by Dan Swanson
Incredible pain assailed Scientist Third Cryshard Uneile, more than she had ever imagined possible, and yet that pain only came from half her body — she couldn’t feel a thing below her waist. The heavy cabinet had crashed down on her hips, pinning her in place. The air in the lab was filled with thick smoke that made it almost impossible to breathe, and she could feel her lungs being seared with every desperate gasp she took.
Amazingly, the medical injector gun was on the floor close by. Hope surged through her as she remembered she had chambered the second Energizer pellet. With an effort of will such as she’d never made before, she forced her fingers to close over the handgrip. It was even harder to force her arm around to bring the nozzle into contact with her chest and squeeze the trigger. The activation of the Energizer produced a surge of pain that made her prior distress seem like the gentle wash of a light spring rain. Only the instant influx of biotonic power into her body prevented her heart from stopping as a new paroxysm of agony rushed through her.
The room instantly seemed to cool, her agony vanished, and her strength overflowed as the biotonic energy suffused through her body. She shrugged the cabinet off like a light robe and surged to her feet. As she did so, she noticed that she was starting to feel warmer again. She ripped through the debris heading toward the door; the sooner she got out of this furnace, the better. She smashed through the wall and into the corridor, but the farther she got from the blazing inferno of the lab, the warmer she got. After a few more steps she fell to the floor gasping, and still the heat grew.
Her last thought was that this must be another trap set for her by that traitorous Edun. Then she exploded in a violent burst of flame.
She wasn’t exactly wrong. Underscientist Giekashwan Edun, her unfortunate former subordinate, had in fact warned her specifically about this danger of the Energizer. But she’d known her boss wouldn’t listen to her.
“In the final stages of the development, we encountered significant genetic compatibility issues. The Energizer output must be carefully attuned to the subject’s metabolic cycles, otherwise there will be a build-up of unutilized biotonic energy, followed by spontaneous combustion.”
If Edun had been alive to oversee the tests of the prototypes, the spidermonk wouldn’t have run wild, and Edun could have attuned the Energizer to scientist third. But instead, Uneile’s abhorrent behavior ended up providing her with an appropriate sendoff into the Georwellian afterlife to join her former subordinate.
The most dangerous predator in the jungles of Triah, the home planet of the spidermonks, was a species of large catlike creatures called flying tigers by Georwellian colonists. Like the monks, flying tigers could glide through the air using a membrane spread between their middle pairs of legs. An attack by a large, flying, catlike creature sparked the spidermonk’s instinctive fight/flight response. The biotonic power burning through Kalyx’s body burned away her fear while supercharging her anger. She leaped to the attack, screaming in rage.
What followed was perhaps the strangest fight in Lionheart’s long, battle-filled career. Fully charged with biotonic energy, Kalyx was stronger than Lionheart, and quicker as well, while Lionheart was many times larger. The Energizer made the spidermonk virtually invulnerable, and destruction naturally rolled off of Lionheart’s skin like beads of water.
The automatic security weapons, which had been controlled by the security computer, had stopped firing. Lionheart’s landing had destroyed the computer, which had been buried well away from the Research Central main building for safety. And the security team, which had stopped firing when Lionheart crashed to Georwell, couldn’t resume firing without a risk of hitting the leonine hero. Shooting a member of the Justice Machine, even accidentally, was usually fatal for the shooter, and no one on the security team wanted to take that risk.
The monk clawed and scratched with little effect, and then jumped away again before Lionheart could grab her. She started throwing rocks and other rubble, jumping around wildly, baring her teeth, beating her chest, and screaming in frustration as her missiles bounced off or shattered. Lionheart moved toward the monk slowly, attempting to appear non-threatening. He made soft noises as he approached her, and the security team later swore that he was talking to her, though the noises didn’t seem to be a language.
