Master Yadugara’s research continued all morning, and then, after a filling lunch through which Luca lay unconscious, it started up again. By that time, the motionless teenager, deprived of all sensation, felt himself floating in a bottomless nothing, as he’d felt his entire life.
“One-hundred-percent compatibility!” “Wonderful, wonderful,” Yadugara purred, letting out a loud and satisfied belch. “Let’s prepare for the transfusion.”
“Can I have it too, Master Teacher?” Penant asked in a voice quivering in excitement.
“You’re still too young, Pen. If used correctly, the boy’s body will last a couple of years. Anyway, we haven’t tested him for compatibility with you.”
“But I’m compatible with you, aren’t I? That means I might be with him, too...”
“Don’t get distracted, Pen! And don’t forget that there’s a long queue of influential and respected people for restoration! Their patience is not unlimited, and we have only one suitable sample! And if the Imperial Healer finds out... Two-horns save us!”
“But our customers...”
“No, Pen! They won’t flap their tongues, you know that.”
“Maybe I could at least try it?”
“Later, Pen!” Yadugara waved him away in exasperation. “Get ready...”
Luca was out for a long time, and when he woke up, he smelled something rank and acidic in the air.
“Turn him over,” he heard the healer say as if from afar.
The only thing telling the boy he was now on his stomach was the blood rushing to his face. His entire body had lost all sensation.
“Scalpel... Incision...” the voices were indistinct, as if his ears were full of wax. Which they were.
The boy’s eyes had also been covered, but suddenly he saw some text. The letters appeared in the darkness. Line by line, they informed him:
Detected multiple lacerations in skin tissue...
Detected multiple lacerations in muscle tissue...
Detected significant blood loss...
Activated enhancement mode!
Detected available materials: 72% iron, 9% nickel, 18% chrome, 0.07% carbon...
“Two-horns!” Master Yadugara swore, stunned. “What the hell is happening with this instrument?”
The healer couldn’t believe his eyes. Nothing remained of the scalpel but its wooden handle. The entire blade had disappeared. Penant blinked several times and rubbed his eyes before thinking about it, forgetting that his gloves were covered in the slave’s blood.
“What does this mean, Master Yadugara?”
“Another scalpel, quickly! Hurry, the incision is closing!”
Luca more realized than felt Yadugara delve into his flesh again.
“Sacred Mother! What kind of monster is this Dezisimu? Scissors! Clamp!”
“Master, it won’t cut! The scalpel isn’t cutting him!”
“Is it blunt? Needle!”
A rustle, panting. Luca felt his sensations returning, along with an insufferable pain.
“It broke! I swear on the perfect bosom of the Sacred Mother, the needle broke!”
“It didn’t break, idiot! The needle is stuck in this Two-horn-cursed body!”
“Did you see that? Master, did you see that?!”
“Stick it in here, we’ll transfuse now! Bring a vessel! The catalyzer, quickly! The tether! Ugh...”
Yadugara collapsed into a chair and closed his eyes. Life flowed into him, life young and full of strength.
Lines appeared before Luca again, which Esk’s legacy defined as ‘logs’. The boy didn’t have time to read them, or understand what they meant.
Detected unsanctioned withdrawal of energy reserves...
Detected unsanctioned trade of...
Detected aggressive influence on cellular...
Accelerating interchange processes...
Luca’s hearing and mobility returned to him. He heard the sound of a falling body and Penant’s scream next to him.
Luca raised his head and looked around. He was lying on his stomach, completely naked. He didn’t like that, and the boy rose, feeling tubes fall from his body.
Yadugara lay on the floor, and Senior Apprentice Penant fretted next to him. He saw that Luca was conscious and trying to stand.
“What’s up with the master?” Luca asked.
“This is your fault, murderer!” The senior apprentice’s eyes flashed with fury. “Whoreson of the abyss!”
Penant suddenly leapt at the boy and raised his arm. Metal gleamed in his hand. Luca raised his hand mechanically to cover himself and felt an explosion of pain. The scalpel blade stuck out of the back of his hand.
But the next moment, the senior apprentice screamed even louder: the blade dissolved, absorbed into the hand, and mere heartbeats later, the wound knit itself shut.
Luca looked at his hand in astonishment, nodded to himself, understood, and then looked around the healer’s office, deciding what to do. Run away? But where to? Penant was twice his size. He couldn’t take him in a fight, but he’d have to, because his mother was waiting for him, and if he was accused of murder...
A fist started banging on the door. Penant rushed toward it and unlocked it. The gate guard slave appeared at the threshold.
“Daler! The slave killed the master!” the senior apprentice babbled. “Bind him immediately!”
Roaring, the guard rushed toward Luca and spread his arms wide to prevent his escape. Recognizing that something irrecoverable was happening, the boy ducked under his elbow and ran to the door of the office.
Penant barred his path. The senior apprentice shouted something and threw his fist forward. Luca didn’t have time to dodge, he took the blow to the face and stopped, grabbing his cheekbone. A hit from the guard rushing up from behind sent the boy to the floor.
He came round a little later, when Daler threw his body onto the cold, slimy earth of the cellar floor. He heard the clank of a lock and familiar voices from beyond the door.
“Something’s definitely wrong with him!” Penant’s voice dripped with spite and shock.
“Yes, you’re absolutely right, senior apprentice. And thank Two-horns that he broke the tethers himself, otherwise...”
The muffled voice quietened, started whispering, then Reyna asked a question.
“What kind of beast is he, Master Yadugara?”
“Oh, Reyna, my dear, this is a very curious specimen!” The healer had a coughing fit, then triumphantly announced: “I haven’t found any references to such as him in all the two centuries I have lived in this world. This is an incredible discovery! And we are going to find out what is wrong with him...”
Alex (Aleksei) Bobl is a literary agent and a science fiction writer, author of 13 novels. An ex-paratrooper, he used his military knowledge and experience to write his debut novels for S.T.A.L.K.E.R., a bestselling science fiction action adventure series set in a post-apocalyptic Chernobyl.
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