ANTI-MAN by Dean R. Koontz

“Not a wolf. For one thing, we’ve insulted them. A wolf is too proud a creature to give up without a fight. Besides, they look rangy, hungry. They won’t stop as long as they think they’ve found their supper. And that’s just what we must look like to them.”

Just then, four more wolves flashed down the slope and after us, snarling, foam flecking the corners of their twisted mouths, their eyes fierce and glowing like crimson gems. The attack was a surprise and launched with startling swiftness, almost as if they had mutually agreed to take us unaware. But our vantage point was too good, too safe. I brought the last one down only a dozen feet away from me. Just in time to hear the vicious growl behind us!

We whirled.

Two wolves had detached from the main pack and had slunk around behind us and had come up the back of our hill, almost in the footprints we had made. Now we were surrounded. I caught one with a narcodart burst as he leaped for me. He twisted in midflight, his entire body wracked with spasms as the drugs relaxed his mind and released his tense muscles from their constriction, draining the savage fury from him like a tap drains a keg. He crashed short of me by two feet, throwing up a spray of snow. He choked, tried to get up, and slammed back to the ground, passed out. The second wolf had come too fast and had landed on His shoulders, bearing Him to the ground and sinking teeth into His pseudo-flesh. Apparently, the pseudo-flesh, the cultured meat that was grown in the Artificial Wombs, was as good as regular meat, for the wolf did not draw back, but went after its prey in a frenzy.

It swung its head down to tear open my android’s neck. I fired a round of pins, but they rolled just then, and the narcodarts sank uselessly into the snow. The next moment, the beast’s teeth raked over the exposed skin of His neck, but did not sink in very deeply. Little rivulets of blood ran down His skin. I was searching for an opening, when He suddenly swung His fist against the side of the wolfs head and crushed its skull as completely as if He had used an iron mallet. He had evidently hardened His flesh into a hammer-like weapon, just as He had earlier shaped it into a scoop. The wolf gurgled once and fell off Him.

“Your face,” I said. His cheek had been badly chewed, and He was bleeding profusely.

“It’ll be all right.” Even as He spoke, the bleeding slowed and stopped. His cheek seemed to crawl with a life of its own, wriggling, shivering, pulsating. He reached up and tore away the flap of flesh the wolf had loosened. I could see, beneath, the welling brightness of smooth, new skin. In moments, there was no sign of His wound; He had healed completely. “The other six,” He said, indicating the last of our enemy.

But they were slinking off along the ridge, watching us carefully but with no apparent intent of attack. They had seen ten of their kind fall before us, and they had suddenly lost some of their pride—enough, anyway, to let them give up in hopes of finding easier prey.

“Let’s go,” I said, “before they change their minds and come back. Or before their comrades wake up.”

“Just a minute,” He said, kneeling before the wolf He had killed with His hand. He flopped it onto its back and began working on it. In a minute, He had skinned it as He had the rabbits. He tore large chunks of meat from its flanks and stuffed them into His mouth, ripping with His teeth just as the wolves would have ripped us had we not been too much for them.

“Wolf meat should be stringy,” I said inanely.

“I need it,” He answered. “I don’t much care about the taste or the texture. The changes are accelerating, Jacob. I’ll only be a few minutes here.” He swallowed noisily. “Okay?”

“Yeah. Sure.”

“Good,” He said.

He continued cramming the bloody meat into his mouth, swallowing it with the minimum of chewing. I guess He had adapted His digestive system in some way to handle what He was throwing at it. Such a bolted meal of raw flesh would have had anyone else retching for the next three days as the stomach cleansed itself. I would have given just about anything at that moment to have been able to X-ray Him, run tests on Him to see exactly what He had done to Himself. It was the doctor in me, the medical curiosity surfacing even while wolves stalked in the night and World Authority police ranged somewhere behind, closing the gap. Ten minutes later, He had devoured most of the animal and was ready to go.

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Categories: Koontz, Dean