Long Fall — Chapter 51

Looks like we’re gonna hit the finish line today! First up is Chapter 51: An Imperfect Heart.

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 do this…


Chapter 51
An Imperfect Heart

The blizzard had become monstrous, fed in part by the terrible heat and chaos of the battle, but also by the motion of vast starships as large as cities. It swelled to hurricane-like proportions with its eye focused on the depression where Amiasha had sat, as well as the lake of biological sludge situated nearby.

Jack sprinted through shifting dunes made of fresh powder, pelted all the way by hailstones the size of coins and golfballs. A Nefrem ground battalion sprawled over the land ahead of him and they moved together like a millipede, pushing on toward Donovan with hunger and hatred.

They weren’t just coordinated but unified, both driven and directed by the will of a single intelligence… that intelligence would have been Nemesis if she were in the picture, but Jack realized that the Nefrem prince must have been guiding his troops all along. The creature had kept control of them while he fought Jack, and even now while he was (hopefully still) fighting Kai.

Those troops suddenly came under attack by some other force. A golden stiletto shot up into the air and stabbed back down, sending twisted troops tumbling like bowling pins. They patched the gap without hesitation, and continued on to the savage howling of their biorifles.

Jack finally got a good look at their assailant, and it was Sal; he immediately started to wonder just how many of those suits she kept in her closet.

She leaped, dodged, and then began to run across the land with the strangest, most elegant gait Jack had ever seen. She took impossibly long strides, and seemed almost to glide over the ground in a way that looked unreal.

Unreality, he realized, was the new order of the world.

Jack embraced it. He dug his heels in and propelled himself out faster, then barreled directly into the Nefrem formation’s unprotected back while Hush hissed and squealed with delight. They melted once again into fighting the horde while the world around became eerily quiet, strikingly serene. Power thumped out of the hollow-drive in time with his strikes, lunges, and throws, driving Eireki hands which speared into hard and leathery bodies, then tore them apart like plastic bags.

The mindless drones reacted as a unit, regrouping around him in an effort to tease out his attacks, draw him into traps, but he knew their playbook. He knew how the bull charged, and he knew when to step aside. But even as he shredded through them, he could see untold numbers stretching out beyond. There would always be more no matter how quickly he ground them down.

As attractive as that proposition sounded to both Jack and Hush, his only mission was to get through. Donovan was the priority, and so Jack began to traverse the field in great leaping bounds. Each time he landed, he grabbed another of the demons and flung it back at the ground, administering doses of chaos that sent waves throughout their ordered formation.

When Jack came to one one of the monsters that stood three to four times the height of its brethren, he made fast work of it. He was already punching as he landed on its back, then his fist drove through the skin, grabbed a length of spinal column and pulled it free like the root of an unwanted tree.

The monster fell down and crushed some of its compatriots while Jack pressed on.

He came finally to the front edge of the formation, where the rifle fire was its most thunderous, dropped his shoulder and charged through. The broken monsters scattered at the strike, and yet they kept firing as they died.

Jack made it past the Legacy Fleet’s line in another second flat, a defensive perimeter made of hexagonal drop-forts manned by soldiers in dark-blue armors, and guarded overhead by a hovering vanguard of similarly colored gunships. The troops on that line worked like firefighters, constantly pushing back against a raging blaze whose hunger would not be turned away.

Just when Jack thought he’d have a single second to breathe (or whatever his new body did), a golden stiletto tackled him to the ground and pinned him there. Her gauntlets were clasped together and aimed directly at his face.

Having seen what Sal’s weapon did to the Nefrem prince, Jack was pretty certain it’d kill him outright, and he didn’t feel particularly excited about testing it. “What’s going on, Sal?”

“I know,” was all she said. Her hands didn’t move.

“It wasn’t me,” he lied. “I wasn’t in control. It was some kind of emergency routine or something. I don’t really understand it.”

Her mask was like a golden mirror, and he couldn’t make out much inside besides an intensity that made her many biomechanical implants glow.

“I’m here to help,” he said. “I’ve got a hollow-drive, remember? We can get him off the ground.”

Sal relented. “Of course you wouldn’t…” Her voice trailed off mid-way through. In another moment, she stood and offered him a hand up. “I’m sure you understand,” she said.

“Perfectly,” Jack replied. “Now… uh, I need you to take me to his powerplant.”

Her helmeted head stared at him blankly for a few seconds, then she waved him on toward Donovan’s nearest iris.

Donovan allowed them in through one of his irises without any fuss. Jack assumed that the vessel was in too much pain to think clearly about who or what was coming inside, as long as it was human. Otherwise, internal defenses probably have already fried Jack to a crisp.

From there, he and Sal rushed through Donovan’s internal tubes and quickly came to the hollow-drive chamber. Its protective wall was open, freeing the various researchers and engineers to rush in and out as the situation required. The drive’s cage had been cut open to allow easier access, and the device inside bled light out through a spidery crack.

It was a wound that Jack himself had inflicted, and the memory nearly buried him in a rockslide of self-hatred.

And he wasn’t alone in hating himself. He walked inside, and everyone stopped what they were doing to watch him approach. Fear and bitter reproach twisted their faces.

“It’s okay,” Sal shouted. “He’s here to help.”

Her words did little to change anyone’s mind, and Jack couldn’t blame them. But he didn’t have any other choice right at that moment.

As he neared the massive hollow-drive, he began to see a subtle glow around it hanging like a film in the air, which he doubted anyone else could perceive. Its shape was sharp edged and angular like a diagram from a baffling geometry quiz. He had a distinct feeling he was looking directly at the impression the device left on the ambient gravitation, and the thought nearly mesmerized him.

