<Can anybody tell me why I just exploded? Better yet, how do I stop it from happening again?> Ribs bruised, stomach bruised, lungs bruised, bleeding into the lungs, damage to intestine walls. Whatever that was, it hit like a truck.
I felt myself drifting down to the sea bed again, and righted myself in an act that set off new pain and alarms. I spotted the Thassan Imbued doubled over atop the burial mound. At least whatever that was took as much out of him as it did me. Based on his gaunt appearance, I suspected he was an old man, so perhaps he didn’t have the strength to use his power at its fullest.
By some miracle, I kept my grip on the spear during the attack. I kicked in the water, swimming toward my attacker. Even with my augments, there was no way I could out-swim a healthy Thassan; I just had to hope he wasn’t healthy.
He looked up at me from his perch, and again stretched his hand toward me. Oh sh-
<Fall back! Get out!> Phoebe’s shout came at the exact same moment that the man vanished yet again. Another explosion happened, this time not as bad as the last, but still more alarms sounded about internal bruising and organ damage. <He’s using sonic booms. Somehow his body turns to kinetic energy, then travels as fast as sound will let it. He has to bleed off all that power to go back to normal, which means shockwave.>
Explains why the first attack hurt him. He touched the armor in energy form. I righted myself again, to see the old man drifting in the water about where I was floating before. Maybe it still takes a lot out of him. <Thought I was shielded against sonic attacks.>
<You are. It’s the only reason your heart didn’t explode,> Phoebe sobbed. <The computer’s already looking for a better program to shield you from his power, but I’m not sure there is one. We never planned for this! You have to run!>
Well, fuck me, then. I saw a black shadow near the wall of the building. There’s a thought, but no. I waved Shannon away; the prisoners took priority, and a fight between Imbued was as good a distraction as any. Besides, I didn’t know if Shannon could fight this guy; she didn’t have the stomach to murder, and anything less meant we’d both be killed. <Don’t worry, I’m the main character, remember?>
<R-right. You’ll be fine.> It seemed Phoebe didn’t have as much faith in her belief as she pretended. <Does that mean you have a plan?>
Lynx vanished into the sea floor, ready to deal with whatever was inside the building. Hopefully, her mission would be less eventful than mine.
The old man didn’t notice her at all, he raised his hand to point at me again. <Working on it.> There’s a refractory period between attacks. It was over fifty seconds between the first and second attacks, but the second and now third only required about twenty two seconds. I bet the first delay was a matter of recovery.
I rolled right before he vanished, positioning my feet toward him and making my body as aerodynamic as possible, as I was trained in the military. The explosion hurt and forced me back like before, but an order of magnitude better than the last couple hits had been. Exactly twenty two point six seconds. I can do this. I rolled to my feet and swam toward the enemy yet again. He’d knocked us both well away from the glowing sea floor, into the total dark of the ocean.
<Yes! You can beat him! You’re the best!> I was too focused on the fight to acknowledge Phoebe’s encouragement.
The Thassan realized his mistake at the same moment I did, and swam back toward the safety of light. I grit my teeth at the revelation that he was indeed faster than me in the water, but not by much. If I was using the movement boost, I’d be able to catch him. But if I didn’t have the heavy armor, I’d already be dead. Never mind, the heavy armor has earned my eternal appreciation.
I watched the clock on the mapping program that Phoebe hadn’t deactivated, and I was finding useful enough to make a permanent feature. Eighteen, nineteen, twenty… now. The Thassan turned to face me, and in the same moment I flipped the pin on one of my flashbangs. His hand extended toward me. Twenty two, twenty three, twenty four. I let go of the grenade and kicked it as I took my ‘brace’ position.
The next explosion rocked me, but not like the first two hits. More alarms screamed in protest, informing me that I’d broken my feet and dislocated one knee. I rolled back upright, where my opponent was swimming down, hands over his eyes.
Did some damage with that one. It was too much to hope that the grenade would kill him; after all, his power was to create sonic booms right on top of him. A flashbang was comparatively minor to that kind of destructive power.
Still, a flashbang was bright enough to damage the retina even in daylight, and even carried the risk of permanent vision loss at night. Against someone with twice the night vision of a normal person, in utter black, it might even have permanently blinded him.
<You did it! You’re the best! I’m sorry I doubted you!> I got the feeling I now had my own personal cheerleader for every mission I’d ever go on. It didn’t bode well that I was reinforcing her delusion of us being fictional, but it was better than allowing myself to roll over and die every time a scenario got more difficult than anticipated.
The muscles in my legs shifted of their own accord, followed by the crack-squish of my knee bones popping back into place. My tendons had recognized my injuries and were now compensating by pulling me back together piece by piece. I tried to focus on the convenience of having built-in medical care, rather than the body horror going on inside me at the moment.
Able to swim again, I kicked off toward the retreating man. He was well and truly blind now, and his swimming had slowed, though not as much as I’d hoped. Presumably he had experience with swimming in the dark, so he wasn’t as impeded as one might expect, but I’d take what I could get. He’s already blinded; a couple well placed blows will be enough to take him out of the fight without killing him, and hopefully the hardest part of this mission is over. Not that I would have felt bad about shoving this spear down his throat, but one did not kill Imbued unless there was no other choice.
