I hope that tank doesn’t explode too painfully, I thought as I turned away from the imminent explosion. Cool guys don’t look at explosions, Charles, cool guys don’t—
—I was swallowed by light and heat and I felt my feet lift off the ground.
When I next opened my eyes I was lying on my back in the smoldering rubble. Heat shimmered off of my jacket. The familiar sensation of being wrapped in superheated textiles brought back memories of the old days. Another successful test, I thought. The G-Directorate had tested my fireproof tour guide jacket, pants and boots over seventy times in a fire chamber. For “maximum field performance”, they had done those tests while I was wearing the gear. I coughed and my lungs felt like they’d been seared into leather. My ears rang, and beyond that the world seemed weirdly quiet. I couldn’t hear the rasp of my respirator, or the groaning of the damaged building. Had I gone deaf?
That didn’t seem so bad, I thought as I struggled to my feet, brushing fried Biomatrix bits off. I’d often wished that Pilot had a ‘mute’ button. Well, wish sort-of granted! Congratulations to me!
I started searching for the gun; I must’ve dropped it when the explosion knocked me out. The ground at my feet was covered in more of the charbroiled remains, a hint of bone or tooth visible here and there. I poked at one blackened lump with my toe, and it crumbled into greasy chunks. After kicking through the stuff for a few minutes my foot connected with metal.
Gun in hand, I found my way out of the building and back into the street. I was going to give my mission a break, I decided. Besides, Captain’s list had been destroyed by the fireball. That would make a decent excuse for my returning empty-handed.
It was too bad all the other humans had been consumed by the Biomatrix. They’d been jerks, but they’d had working generators, and shampoo. Where there was shampoo, there were showers. Oh, to imagine what might have been!
I realized that those imagined showers, never to be indulged in, would likely haunt my dreams for weeks to come. I blinked away maudlin tears. Cool guys don’t cry over showers, Charles, I insisted to myself.
I slowly realized I could hear the crunching of snow under my feet again. The moaning of the wind filled the frigid air. I imagined Captain’s indignation when zee saw that I had not fulfilled zeer commands, and half-wished my deafness had lasted a little longer.
The moaning of the wind was getting louder and louder as my hearing came back. It sounded odd, almost… angry?
I stopped and listened more carefully. The sound came again, building into a wailing roar. I stood still, paralyzed by dread. Surely I was imagining things. I’d seen all those barbequed Biomatrix pieces! There was no way that—
There was an explosive crash from behind me, followed by a long, infuriated bellow that echoed in the frozen streets. Reflexively I turned to look.
As I saw what was coming, for a moment I wasn’t even scared. A deep sense of fatigue filled me. Today I’d been heckled by monsters, kidnapped by goons, and barely survived an uncomfortably literal bloodbath. This was just the latest dumb and excessive threat to my wellbeing.
And then I heard the thunder of way too many heavy feet bearing down on me, and the terror set in properly.