From that point on, as the terrified and overworked staff turned and fled, Jack moved on instinct guided by the living device embedded in his own chest. He climbed up into a large brace designed to hold seven giant hollow-drives, and he stood where one of them should connect. Then he reached up on his tippy-toes, took hold of the connector above his head, and established the link.

Liquid fire burned across his body and filled him with its benefaction. He felt loneliness, fear and a stabbing pain on the approaching wave, and he braced himself. Then in the ancient manner of all Eireki and their noble starships, Jack Hernandez and Marcus Donovan were one.

One was forthright and driven while the other was curious and devious. Memories drifted across the crumbling line between them like swirling currents between two colliding seas, and they both instantly understood. Despite their sins, each recognized the agony of sacrifice in the other, and that bond was enough to unify them.

Their hollow-drives sang out to one another, focusing the effects of one through the other like lenses arrayed in series, and unexpected power filled the starship’s weakened flesh.

Donovan rumbled as he lifted inches up from the cracked ground and its thin veneer of snow. He called out over radio to the remaining troops, telling them to regroup and return, and they turned back virtually as one.

Once the last MASPEC trooper had come aboard, he pushed power into his unfinished thrusters and climbed up into the air, away from the dense well and its horrible grasp. Up from the Earth that was swarming with cloned soldiers, intent on eating him and adding his strength to their own.

Surrounded by his fleet of idiot cousins, the starship named Donovan lifted up into a raging riot and hurricane winds which fought to topple him over. The Nefrem and New Union fighters attacked like the sting of a hundred hornets, but Jack somehow swallowed the pain in a way that neither he nor Donovan fully understood.

The giant disc of Amiasha and the two Nefrem sharks waited dozens of kilometers above, and Donovan raced to catch up. Without any weaponry, he would need Amiasha’s support to survive. This whole enterprise would only survive if they worked together.

Then their collective hopes looked dashed. The two sharks opened fire with their huge and ravenous cannons, loosing shells at Amiasha that spun through the air covered in teeth. They tore large chunks out of the city’s skin, and it teetered off balance.

Jack and Donovan pushed on, ready to ram one of the bastards if they had to. Their only hope for salvation waited up there in the pale sky, and there wasn’t time to waste on half measures. There was no room for anything but faith.

And they both discovered in wonder that faith was sometimes rewarded. Two larger shadows appeared from above, round and big enough to make Amiasha look like the juvenile he was. Great guns like curved antennae tracked toward one of the sharks, then coughed out a series of blue plasma bolts the size of suburban homes.

Smoking wounds, bubbling flesh, blisters appeared along the shark’s flank, and it rounded and rose through the atmosphere, towards space and safety.

Its twin came about and fired to cover the first one’s retreat. Biocannons fired again and again, leaving bright and bulbous trails of smoke in the thin air. The shells thumped into the larger city Yuon Kwon, but where they struck they left only a a roughened patch on blue coral armor.

Nefrem ground troops flowed into their flat-fish carriers and flitted away, while the remaining shark sacrificed itself at the bloodstained feet of war. It canted forward and charged in toward its foes, firing biocannon volleys with the steady rhythm of a lever-action rifle. The many Nefrem fighters in their ever shifting formations flew up to surround their battleship, forming an ablative armor of living tissue.

It was no use, though. The two Yuon Kwon rattled off burst after burst of blue flame which fried the Nefrem shark’s outer skin. Under the assault, it buckled, bent inward, and finally blasted apart in a bright explosion.

The other Nefrem battleship was gone.

As Donovan approached, they could hear a radio conversation chirping between the two mature city-ships and their estranged child, but Jack could only understand a very little. He didn’t need subtitles, though; seeing children returned to their parents used to be part of a day’s work, once upon a time.

Donovan rose up into the pack and the Yuon Kwon uneasily slid over to accommodate. Then the four ships completed the last leg of the climb together, up into the furthest reaches of the upper atmosphere where only the most adventurous atmospheric particles dared dwell.

As they touched the void, Jack and Donovan both reacted in awe. The senses of a starship seemed to reveal a universe bathed in light, full of color and information. The Sun’s pure light washed over them, filling their combined body with warmth and vigor. Their hollow-drive array whistled happily as a new torrent of energetic particles spewed out.

And Jack wondered, not for the last time, why he was always stuck on the unarmed ships, especially in those rare times when he’d gladly welcome maybe a gamma ray blaster, tachyon torpedo, or whatever people were shooting these days.

Together, the four vessels picked up speed as they entered hard vacuum while a handful of speartips in orbit around the Earth turned to pursue. Even from thousands of kilometers away, Donovan could feel power pooling up in their anti-matter cannons.

Jack and Donovan struggled to transmit in something approximating the Yuon Kwon language. “Must go!” they shouted out.

“Come,” the soft voice of a city-ship returned. The creature’s undercarriage displayed colored patterns, indicating a deep depression in the shell.

Donovan kicked hard and slid himself into the space, just as a strange show of lights began to play everywhere. Tangled and ropey arcs of some kind rushed over the Yuon Kwon’s skin, glowing bright cerulean and moving like smoke along the surface of a bubble. In another moment, that energy bridged the small gap between the two ships and rushed over Donovan’s hull.

It tickled.

Jack and Donovan chanced one look back at the Earth in that instant, thinking of the millions of innocents still left on the planet and what their future could possibly look like. What would they become under Nefrem hegemony? What new monster had been born today?

Then the brightness ignited everywhere and the escaping vessels pierced the skin of the universe, slipping into an artery of soothing light on the other side.


Next (and last) is Chapter 52: Exodus, which we should all be seeing in an hour or two.

~Chris

Copyright 2013. All rights (currently) reserved.

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