021 – Deadly Arts

Tegan’s titanium-coated fist struck Ben’s jaw, snapping his head to the side and nearly knocking over his chair. Ben groaned and turned slowly to face her, expecting to be hit again at any moment. He squinted up at her and spat a wad of blood on the floor, glad there was no teeth in it.

A mean smile quirked Tegan’s lips. “Oh, that’s right. I forgot Somatics can’t really feel. Let’s try…” She smashed her fist into his ribs, and Ben felt pain spike through his previously cracked sternum. Ben cried out and tried to curl forward to protect his chest, but the plastic restraints prevented him. Tegan leaned close to him. “Ooo, looks like I hit a tender spot. Did you feel that?”

“A-A little bit, yeah,” Ben said, the words wheezing through his lips.

Tegan hit his head again, a sharp tap that made his ears ring. Ben glared at her dizzily. “Did that one rattle your implants a bit?” she asked. Ben didn’t answer. “You have no idea how long I’ve wanted to do this to you,” Tegan said, her voice wistful. “Not for any personal reasons, really. But I, like most nanoblade users, hate the name Havoc. You’ve taken our art and—”

“Used it for good instead of evil?” Ben said, blood dripping from his torn mouth.

“Sullied it,” Tegan said, twisting her mouth in disgust. She glared at him. “People are supposed to fear nanoblade users.” Tegan’s eyes lit with fervor. “We create the deadliest weapons that can kill with a single thought.”

“A waste of energy,” said Ben with a grimace. “When you could simply block someone’s arteries with metal and then disperse it, if you didn’t want to be caught, or cut them to shreds if you did.”

Tegan smacked him, and this time Ben spat out a tooth. “We aren’t all as willing to lose our minds to Soma as you are. We maintain our deadly art without being Somatics, without becoming animals.”

“Deadly art?” Ben said, his voice weak. A chuckle cracked to a sob. “I’ve used my nanoblade to unplug a toilet,” he said. Tegan screeched in rage and punched him in the mouth. Ben spat out another tooth through torn lips, head drooping onto his chest.

Tegan drew back her fist to hit him again, but paused as Firenze entered the tiny cell. “Time to go,” he said.

She lowered her arm and smirked down at Ben. “Looks like Baker has finished negotiating with your analog,” she said. Ben’s head snapped up, eyes wide with fear and worry. Tegan leaned close to him again. “Knowing Baker, I doubt she’ll be able to walk,” she said, “for a few days anyw—” She started as Firenze grabbed her arm and pulled her away from Ben. “Wha—”

“Careful,” said Firenze, the word snapping from his mouth.

She looked back at Ben in time to see the plastic chair and restraints shiver on a molecular level and disintegrate into a fine dust. Ben stood amidst the swirling plastic particles. “What—” Tegan stared, hands limp at her sides.

Ben’s pupils had constricted to pinpoints in his eyes. The swirling plastic fell to the floor around him. His gaze flitted to Tegan and Firenze. She stiffened, and the titanium coating her fist shivered into the half-formed shape of a knife.

“No!” Firenze grabbed her wrist and dispelled the titanium knife with a thought.

“What?” Tegan said. “He’ll kill us.”

Firenze gritted his teeth. “Our metals don’t matter, idiot. We’re made of carbon.”

Tegan swung her gaze back to Ben. “He can only manipulate pure carbon graphite.”

“Tell that to the polycarbons in that chair,” Firenze whispered. “What did you say to him?” They both looked back at Ben as he shuddered and expelled a forceful breath. His pupils stuttered back to their normal size. He swayed on his feet. Tegan and Firenze continued to stare at him.

“We’re done, right?” he asked them. They nodded mutely. Ben cleared his throat. “Sorry I lost my temper and broke your chair,” he mumbled through torn lips as he stumbled past them, his rumpled gray jumpsuit splattered in blood. He left them alone in the cell. Tegan and Firenze didn’t move until they could no longer hear him in the hallway.

Read the next chapter.

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