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Once the footsteps behind the door faded, Luca was in total darkness and silence. He feared neither, just as he did not fear Yadugara’s threatened punishment. But the fact that his mother needed help, which he couldn’t provide no matter how much he wanted to — that tore at his soul. He was also worried about Kora, who would probably come back tomorrow, and if she didn’t see him, she might try to get into the house, which could end in her being sent to the mines.

Luca felt his way from one corner to the other in the basement. It turned out he was in a small space; five paces long and six wide. The low ceiling tickled the crown of his head as he walked, and that made the boy stoop out of fear of hitting his head on some unseen protrusion.

Luca knew exactly how long he’d sat analyzing Yadogara’s (the boy’s new, growing personality felt it would be cowardly and pathetic to call the man Master when alone) actions — almost six hours. Patiently waiting for things wasn’t one the boy’s strong suits.

He started studying the traveler interface out of boredom. A miniature sun span in his field of vision, somewhere on the very edge. It was bright, but not blinding. It disappeared when Luca didn’t pay attention to it, but then reappeared and pulsated invitingly as soon as he remembered it. If he mentally stroked the little sun, text appeared before his eyes as if hanging in mid-air. As he moved, so did the text, always remaining visible without blocking his vision. The text was as if alive, growing and shrinking, or sometimes becoming completely invisible, at the boy’s slightest wish.

Luca’Onegut, life one.

Reminiscent. Successor to Esk’Onegut.

Influence level: 0.

Tsoui points: 1

Orion Arm, Milky Way, Solar System, Planet Earth.

Universe variation: #ES-252210-0273-4707.

Reincarnation: available.

Wheel spin cost: 10 Tsoui points.

Right to respin Wheel: none.

Talents:

Metamorphosis. Ability level one. This ability allows you to control your body on a basic level: temperature, energy expenditure, immune system, metabolic activity, rapid healing, tissue and organ regeneration, sharpened senses.

Luca knew from Esk’s legacy that as he increased his influence level, he’d get more points for deeds worthy of Tsoui. The level showed how much the traveler’s deeds affected universal harmony and how widely the traveler was known in the multiverse. In addition, the higher the level, the less it cost to spin the Wheel and the better the sectors were, which meant better abilities and talents and fewer negative and empty segments.

Hours went by. Luca felt himself falling asleep when he heard something strange. Something rustled in the far corner of the basement. The boy tensed and froze, then screamed and shook his leg, but the pain in it didn’t stop. In a panic, he slapped his knee, but then pain shot through his hand too.

Chinils!

Nimble, bloodsucking centipedes about as long as a man’s hand. They were the true curse of the entire Empire. They inhabited moist, dark places and were as enduring as the roaches of the Wastelands. Poison them and they wouldn’t die. Set them alight and they’d scatter, able to withstand the very hottest flame for a short time. Trying to squash them was useless. Their thick, chitinous shells were far stronger than a crab’s, hard to break even with a hammer. A sledgehammer wielded by a strong blacksmith could just about do it. Sharp spines like a comb down the creatures’ backs quickly taught people not to try to stamp on the bloodsuckers.

Although they did have one peculiarity — chinils lived in small colonies of about a dozen individuals that strictly maintained a constant population and range. You never got more than one colony within a half a mile.

Luca jumped up, panicking even more. He’d heard that a colony of these centipedes had drank one of their neighbors dry. The man had been drinking cheap, but effective moonshine and lost consciousness. By the time he came to, it was already too late. It was very strange that Yadugara was comfortable living in that house with such a deadly colony in his basement.

While Luca tried to detach one cheenil that had latched on not only with its beak, but with all its legs, another laid its eggs on him, and the rustle and whisper of numerous legs on the floor got louder.

Detected lacerations in skin tissue...

Detected lacerations in muscle tissue...

Detected blood loss...

Activated enhancement mode!

Detected available organic materials...

Absorbing...

Transforming...

With a scream at the edge of ultrasound, two centipedes, deprived of several segments of legs, fell from the boy’s body. His ability continued to knit his wounds together, and once done, considered its master’s needs: it transformed part of the absorbed organic matter to recover his lost blood and increase the muscle mass of his arms and core[1]. But there wasn’t enough of the absorbed material to do it all, and Luca himself was too scared to comprehend the text as it rapidly flashed by and to use the bodies of the two surviving centipedes. Both of them scrabbled on their backs, losing blood from their torn-off legs, their bellies looking as if rubbed raw by sandpaper.

Luca sat until midnight, getting angrier and angrier with the cursed healer. The understanding of what Yadugara had tried to do to him didn’t affect him as much as his despairing helplessness. It was all because of that damned slave collar!

He tried to tear it from his neck, but it only strangled him tighter. He couldn’t get his fingers under it. His nails scratched his skin until it bled. Luca wailed and cried in his impotence, but the more he tried, the tighter the collar gripped him.

Suddenly, he felt a stabbing pain in his heart and lost sensation. Collapsing against the door, Luca opened his mouth and tried to breathe, but his lungs weren’t working. The boy had lost control of his body.

Detected injection of paralyzing toxins!

Analyzing reaction options...

Releasing neutralizing agents.

Detected impact on nervous system!

Analyzing reaction options...

Blocking nerve receptors in compromised locations.

Detected aggressive asphyxiation influence!

Analyzing reaction options...

Cannot reinforce neck skin!

Insufficient required elements in organism!

More intuitively than consciously, Luca jerked and touched the door.

Detected available materials: 97.9% iron, 2.1% carbon...

Absorbing...

Transforming...

The hand pressing against the iron panel slipped through a hole. Luca could breathe again. The collar no longer constricted his strengthened throat, although it continued to send controlling signals to the rebellious slave’s body.

Effect level critical.

Analyzing reaction options...

Initiating absorption of aggressive structure...

Insufficient energy reserves!

By absorbing certain chemical elements and transforming them into others, reconfiguring the structure of the boy’s organs and counteracting the aggressive outside influence, his metamorphosis ability had expended all his available energy. It couldn’t use fat supplies because he didn’t have an ounce of spare fat on him, and it had no authority to absorb its masters flesh without his command. The command didn’t come, and the ability went to sleep.

Exhausted, Luca fell into a coma, and the power collar achieved its purpose: the rebel was paralyzed and close to death, and the alarm signal had been sent to the slave’s master.

Master Yadugara’s theoretical plans had worked. There was no way the creature could resist the transfusion process in this state.

[1] The core muscles are a set of muscles responsible for stabilizing the spine, waist and hips.

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About the author

boblak

Bio: 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.

This account is publishing texts written by authors of Magic Dome Books.

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