Then I heard the familiar sound of dolphin echolocation. Son of a bitch! <I thought your trick blinded them!>
<I’m sorry,> Phoebe’s exuberance had vanished, to be replaced by a quiet timidness. <I had to change settings to insulate you against the Imbued. I couldn’t do both.>
God damn it. Again. <No, that’s fine. I didn’t mean to yell, it’s just the adrenaline. You’re still doing a wonderful job.> I need to work on not being such an asshole, assuming I survive long enough for it to matter.
As I apologized to Phoebe, I still rushed toward the escaping superhuman. Six other Thassans spilled out from the entrance to their lair, wielding spears. Only two carried steel, the other four holding something that may have been carved from some sort of wood or bone. They swam up toward us, ready to intercept me and buy time for their chief or shaman or whatever he was to them. <See? It’s a moot point anyway, just keep my shield tuned against the Imbued. He’s the real threat.>
I activated the bit of backup power I was willing to burn, then kicked out with revitalized strength. I could not afford to have him in play while fighting off a dozen or more armed warriors in their home element. My lensing system made sure I had the best possible shot at the target, and I took the shot. Despite not being an expert with spears, nor underwater combat, the shot was good enough to strike his lower calf. Not immediately lethal, but I could hope it was enough.
He vanished and reappeared only a few feet from his original position. The explosion caught me off-guard and left me stunned while the computers went over the compression damage to my spine which guaranteed I’d have another surgery waiting for me when I got back home, if I got back home. I took some solace in the fact that his helpers were caught in the same burst, and most were disoriented or worse; the closest two were more likely than not dead from the impact.
Proximity alarms went off, and I twisted to see the dolphin riders rushing forward. They didn’t seem to notice me. <Phoebe, did you make me invisible to them?>
<What? No, that’s impo-> she stopped speaking as one of the riders launched a spear at one of the few from the building who weren’t stunned by the sonic boom. That soldier doubled over, a spear sticking through his gut. Two more shots ended two more enemies with hits to the chest and skull, respectively. A fourth spear hit the Imbued Thassan in the lower spine. Two more riders stayed back, spears trained on me, but they only circled me rather than firing.
So this is what they mean by the cavalry arriving. I wasn’t certain what prompted the dolphin riders to assault the others, but for now I was more than willing to grant them ‘enemy of my enemy’ status. I only hoped that as they were the ones to deliver the final blow to the Imbued, that any retaliation would be directed toward them rather than me or either of the countries I currently worked for.
I allowed myself to drift down, falling rather than swimming to the bottom. I hoped it would be seen as a sign of non-aggression, and would parlay with me before they encountered Lynx. Now was the time for diplomacy, not war, and I had no idea how they or their dolphins would react to her power.
Then my sensors started to go wild. <Guys? Explanation?>
<Run!> Abernathy shouted. I took her word for it, twisting and swimming away from this mess. The way my warning alarms were going off, I was expecting a tsunami or a volcano about to go off under my feat. <He’s Surging!>
So it’s worse than a volcano or tsunami. I kicked all my power into speed. Reserve energy meant nothing if I wasn’t alive to use it. Another shockwave sent me tumbling through the water. Stomach bruised, lungs bruised, internal bleeding into the chest cavity, popped ear drums. My battery charge shot up to full. Hurry for small favors.
I twisted to see the scene behind me. Dolphins, riders, and defenders were strewn about, most dead and in several pieces. The only surviving Thassans in sight were the two who had taken it upon themselves to keep a watch on me. Both were injured and bleeding, and their dolphins carried deep gashes of their own. The animals struggled for the surface, while the riders stayed behind in the water. They were brave, to be certain, but there was no hope for victory in their stances, merely the desire for a warrior’s death.
The Imbued was upright in the water, the spear still sticking through him. Where his eyes once were now glowed a brilliant white that made his tattoos all the more intimidating. A moment later I realized it wasn’t his tattoos I saw, but his actual skeleton; every last scrap of flesh had vanished from the man.
With a single sweep of his hand, one of the wounded dolphin riders exploded into a shower of gore. Despite no longer having flesh, his movements were swifter now than ever before. The Imbued’s skeleton cracked, and several pieces of bone broke off, falling to the sea bed like chunks of a statue.
<No,> Phoebe whispered. <No, nononono… not now, not before…>
<Wait, isn’t this a good thing? His power’s got limits, which means all I have to do is weather a few hits and he’ll destroy himself.> Admittedly, I was reaching for reasons to hope this would go well, but it wasn’t unheard of for the most powerful Imbued to have time limits on their powers. Speedsters, especially, were notorious for dying of aging before they were twenty. <There are worse things he could have surged for.>
<You don’t understand!> Phoebe screamed. <This isn’t a Surge! It’s a Class Five Event!>
A chill ran up my spine. If she was right, then there was nothing I could do to save myself short of going back in time and telling myself to tell General Lindsey to go fuck a porcupine.
The skeletal monster turned his gaze to me and brought his hand up. So much for main character status. I didn’t even make it through my first mission.