Category/genre: Adult Sci-Fi Dystopian Biopunk
Author: J.E. Purazzi
Chosen by editor Sione Aeschliman
They say the ends justify the means.
Bastille has been raised a weapon, denied any humanity. The product of gene editing and bionic augmentation, he was built to be the last defense against an alien predator that drove humanity underground. Three years after Cowl Coven helped Bas escape, he is beginning to understand what it means to be free, but as long as he is safe everyone else is in danger.
When Menrva, a geneticist from the subterranean city of Bunker responds to a call for help, she makes a vital mistake, making all three of them targets. Their desperate fight for survival turns into something else when a new threat appears and they alone stand between humanity and extinction.
Chapter One: Comeback
Menrva leaned over the touch screen on her work surface and tried to ignore the diminutive woman that hovered over her shoulder. “Mom, we aren’t on speaking terms.”
“So who am I supposed to talk to about these samples?” Leslie Abella said.
Menrva frowned and turned away from her work. That was the problem with being a workaholic: other workaholics were assholes. If she stayed late, she could avoid people on their rush home. The subterranean city’s narrow hallways would be completely clogged right after the work day, before everyone plugged into their virtual reality simulations for a much needed distraction. With even an extra hour of work most of Bunker’s civilians would be tucked safely into their pods and she could avoid the accusatory looks and whispers.
“You are welcome to give me any samples you need to, but I don’t want to socialize,” Menrva said, snatching the vial from her mother’s manicured nails.
Strangers often confused the two of them as twins, a fact that Menrva despised and did whatever she could to contradict. Leslie almost looked younger than her. Her skin was clean and smooth, only slightly wrinkled around her constant frown. Her lab coat lay in crisp, perfect white lines over her hourglass figure. Menrva, on the other hand, hadn’t ironed her lab coat in days...or washed it. She had dyed her hair blue and it was a continual mess of tangled braids and natural curls. Leslie hated it. All the better.
“I thought I taught you to be polite,” Leslie said.
“You didn’t teach me anything, Mother.” Menrva twisted the vial in her hand and studied the contents. “Wrecker?”
“That is your area of study, isn’t it? Of course, I might be wrong since apparently I’m not allowed to have any real information about my only daughter’s life.”
Menrva sighed. Guilt trip, that had never been Leslie’s strong suit. She was too capable to warrant pity.
“What am I looking for?”
“I need more on the stem cells in this sample. This isn’t all Wrecker though, it’s something...different.”
Leslie also worked specifically with the Wrecker’s. The aliens produced an unheard of amount of stem cells. Leslie had pioneered a method of combining the stem cells with iron to produce what they called “Live Metal”. The material could expand itself, growing like biological matter. With the addition of nano computers the progress could be programmed, making it useful for endless applications.
“Be specific, I can’t work with ‘different’,” Menrva said, raising an eyebrow at her mother.
Leslie smoothed her hands over her lab coat and turned to walk through the enclosed lab. The workstations were now empty, leaving only blinking machinery and pale blue light filtering from multiple screens. In the center of the room a glass cylinder held the corpse of the alien in question. It was an intimidating creature, even torn open and floating in viscous fluid. Easily ten feet in height, this one was a bit on the small side still. The closest earthly animal she could compare it to was a gorilla or maybe a bear, though the double set of arms made that comparison a weak one. Its most jarring feature was probably its face. Though most of its body was covered in short, velvety black hair, the exoskeleton lay exposed in places. As a result, its head looked not unlike like a fanged human skull.
Menrva had only seen simulations of the creature alive but she knew them better than most, having spent her career as a geneticist studying them.
It was by this display that Leslie paused, picking her cuticles as she scanned the contents through narrowed eyes. “If you can’t help me with the sample, just tell me. There are other people who can do your job, you know.”
Menrva rolled her eyes, hoping that her attitude was visible. “I’ll add it to my list.”
“I need it before the end of the day tomorrow. We have some potential breakthroughs on my formula and I can’t stall my entire operation just for you.”
“I’ll add it to my list,” she repeated, placing the vial in a protective case.
Leslie sighed and smoothed her lab coat over her hips. “Fine.” She stalked to the door, pausing just before she exited. “You should come by and see your father at least. You know, he misses you.”
Menrva turned her back on her mother, determined not to let any hint of regret past her guard. It wasn’t like Leslie really cared about Dad, she was just looking for a way past her defenses. She wasn’t going to find it. After a moment of silence Leslie took the hint and closed the door, leaving Menrva in the silence of the lab.
If only she could get away from them altogether. Where was she going to go? Bunker was large but there wasn’t enough room to really escape her life.
The Wreckers had proven to be more of a threat than anyone could have predicted, forcing humanity to retreat to the shelter of Bunker. No one could have anticipated the damage that the alien invaders caused in just a few years. From all accounts they were not intelligent, behaving more like animalistic hunters than the intelligent green men that people used to associate with the word “alien”. They had first arrived in eggs, embedded in meteors and from there bred like cockroaches. At first, they were just a frightening nuisance but soon enough they had overwhelmed major populations. Panic set in as people realized that humanity's place as the alpha predator had been usurped. A UN alliance had built Bunker under the earth's crust before the invasion as a possible answer to overpopulation. The man-made ant-hill had become an escape for what was left of humanity as things on the surface got worse and nuclear plants began to fail, leaking over the surface of the Earth. By that time, there was nothing on the surface to return to, so nuclear warheads were released in a last ditch effort to eliminate the threat. That hadn’t done much good; the stupid beasts were too stubborn to let a little radiation bother them. How? The fact that they didn’t know yet was why Menrva had such a good job.
The surface was a wasteland now. The atmosphere had been cooked away and left the Earth exposed and empty. The only things living up there now were the slowly starving alien invaders.
Menrva saved her work with the flick of her fingers across the touchscreen. Each progressive day felt more and more unproductive. The work was good, providing a distraction as well as a position of value, keeping her firmly in the safety of the upper class. It was a far better option than endless days of physical toil and cramped living spaces in the Tiers. Still, it was beyond tedious.
She was often the last person in the lab. Nobody wanted to be the one to switch the lights out and turn their back on the suspended alien body afterwards. It may have been dead for at least a century, but it didn't make it any less terrifying to be alone with in a dark room.
Shuddering, she half-sprinted to the door like a child running back to bed after a midnight bathroom trip. It seemed justified. After all, this wasn't an invisible monster under the bed, it was one that had devoured over three quarters of humankind and wanted more.
There was no need to lock the door behind her. On the back of her neck, at the base of her skull, sat a tiny black chip that corresponded to a scanner above the door. It was hard to say if it was a benefit or another form of oppression. On the one hand, it kept track of all her movements, storing them away in its limited memory just in case the City needed to see it. On the other, it made life much easier by automating almost everything.
Menrva glanced up at the screens that plastered the ceilings in the wealthy city center. A sunset played across every pixel overhead, a typical sight. The City, slang for the government, did their best to keep the normalcy of morning and night, though it seemed pointless to try to replicate something that no one alive had actually seen.