their fires subsided, they revealed discs of quicksilver on Amiasha’s hull, shields controlled by the city’s Sey Chen residents which protected the animal underneath.

The Arkangel Compact’s official response was already in the air. Thousands of Heirath Yuon Kwon with human pilots streamed out into the rising blizzard, while Fleet gunships began to hunt through the skies in a feeding frenzy.

When the two fronts met, flashes of light and bright streamers criss-crossed in a circle around Amiasha like the climax of a mad fireworks show that simply didn’t know when to quit. The crackle was of endless nearby thunder, which slapped the ground and echoed back up into the air.

Alex Faulkland stood atop his personal command cruiser, the Phoenix, which was parked on the ground beside Legacy. He wanted to see the hell that was coming with his own two eyes, in those last minutes before they got out of Dodge once and for all.

It was a massacre up there; Fleet and Arkangel ships were pushing the Union fighters back at a steady pace, but Alex knew not to get his hopes up. This was just the snack plate, and the entree was still on its way.

He was just about to turn and head in when he noticed a humming darkness that caused the roiling clouds to twist, bulge, and finally peel away. It was some kind of ship less than a kilometer long and shaped like a tigershark, which brought an even colder and more vicious wind with it.

Alex headed for the lift as an identical ship descended beside the first, and something told him that his fancy, two-hundred meter bird of war wasn’t going to be enough.

He stepped on a circular platform, and it dropped him down into the Phoenix’s small nerve center. His chair was located centrally, angled so that it was always leaning a little forward; he hated a chair that was too welcoming.

The cabin was the size of a two-car garage, but with a roughly triangular layout. Smooth panels lined the walls, displaying different views of the battle going on all around.

“Let’s get in the air, people. Batteries hot. Be ready for a bumpy ride.”

Alex slipped into the chair and tapped at his console, bringing up graphs that broke down the action. Bars flickered with estimates of units lost on both sides, while a heatmap display indicated where those losses were occurring.

The realization that he was looking at the statistical side of death made him feel briefly ill, so he popped another antacid in his mouth and began chewing it slowly. Meanwhile, the Phoenix hopped off the ground and was airborn.

The screens that ringed the bridge all switched to glass mode, and Alex stared through the driving snow at the twin battleships. His little convoy was going to need every edge it could get and probably more. He recalled that there was one potential edge he’d been ignoring, and he genuinely hated himself for waiting until the worst possible time to finally consider it. But it’d just been that unthinkable, right up until his last remaining option was to be eaten alive by space cannibals.

He keyed a sequence into his console then entered his command code, followed by his secondary command code and a special four-digit pin, and finally pressed the green OK? button twice to confirm. Something (probably his ulcer) told him he should’ve put just a few more obstacles in the way.

Soon, there wouldn’t be any obstacles left.

A panel opened in the ceiling above his chair and a white arm reached down. This particular mechanism had been built for a single purpose. It was shaped like a broad and flat scorpion’s tail with a small spiked payload at the tip, and it looked scary as hell.

Alex was beginning to frown (powerfully) when the arm wheeled around and struck the side of his temple, knocking everything black.

***

Amira Saladin had been working furiously for hours. Her eyes were burning, and when she stopped to think about it, she wasn’t sure she’d blinked at all in the last twenty minutes.

Monitors surrounded her showing live feeds of her work from several angles. She glanced from one to another, then onto the next, tracking dozens of constructor arms in their choreographed dance around Donovan’s hull. She issued new instructions to them in teams, then took control of individuals when their tasks required her personal touch.

A dull thud came from somewhere a hundred klicks away. She was already too late, but she kept at it, in part hoping to at least make the splitting head-ache worthwhile. She just wanted to see him fly.

The vessel that was Marcus Donovan hung in the air outside Amira’s control deck, held aloft in Legacy’s soft gravitic arms, and attached to the mothership by a thick bundle of cables. Despite Amira’s best efforts, he looked like a stitched together mess with parts from different machines sloppily jammed in place. Loose cables hung from the thrusters at his hips, and his forward section was little more than an unfulfilled promise. It was a bulky cap covered in connectors for something she hadn’t managed to finish in time.

That left Donovan totally unarmed as far as Amira was aware. There were structures inside him that she didn’t recognize, but none looked much like offensive weaponry, and that made her tense. She was tempted to quickly weld on a few particle cannons scavenged from gunships, but they’d be little more than switchblades glued to a blue whale’s hide.

And there was one procedure left that took precedence.

Amira took command of five constructor arms at once, brought their torches in, and hastily sealed the last few panels into place. When she looked too close, Donovan resembled a starship less than he did a shanty town, so she chose not to look too close.

She tapped her mic. “Give me some good news, Kinnison.”

His voice came back over the comms. “The tugs are in place,” he said. “We’re waiting on you, Miss Saladin.”