When her threatening posture and noises didn’t stop the hero, Kalyx screamed again in rage. She grabbed a stick and raced toward her tormenter, swinging the stick around in vicious arcs. He didn’t get out of the way in time, and she managed to whack him in the head. By chance, she’d grabbed a metal reinforcing bar that still had chunks of building materials attached. The fantastic impact of this makeshift mace knocked Lionheart spinning. Before he could recover, the little creature was on him again, pounding him over again, using her club like a sledgehammer. Lionheart waited until Kalyx slammed him across his chest and quickly wrapped both arms around her weapon as she was pulling it back for another blow. The enraged spidermonk yanked twice as hard, and Lionheart held on until he was pulled off the ground. He let go and was catapulted high into the air, as he had planned.
At that instant, Remanence finally got close enough to join the fight. A magnetic battering ram slammed Kalyx back into a puddle of rubble that Remanence had already melted with magnetic induction heating. As she disappeared beneath the molten surface, he used magnetocaloric cooling to solidify the slag, capturing the hapless spidermonk in a chunk of very tough building material.
Before Lionheart could congratulate his teammate on the quick capture of the tiny terror, Remanence sneered at his teammate and spoke rudely. “Hey, old man!” he yelled mockingly. “I thought you were gonna have everything under control when I got here! Guess it’s time to step aside and let the younger generation take over.”
Lionheart’s congratulatory mood darkened in response to his teammate’s rudeness. This jackass had been under his direct command yesterday and had never acted like that when his commander was around. But before he could say anything, the two heroes were startled by an incredibly loud screech, like some incredibly large, powerful creature being tortured, coming from the half-buried beach-ball-sized lump of congealed alloy Remanence had just created. Though Lionheart’s strength had diminished with age, his hearing remained more acute than that of a jungle cat. Only the adaptive earplugs he normally wore kept the sound at a tolerable level. It took an instant for Remanence to deaden his own hearing with his magnetic powers; during that instant he was in agony.
“What the hell was that?” Remanence shouted as the noise ended, fear making his voice crack. He’d never heard anything like it before. If it hadn’t been for the training in the use of his powers he’d received from Batterstar, he thought his head might actually have burst from that powerful high frequency noise.
“Stretching metal, not sommat’ee oft hear, isut, pup?” Lionheart snarled. “Yer plash of a hobble won’t hold, I warrant; yon beastie is about to break free,” Lionheart warned his teammate.
Remanence didn’t believe it. The construction materials he’d melted were incredibly strong to start with. And as he’d cooled the puddle of molten materials, he’d also used magnetic annealing to create an impromptu alloy that was many times stronger than the original materials. But his magnetic vision showed that, even though the Tiny Terror was trapped, the energetic aura around the spidermonk was growing darker, or in other words, stronger. The magnetic maven hastily created a sphere of repulsive magnetic force around the blob of slag and squeezed it ever tighter. In response, the monk’s aura grew even darker, and Remanence could feel building pressure, fighting against his force-field, a pressure that quickly reached the threshold of pain.
“It’s eating my power!” the polar protector screamed in growing agony and disbelief.
“Har! Ye’ve harrowed the quiddity and essence, youngkin,” Lionheart snarled at his teammate. “She sponges power an what’s used against her. I’d nigh sapped her out when your blunderin’ recruited ‘er. Now I’m going to have to do it all anon.” The felinoid fighter sighed with resignation. He might be impervious to harm, but even he could feel pain and exhaustion. “Them security boogers look a little antsy. Go tell un I’ll serve this’n myself, and not to use their weapons!” He barked out this order, and Remanence leapt to obey, temporarily forgetting that Lionheart was no longer his commanding officer.
As Lionheart raced toward the lump of super-hardened alloy, now vibrating and shaking despite Remanence’s best efforts, he once again reversed the power of the gravity belt. Just as he reached the blob, the Georwellian guardian staggered and fell forward, and fifteen gravities of force pulled him down as the lump exploded. The gravity belt and Lionheart’s almost-indestructible Justice Machine costume were instantly vaporized, and he was thrown high into the air. His actions saved the lives of the security team and possibly Remanence by reflecting the force and debris of the explosion back into the ground.
