Time for Chapter 49: Spirit Diver.
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’s jump in…
Jack stared out over the edge of Amiasha, down through the raging blizzard and further to the great source of light and power so far below. It was too small to be Legacy but it had a similar shape, and the energy inside of it pulsed with the same color and rhythm.
Shared memories came back to him, of Legacy’s secrets, her hopes and her dreams, and Jack realized he must be looking at Marcus Donovan, a hybrid human/Yuon Shien. It was a concept that existed nowhere else in Jack’s large and messy recollection, and the sight of it left him agape in wonder.
But even from his high vantage point, he could tell the new creature was in trouble. Donovan’s hollow-drive called out to Jack’s, and it was screaming in agony.
“Save it,” Hush hissed angrily inside him.
That was new.
Jack stilled his heart and looked around the city. In what possible way could he save an ailing starship? He somehow doubted his first-aid training and even a miraculously large bandage would help.
“Overloading,” Hush whispered. “Needs help.”
The flaming wreckage of something unrecognizable came rolling out of the air. Jack advanced, leapt, and struck the molten heap, blasting it back out away from the city. When he landed, he took a look around and as far as his eye could see, there wasn’t a single spare battery in the vicinity. He couldn’t just pop down to the corner store and buy something to plug into the broken toy foundering down in the dirt.
Hush said, “Us.” It sounded slightly annoyed, and Jack felt another onrush of doubt about his ability to ever get used to any of this.
He took another look around and saw the makeshift militia doing a fine job. They were arrayed around the perimeter, eagerly opening fire on anything that came nearby, and they’d been completely successful in keeping Amiasha’s streets clear of invaders.
Then something broke their streak.
A bright star made an incision in their line, so swollen with power that it brought absolute destruction on its wings. Whatever came within the invader’s sphere was instantly rent to pieces.
Jack was transfixed, and he quickly realized it was similarly transfixed on him. If he was going to do Hush’s bidding and plug himself into Donovan, he couldn’t very well bring an angry Nefrem prince along for the ride.
“Fight,” Hush said, and for once the two were in accord.
Jack blasted into motion, and he and his opponent approached one another at several hundred kilometers an hour. The Nefrem prince sailed high through the air, then began to fire his biorifle as he angled downward.
Living bullets screamed out, existing only to hunt after Jack in this one instant before they die. Jack’s hollow-drive responded, forming rivulets of gravitic force along the surface of his skin that made him impossibly slick.
He pressed down into Amiasha’s chitinous shell and launched himself upward, twisting to evade the incoming rounds. As he neared, the star resolved into a gleaming man, a knight in silver armor as bright as the summer sun.
The knight pulled back its gauntlet and struck, but Jack was prepared. He slackened himself and twisted away, at the same time driving his fist upward through its face.
The silver knight tumbled backward through the air while Jack rebounded down to the ground. He landed like a hawk on a fence, and watched his foe for any signs of weakness as it righted itself, but there were none.
“Pride,” Hush said, and the next moment proved it right.
The knight descended to the ground, set down, and took the same pose as he had back in Mexico, down on one knee like a peasant before his king. His armored ribs waved open like the spines of a sea anemone, and the prince stepped out trailed by a cloud of heavy mist.
It stood a hundred meters off at the end of a broad road, nude and obnoxiously perfect, mismatched to the scene like a renaissance sculpture against the backdrop of a trashy ’50s sci-fi novel. Explosions flashed in the distance, and the resulting gusts of wind arrived seconds later to toss the Nefrem prince’s hair as he walked.
Jack held his ground.
The prince stared him in the eyes with pupils full of ember light, and Jack felt a strange tingle. There was an itch at the center of his forehead like a hot pin slowly piercing his skin. Then it abruptly stopped.
“You intrigue me, wildling Eireki. You stand before me a strange imitation, a facsimile of monsters whose tales were recounted to me in the crib. Mother assured us that their kind were gone from the universe, and yet here you stand… holding their sword… with one of their infernal hearts burning in your chest.”
Jack watched power strobe across the Nefrem prince’s body, so bright it should have left marks on his eyes. “And you knew we were here,” he said.
The Nefrem prince smiled, and before Jack knew what was happening, he’d been hit.
The harsh impact launched him through the air only to crash through a building at the end. He blasted through one wall, the next, and one more before finally stopping in an alley, and he wasn’t fully on his feet when he saw the prince’s silhouette appear at the other end.
Jack had to move the fight, lead the Nefrem prince out before any more damage could come to Amiasha. If the city went down in flames because of their battle, the whole effort would’ve been for nothing.
Jack sprang up and rushed in the opposite direction. Behind him, he heard footsteps like the soft flipping of book pages, leading up along the walls and then overhead.
There was a loud crack and the two buildings broke apart, their rubble pouring down to fill the space between them. Jack jumped up from wall to wall and cleared the cave-in, while the Nefrem prince rocketed into his side.
Jack thought he’d been prepared, but he wasn’t. The prince slammed him, grappling with legs while punching him again and again. Jack tried to build a fort around his face with his arms, but the prince batted them away and continued the assault.
The Nefrem prince’s strength was as the strength of mountains, both unfathomable and absolute. The rapid-fire impacts shook Jack’s head and chest, rattling his hollow-drive and threatening to tear his muscle fibers apart.
