Rocks fall, everybody dies.
That old tired phrase popped into Ortega’s head as he ran for it, throwing himself out of the way of the falling concrete. Time slowed, tucked itself into greyscale freeze as he saw the entire wall topple, impossibly large, impossible to dodge.
Twelve years old, he tossed his dice at Marek, bitterly complaining.
"That’s not fair!"
"Who said I was fair? You were stupid enough to take the trapped goblet, so now you die!" the annoyed GM replied, children playing games where consequences on paper turned into real emotional wounds.
Air was forced out of him as Jake slammed him to the ground, massive armour covering him as bricks and concrete pelted them both. Ortega curled up, tucked in his arms and legs, waited for the pain, waited for the blackness. But the world stilled, filled with dust and echoes.
"Are you alive down there?" Jake asked, his voice a hollow ring through the armored suit. Metallic. Yet the worry was impossible to miss.
"Alive and pissed off," Ortega coughed, trying to move but they were trapped under the rubble. For a brief moment he panicked, immobile, trapped, memories clawing to the surface.
Twenty-two years old, he tossed the cup of pills at the nurse, complaining bitterly.
"That’s not fair,"
"Life is not fair. You will never walk again, you had better get used to that," the nurse replied, used to the pain, used to the denial. Used to the tears that followed.
"Can you move?" Ortega asked, because this was different. He wasn’t trapped in bed, he could move his feet, and if only Jake would get off him he would be free. But there was just no budging the half-ton of combat armor.
"I can, just thought it would be in our best interest to stay down a moment, come up with a plan."
"A plan? God, he took down Ayesha with a single blow, I’ve never seen anything that big move that fast." Ortega coughed, half choking on the dust..
"You’re faster," the armored man replied. "You’re the only one that can get close."
"Getting close?? What happened to standing back and shooting him full of rubber bullets? You’ve got tasers for chrissake!"
"His skin is too thick, he’s got scales, for fuck’s sake he tore down a wall on us, you think he’s gonna care about tasers any more than rubber bullets??"
"Point taken. But we still don’t know if my implants works, it’s all theoretical…" He clenched his fist, feeling the conductive plates ringing his palms, flexible hexagons connected to the base of his spine. It had been something he never asked for, he had just woken up one day and they had been there, resting innocently in his healing flesh. making him into some sort of weapon. It was inconceivable. Really. And it scared Ortega shitless.
Twenty-three years old he tossed his hands in the air, complaining bitterly.
"That’s not fair."
"I’m not lying to you. You should be able to do it easily, the same generators that power your spine can be used for touch range electrical discharges. A lot stronger than any taser." Dr Burton sounded annoyed, as if she thought that Ortega was faking. And maybe he was.
Maybe he was just afraid. Those tiny plasmic generators were the things that kept him mobile after all, kept him on his feet, faster, sharper than he had ever been. They were all that kept him from the wheelchair, and the thought of using them like that… honestly? It scared the crap out of him. What if they overloaded? What if they shorted out? What if he got killed?
Christ, when had he started thinking that? He lived for the danger, that thrill of the jump, the whirr of the camera, the moment in the spotlight. But this was a different kind of danger, not glamourous and suddenly so very real.
"Pop us free Jake, and try to distract him." There was no wavering of Ortega’s voice just accepting the inevitable. Really. "Just give me a shot at getting near him."
"Don’t make me regret this," Jake replied, the motors in his armor powering up.
The rubble shifted, and they pushed free, Ortega scrambling for his feet. Covered in dust and bruises he felt less than impressive as he coughed, spitting brown on the ground in front of him. Maybe wearing this much white hadn’t been the best idea after all. In the distance, the scaled beast that walked like a man turned to focus his ire on Jake as the armored man sent another volley of inefficient rubber bullets his way. Ortega could see the creature stumble, then steady itself for the charge. Clawed feet dug into broken concrete as sharp fangs parted in a roar and off it went.
Faster than him? Doubtful. But most certainly faster than Jake. Who seemed to be bracing for impact. Would it help? Doubtful.
Ortega sucked in a breath and ran, as fast as he could, fast enough to feel his feet slip on the rubble. The scaled beast hit Jake head on, sending them both skidding along the ground. Ayesha had been taken by surprise, Jake was ready and braced, but metal groaned loudly in protest and there was a popping, hissing sound, like fuses blown in the wake of a tornado.
Twenty-four years old, Ortega felt gravel under his knees. He had tripped and slid and suddenly he was pressed against a body smelling sourly of bad leather. He pressed his palms against the smaller scales of the naked stomach, willing his muscles to make the connections needed for implants to fire. Nothing happened.
It wasn’t fair.
And then the air exploded in a power flash smelling of ozone and steak. Time unthawed, turned from grey to color once more. The scaled body toppled backwards, chest smoking. His palms hurt, like he had put them on a hot stove.
It had worked. It had actually worked. He could still move. The scaled man did not. Just twitched a little. Ortega looked down at his smoking hands, clenching and unclenching them.
That whole human weapon thing suddenly didn’t sound so inconceivable after all.