ANTI-MAN by Dean R. Koontz

I fired again. The impact of the slug knocked Him off His feet, backwards into a chair which He toppled over as He went down. He landed hard, bouncing His head on the bare floor, and laid there, motionless for a moment. Dead? It was possible that I had inflicted too great a wound for Him to heal. Perhaps too many internal organs had been ripped apart, and He had ceased to function before He could bring his recuperative powers into play. Then I heard something that cancelled that train of thought: the heavy, rapid beating of His heart . . .

I stood there, watching Him for a while, wondering what I should do. I was partly, surprised that I had been able to gun Him down so easily, even if He was the baser Hyde, part of the original mother body’s character. Still, He resembled a man, and it was a wonder that resemblance had not kept me from shooting. But as I listened to His heart, I realized He was healing Himself as He laid there, and I knew what I had to do. I stepped forward to put another bullet in His back at a point where it would shatter His heart.

When I was three or four feet from Him, I realized that He had changed, that He was no longer in the form of a human being. He had maintained the rough outline of a sprawled body, apparently to lure me closer, but He was in an amoeboid form like the other mother bodies, a blob of flesh with exterior veins and no human features. I remembered what the Jekyll mother body had told me: after the first android had worked out the metamorphosis from human form to amoeboid form, the android selves that came later could make the change almost instantaneously without going through the laborious intermediate steps. I back-stepped, trying to get out of His way. As I moved, I saw the quick movement of the growing pseudopod as it lifted out of the main flesh mass and came at me, rising over my head like the arm of Death.

I backed into a hassock, fell over it, and rolled to the wall. The change of direction confused the pseudopod, and it smashed into the bare floor and groped around for a moment as if it could not quite believe I had avoided it. But I knew I would not avoid it again, or for long. It was more intelligent, faster, more sensitive. This was a one-sided fight, and we both knew it. I hunched against the wall and fired the rifle at the mother body. The slug tore through the gelatinous mass and out the other side, carrying a good hunk of tissue with it. The pseudopod that had been projected at me quivered, rippled as if in spasm, and drew back into the mother body to convalesce.

I got to my feet and started moving as carefully as possible toward the door which was ten feet to my right, I knew that if I made much noise getting there, the mother body would be alerted by the vibrations and snare me before I was halfway there. Still, the floor creaked under me, the beast sensed my flight, and a thick arm of flesh shot out and slammed into the wall inches before me, blocking the way.

I shot into the mother body to make it withdraw its arm, but it shivered, contracted, and kept the arm in place.

Trapped . . .

The arm turned and began to corral me back the way I had come, back into a corner formed by a heavy chair and the wall. Once in that corner, I would be unable to escape. I could crawl over the chair, perhaps, but I would most assuredly be snared before I had clambered beyond it. I was surprised, momentarily, at how clear and quick my mind was. In the presence of death, with fear sharper and greater than at any other time in my life, my senses had been honed to their sharpest edge. Then I felt the backs of my thighs touch the chair, and I knew there was absolutely nowhere else to go. The mother body would know that too. The pseudopod came at me, suddenly moving with the greatest speed.

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Categories: Koontz, Dean