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Chapter 8 - Rematch

Standing at the far end of the bridge leading to the reactor chamber door, I cycle through the electromagnetic spectrum in the power armor’s helmet. I know the creature can hide itself in the visible spectrum, but what about when looking through the higher and lower frequencies like x-rays, gamma rays, radio waves?

I make a quick scan of the surroundings in each frequency and see nothing out of the ordinary. I imagine the creature could have blown the reactor chamber door off and left if it wanted to, but since the door is still attached and closed, it’s safe to assume it’s still in there. Even so, I’m not about to fall for the same trick twice and let it get the drop on me.

I stalk up to the door in a low stance, weapon drawn, ready to attack or run if need be. At the door, I pull the two smoke bombs from my belt. As quick as a snake, I punch the door release button and toss one of the smoke bombs into the room without even looking. The second one I drop at my feet, then aim my weapon into the reactor room. The idea is that I’ll be able to see it with the power armors visor through the smoke, but it won’t be able to see me.

A few tense seconds pass without any visuals. Then with a roaring rumble, all the obscuring smoke from the bombs is sent rushing into the reactor room. I crouch low and press myself against the wall in response and look for any movement within the swirling smoke.

My anxious searching ends when a gust of force pushes me from behind and I’m sent sprawling into the reactor room. The suit’s cybernetics helps me get my hands out in front of me. From a push-up position, I kick my legs out into a handstand, spin 180 degrees then land back on my feet. Behind me is the creature, looking decidedly smug. I check the suit’s power reserves. Absorbing that one blast of force dropped my power supply by nearly half. I need to end this fast. The plan wasn’t supposed to go this way, but they say no plan survives contact with the enemy, and I’d be a fool to think this one would be any different.

I open fire, sending steel needles careening towards my target’s injured tentacle faster than sound. Astonishingly, with a wave of one of its tentacles, the needles are frozen midair about a foot away from it before dropping to the ground with a pathetic clink.

Not liking this development at all, I pull out one of the stun grenades and hurl it at the creature like a major-league pitcher. Like the steel needles, it stops a foot away from the creature, still well within its blast range. With a loud pop and a flash of light the stun grenade detonates. I’m insulated from the effects within my armor, but the creature has no such protection.

I watch through my helmet as the creature shuts its eyes tight and coils it tentacles around itself, like it’s trying to shield itself. I fire a few more rounds, but whatever is keeping the needles from reaching their target is still in effect. Then, with an invisible tug, my spike rifle is yanked from my hands and sent falling over the side of the bridge and down into the chasm. Just behind the creature, I can see the taser mine I planted earlier at the edge of the bridge. I was going to have it chase me into the mine, but I have no issue with being the one doing the chasing.

With a feral grin, I draw my vibro-knife and charge. The suit allows me to run at incredible speeds and with inhuman coordination. I cross the distance between us in the blink of an eye. A few feet away I squeeze the trigger and the knife hums to life. I lunge forward, intending to jam the blade right between its bulbous eyes and slice it in half.

But before I even wind my arm all the way back to strike, the creature begins to lower itself. To my confusion, its descent doesn’t stop when it reaches the floor, but passes through it like there’s nothing there. By the time my arm is swinging down, the top of its head is vanishing below me.

I skid along the floor to kill my momentum and spin around in concern, almost running into my own trap in the process. Just as I think it ran off, that damn throbbing in my head returns and pain explodes throughout my body. It’s indescribable, like nothing I’ve felt before, every nerve is on fire.

I drop the knife and fall to the ground like a rock, desperately clawing at myself in panic. My vision fills with strobing red lights that nauseate and torture me. I can’t even close my eyes to escape them, as the lights follow me behind my eyelids. I can barely think, the only coherent thought I can manage is how certain I am that I’m about to die. The seconds feel like days as I roll around, frantically trying to rip my armor off so I can tear at my own skin. My world constricts until all that’s left of my existence is agony. I can feel the fiery sensation exploring my body, igniting pain in places I didn’t know could hurt. The light, the pain, please God, make it stop, make it all stop.

I see the creature rise back up from the floor, looking down at me. I see it happen, but I don’t understand it, I don’t care enough to try. All of my brain’s capacity is taken up by processing all the pain. I need it to stop. Need it to stop. Need it to stop. Need it to stop. NEED IT TO STOP!

Then, all at once, it does, like waking from a nightmare. I lay there, basking in the glorious relief. The creature is moving closer to me and I couldn’t care less. I watch it study me for a moment, then gracefully float past and make its way back to the reactor, vanishing from sight as it does. There was something in its eyes that I didn’t understand, couldn’t have, even if I wanted to. It could’ve been pity, hatred or disgust and I’d have no way of telling the difference.

I’m still panting like a tired dog in relief, half out of my armor with scratch marks from my own fingernails etched all over my body. When I calm down enough, a foul smell assaults me. I vacantly look down and notice that during my hysteria, I vomited, pissed and shit myself without even noticing. That… must be a record of some kind. A hollow laugh escapes my lips. The pain is gone, and I’m alive, but why? It had me as good as dead. I was completely at its mercy in the end. Feeling confused, terrified and relieved, I collect myself and crawl the rest of the way out of the power armor. I rise to my feet and after sending a hateful and confused look over my shoulder, slowly walk back the way I came, head hung low in defeat.

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