Lionheart normally had the grace and balance of a cat, but instead of landing on his feet, this time he landed like a bag filled with rocks. Incredibly, he twitched feebly, then managed to roll over, mewling in pain. Remanence was both awed that his teammate was still alive and horrified to learn that the indestructible hero was not totally invulnerable after all. The front of Lionheart’s body looked like a wind-sculpted miniature badlands of razor-sharp rock, with fragments like ragged throwing stars, slivers, daggers, and knitting needles puncturing his chest and abdomen. Remanence retched when, with a gut-wrenching grunt of agony, the felinoid fighter awkwardly grabbed one of the longest shards, which was sticking through both sides of his left elbow, making his left arm useless.
With a quick jerky motion and a screech like a dying dinosaur, Lionheart tore that needle out. Thick golden fluid, presumably blood, welled from the wound for an instant, covering it, and then stopped flowing. To Remanence, it looked as if the congealed blood was somehow changing into new skin, and the entry wound was gone. The battling bassarisk used both arms to push himself into a sitting position and began pulling other shards from his battered body, unable to totally suppress his moans of agony. The outflow of golden liquid closed each cleared wound, and Lionheart’s movements eased. Aghast in horror and sickened by watching the great hero in such agony, Remanence and the security team rushed to aid the struggling Lionheart, the menace of the tiny terror all but forgotten by everyone, it seemed, but Lionheart himself.
“Keep back!” he grunted at them, painfully. “Keep un all away — an use aught energy weapons nearby!”
As the others changed direction and cautiously made their way through the debris left by the fight and the explosion, Lionheart painfully looked around for his foe. She, too, had been staggered by the explosion, and was just recovering, crawling from the new crater she herself had caused. She watched curiously as Lionheart painfully pulled slivers and shards from his skin. Georwell’s greatest hero could see the monk shuddering in sympathy with his own agony. After a minute, the tiny terror approached slowly, without making any threatening moves.
When she reached the hero, she tentatively reached out and grabbed a sliver, and when Lionheart didn’t object, she carefully pulled it free. With her great strength, it came out much more easily than it would have if the hero had tried to remove it, and with less pain. He thanked her gratefully, and removed a smaller sliver himself. The monk touched the biggest remaining fragment, one that the battling bassarisk hadn’t dared to touch, as it had passed totally through his abdomen, close to his heart, and was certainly piercing one of his lungs. She gave him a questioning look.
“Be quick, little one!” he agreed, and set himself. She seemed to understand what he was saying, and yanked the big fragment out, then instantly threw it as far as she could, clearly hating the deadly spear.
The agony removing this shard produced was momentarily more than Lionheart’s body could deal with, and he slumped forward, virtually unconscious. The security team started forward and raised their weapons, but Remanence stopped them. His respect for his former commander had grown in the last few minutes, almost to the point of hero worship, and he was determined to obey the Georwellian guardian’s most recent order.
As the monk gently but firmly pulled more of the larger fragments, Lionheart recovered consciousness. As the two of them worked together, he talked to the monk, quietly and calmly, and eventually, Kalyx began chittering in response. Lionheart’s own words changed to sound more like the noises made by the monk, and after a while, it became clear to the observers that they were having a conversation. Once most of the shards were removed, he said something to the monk, and then called to Remanence. The spidermonk watched cautiously as the man of magnet approached, ready to attack if provoked.
“The fighting withal, youngkin, it’s the pinch of the game. The monk here betokens she’ll give her parole an we not attack her again,” Lionheart told his teammate, his voice weak and sounding tired. “An she stays with me, I warrant she’ll restrain her demency. I’ve offered her covert at the Citadel of Justice. Whistle up a hyper and let’s retire; we’ll let the Machine’s spinners palaver with Research Central!” He slumped to the ground, exhausted by his terrible ordeal and the effort of speaking. The spidermonk climbed onto his chest and sat there defiantly, clearly planning to stay with her new friend and ready to attack anyone who disturbed them. His ability to talk to animals wasn’t something the battling bassarisk needed often in the technical civilization of Georwell, but he’d put it to good use today. It was good to know that age hadn’t stripped away yet another of his powers.
“The hyper we came in grounded at the New Blefescue District spaceport to wait for us, ” Remanence reported. Batterstar had recognized that his magnetic powers might allow him to mentally send and receive radio transmissions, and hundreds of hours of painful training had proved her right. Now he loved to show off that ability. “They’ll be here in five minutes.” Finally, Lionheart and his new friend could relax.