The drive’s sense of self-preservation kicked in, and it burst forth with fresh energy, dilating as wide as possible to allow more through. At the sudden onrush, Hush greedily whispered, “Power.”
It wasn’t power enough. Jack flexed and struggled against the prince’s hold, but those perfect limbs might as well have been made of diamond. He needed something beyond strength, but his rapidly pummeled head was having some difficulty chaining two thoughts together in sequence.
As the prince drove him down into the ground and continued the beating, Jack at least thought he recognized a piece of good news: his enemy wasn’t trying to kill him. If that’d been the goal, the prince could have accomplished it long seconds ago.
Once that thought managed to gain traction against the violent rhythm of the attack, Jack settled in and took his punishment. The scene had changed, but some parts of his life remained achingly the same.
With a final stroke, the Nefrem prince released his grip and stood, took a breath, and then presented his hand to Jack.
Jack didn’t move. He couldn’t. Nerves twitched beneath his skin, but never with enough strength to reach the surface. He tried to suck wind, but apparently didn’t have lungs anymore.
“I am not like Mother,” the Nefrem prince said to him. He must have realized Jack either couldn’t or wouldn’t take his hand, and he placed it back by his side. “I have come to your world seeking kinship, not conquest. I wish to reconnect with you, my lost cousins.”
And Jack stared in amazement at this baffling being whose like existed nowhere in his recollection. The Nefrem were a horde of soldiers who lived to devour. There were no kings or princes; there was only Nemesis’ perverse order, crashing like the ocean up an ever shrinking beach.
“What are you?” Jack asked.
The prince looked dour. “That which has never come before… much like yourself, I would imagine.”
Jack’s muscles vibrated a verdant tone, one of health and restoration, and he tested things out carefully. Arms and legs seemed to be in working order. His face might not have fared so well.
The prince saw Jack’s small movements and once again offered his left hand. It looked golden and bright even in Amiasha’s blue-hued light.
Jack took it, and with a slight hint of hesitation, he brought his other hand to the prince’s shoulder to complete the circuit. Fire immediately burned along his bones, then raced out through his nerve endings and ignited inside the Nefrem prince.
The link came on and Jack was shot down a long tunnel. He struck the prince’s mind like a pool of oil, and found himself bathed in phosphorescent light inside. The presence he felt surrounding him was crystalline and jagged, with sharp edges that welcomed the unwary.
Why are you here? the other mind asked. Its voice was an elegant dagger backed by the strength of worlds.
I have to know what you are.
So be it.
The empty space around him gave way to a rapid strobe of memories and impressions. There was the warm flesh of Nemesis like a womb, and a song that touched the ears of their kind like a lullaby. He saw vast pits in which the hordes battled each other through a single endless day, and he felt the narcotic rush of victory and conquest that accompanied the long overdue night. Then finally Jack saw the the prince retreating in disgrace, accompanied by a mutant legion who marched to his hymn alone.
The link dissolved, and Jack was still in that awkward instant between crouching and standing, as if time had been frozen the whole time. He stood up and stepped back from the Nefrem prince, who gave him a wide birth.
“I truly don’t know what you are,” the prince said. “Your very existence confounds me, and I am compelled to understand you. I wish to see what you will become.”
This Nefrem understood the concept of preservation.
Jack ducked his head. “And what of these organisms?” The translation of the last word wasn’t so technical, and it left a foul taste in his mouth. It carried a strong implication of food.
“Killing them gains me little but available biomass, and there’s plenty enough on this world without them… but it isn’t up to me. Your kinsmen believe themselves victims and they will not rest until they see the crime avenged. As long as they’re my allies, I will assist them with enthusiasm.”
Jack had been on the receiving end of that enthusiasm, and he had trouble thinking of what it couldn’t accomplish. Something so simple and savage as vendetta was the low-hanging fruit.
“Then you’ll have to kill me,” Jack said, while Hush squealed impudently in his ear.
Flashes of light struck the Nefrem prince, cutting deep holes in his flesh. He stumbled backward, tripped and fell with his face plastered in shock, dismay, and just the faintest hint of fear.
Jack turned and watched Kai stride toward them. The alien’s shape was slightly different, as if the skin beneath his uniform had been hardened into curved plates. He held his blocky pistol out in front of him, and had his eyes locked on the Nefrem prince.
The prince spat blood on the ground. It attempted to stand and another bullet stabbed through it like a sharpened bolt of light.
Before Kai could fire again, the prince rolled out of the way and sprang into the air, bounced off a nearby wall, and launched toward distant cover.
Kai kept eyes on the Nefrem and cautiously walked over to Jack. “Nefrem prince,” he said. “I hate these damned things.”
“You’ve faced one before?”
“I’ve faced this one before.”
And he’d somehow survived the encounter. It wasn’t the right time for Jack to be this completely confused. “I have to get down below,” he said. “Do you think we can take him?”
The skin of Kai’s uniform became a watercolor painting of the world around him, and his every motion made Jack’s eyes twitch uncomfortably as they fought to gain purchase in the image. “I’ll face him alone,” Kai said.
Before Jack could disagree, the nearly invisible assassin charged off into the fray, and there was no choice but to trust him.
In another moment, Jack sprinted off toward the city’s edge. It approached more quickly than he would’ve cared for, then he launched himself off and cut down through the air like a dart.
After this comes Chapter 50: Earthbound Piston, which is a misheard lyric from a Pink Floyd song.
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