She glanced at her work one last time and winced. “It’s time. What’s your ETA?”

“If nothing goes wrong, should take us about a minute to crack the cage and sever the primary conduits. Another three to get over to the factory… the rest is up to you.”

“If nothing goes wrong,” she muttered cynically. “Alright… Get it done in two and I’ll make sure there’s a new lab in it for you. Deal?”

“I’ll see what I can do.”

Thunder crashed and a horrible rumble permeated the chamber, followed by Legacy moaning low like a wounded elephant. Lights flickered, went out, and came back gradually but weaker than before.

In the next few seconds, the lights dimmed again and never came back. Amira realized with unexpected sadness that Legacy’s heart had been cut out. It was over, and if all went according to plan, Amira and the last workers would be out and gone in a few minutes, never again to return.

Without thinking, her hand reached out and softly stroked the ship’s smooth surface. Her fingers were shaking as they went, with skin that felt cold and dry.

The tugs emerged from the transit tunnels like a school of clown fish towing a hubcap, and Amira’s eyes became wet. Those blinks she’d been holding at bay finally arrived in force.

“Good night,” she said, and the last of Legacy’s light went out for good.

***

The Pegasus flew on through the thick of the fighting, clearing the path ahead with staccato bursts of particle beam fire that crossed the air like flashlights in thick fog. The constantly transforming New Union fighters were rocked and blasted apart by the impacts, transformed finally into remnants for future generations to find.

The strange and elongated Nefrem fighters who had just joined the battle were a different story. Despite their awkward shape like disembodied beaks, they fluttered masterfully through the air, bouncing lightly on the surging winds. And more troublingly, they all moved together in one perfectly orchestrated, adapting formation. Groups broke apart and immediately formed new ones, alternately attacking or distracting their prey.

Tom Greer looked out through the Pegasus’ two-story front windows, and the chaos outside damn near confounded him. He’d only seen its like once before, when his head hit concrete after a particularly strong and drunk man sucker punched him in the jaw.

But the chief’s team were holding their own. Samuels was steady on the helm, and both turrets made quick work of anything that came in their arcs. The ship was making a difference, and that was about the most they could hope for.

Then Tom saw something through the window that really surprised him, someone making a bigger difference than he was. The starship Phoenix, deep blue and large as an aircraft carrier, snapped a barrel roll and looped up into the air, then swooped back down.

Its cohesive light weapons raked the surface of a Nefrem battlecruiser, and the target’s flesh bubbled and scorched at the attack.

“Samuels,” Tom said, “form up on Phoenix the best you can. Zadian, get the main cannon prepped.” He almost told them to keep smaller targets off of the other ship, but it didn’t look like Faulkland needed any help. Even the Nefrem’s unified line couldn’t figure out what to do with the command cruiser’s surprisingly acrobatic maneuvering.

His orders got cut short a moment later. “Could use a hand here, Tom.” It was Amira on the comm channel.

“What can I do, Chief?”

“Legacy didn’t manage to get the bay doors open before she… stopped. And I don’t think we can take the resulting deluge. I need you to make an incision in the factory.”

“How big?”

“Big as you can manage.”

Tom watched Phoenix dance out across the sky then plummet again, scarring the same battlecruiser with its beams of red light. Faulkland didn’t need his help, but the chief did. “We’ll be there soon,” he said, and they were on their way.

***

Hurry, Amira thought. She was suited up in the recently printed Fenris 1.1, and pacing out on Donovan’s snub nose in all her gold and bronze glory. A kilometer beyond, Legacy’s brightly colored tugs filed a little too slowly into Donovan’s nostril-like launch bays. But she knew why; some of their pilots were the original miners who first found Legacy on Donovan’s mission, and now they were about to watch her passing. It was a procession.

Amira stamped her foot a few times on Donovan’s shiny new hull. “Are you awake yet?” she said.

She immediately saw stirrings of something throughout his power grid, but she wasn’t sure if it was a creature waking up or a machine booting. Small strobes of energy flashed like scattered lightning in cloud cover, and where they struck, they brought those components to life and lasting light.

There was a rumble like an avalanche, followed by a whoop like a tired whale.

Amira tapped out Shave and a Haircut with her heel, and amplified her voice through the suit. “I need you to wake up now, Donovan.”

A deep and deafening voice echoed throughout the factory. “I…” it said.

“Have to go,” she finished testily.

“I…” it rumbled slowly

Amira looked all around the factory complex using Fenris’ scanners and saw the small jutting buildings everywhere beginning to lose their shape. They sagged as they turned into a viscous fluid, like gelatin left out on the counter. When they finally melted in the next minute, Amira was going to find out what it felt like to be washed away in a million tonnes of sewage.

Unless Tom got there in time…

And when her savior didn’t come, she made the only choice left. She dashed across the hull, found an access iris and jumped inside.

***

The Pegasus rocked back and forth under enemy fire, and knuckles were white all over the bridge. Tom held onto his guard-rail and watched the skin-colored enemies outside spin around his ship in pulsing rings. Their guns bit chunks out of charged armor and hull, and they could not be deterred. Whenever a lucky shot took one down, another shifted formations to patch the gap and they continued without interruption.

“Dive, damn it!” he cried.

Samuels pressed on his yoke causing the ship’s nose to dip, then they raced down out of the sky with the Nefrem horde nipping at them like a school of piranha. The ship’s turrets did whatever they could to keep the enemy off their back while the forward guns cleared the path ahead, down into the raging snow and toward the thirteen-kilometer corpse on the other side.

Tom asked, “Powerplant output?”

“96%,” Zadian replied.

Tom growled, “Open fire!”

He’d never seen the riven beam fire before, and had no idea what to expect… except perhaps dying in a horrible explosion. Some of Sal’s experiments resulted in truly, breathtakingly horrible explosions.

Instead, he saw something queer and terrifying, whose implications he didn’t fully understand. Air seemed to twist and clench around the tuning-fork-like components on the starboard side of the ship, while the metal pulsed a sickly shade of green. Then with a sound like a mountain tearing in half, the riven beam fired.

Gravity ripped a neat seam in the air, with a sea of blindingly bright and vibrant colors swirling inside. And as quickly as it struck, it was gone. Only shrapnel, blood, and a deafening thundercrack remained in its path.

***

Waking alighted on Marcus Donovan like rain falling on a pond. A dull, throbbing hurt came to him first while fevered dreams were still retreating, much like waking up in a hospital bed.

But he felt strong. Energy coursed through him, a raging river whose source was somewhere deep inside. It churned and thrashed, and unleashed a torrent of light and vitality.

Marcus Donovan was awake. His senses flared to life and he scanned his surroundings, finding himself in a mostly empty container only a little larger than himself. Docking rings gripped him confidently, but they were made redundant by his own innate abilities. With a rocking motion, he shook them off and stood free in the dense gravity well.

In the walls beyond, he could feel the presence of an omnibody swarm. The microbes were simple creatures, but their network created a mind by gestalt that was possessed of endless service and joy. Their sweet voices sang out as they digested their host, just pleased to be doing their duty once again.

But that was a problem. The structure above Marcus’ head was several times his own weight, and despite his strength, he felt unstable, like the doctor had hastily stapled him back together to take an early lunch. The sutures wouldn’t stand an onslaught like this.

Anger rang out through his body, but no weapons systems responded. More anger followed, and it culminated in a deep, rumbling growl that shook the already decaying walls.

With no small amount of surprise, Marcus discovered he had a voice. His entire shell seemed to vibrate, producing a sound that was all too human.

“I…” he said.

“Have to go,” a small voice replied.

The sound that had come out of him was garbled and strange, about as clear as he might’ve been after a particularly tragic visit to the dentist’s office.

“I…” he managed to say again.

And he watched as the minuscule creature on his hull ran off and jumped into one of his irises, which opened on its own like an autonomic process. He felt only a twitch that happened completely without his intervention.

The feeling he experienced once she was inside of him was… peculiar. He wasn’t sure if it was strangely sexual or all too much like having a spider climb in his ear, and he tried not to think about either one.

When the first few tonnes of predigested biomass splashed down on his armor, something surprising approached. He felt hints of it even before his hollow-drive warned him, singing songs of immense power and gravitational disturbence. As old as the drive was, it had never felt anything of the sort before.

Then the ceiling above parted, spilling piles of snow and bright white light into the room.

“That’s our cue, Donovan!” the tiny voice inside of him shouted.

He flexed his drives and they hummed in response. He touched his hollow-drive and it projected a gravitational field, which Donovan redirected using lenses distributed throughout him. He quickly established a stable well and spun it around, feeling its weight and balance while the dense point circled him.

Then he charged upward. He wedged himself into the opening and pressed hard against the sides, feeling them turn gelatinous and slough away at his touch. Still, there was solid structure within and it resisted him.

“Hold on,” his titanic voice rumbled, and he forced more power into his drives. They worked rhythmically, oscillating at a high rate and propelling him against the surrounding air.

His rumble became an animalistic howl as he pressed against the wall of decaying bone and skin. His voice was so loud that he felt it reverberate back, and that gave him an idea.

He cried out as hard as he could, and his shell vibrated violently against the dying flesh that kept him trapped. He wailed on and on, and the vicious might of his voice smashed at the walls, shattered them, brought them down.

And he was free.

He lifted up from Legacy’s factory while snow and wind buffeted him. The cold struck him, and he felt his strength being sapped by every gust.

Then pain shot through his hollow-drive, and he tumbled out of the sky.


After this comes Chapter 49: Spirit Diver, quite likely later tonight.

~Chris

Copyright 2013. All rights (currently) reserved.

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