Space is big; I mean really, really big. You’d think after growing up on Star Trek and re-runs of Cosmos (you know, the old one) that I would have understood, but it’s not the kind of thing you can grasp until you’re out there…
In the void…
Further from home than you have been… or will be again.
I shot toward the distant marble with all the force I could. What if I didn’t make it? I’d choke or burn or freeze or explode in the vacuum, or something!
My chest grew tight; if I’d needed to breathe I’d have spent all my oxygen on panic. I tried to reason that it wasn’t too far; that it only took seven or so minutes for the light from the sun to reach the Earth, and I was a lot closer; it still didn’t dull the ache of the expanse.
Somehow I could still hear Dr. Vortex. “This is how I killed her,” he said. “Carol, I think her name was. It’s a shame she had to get caught up in this, but I couldn’t risk the possibility that Randall hadn’t told her everything. What a tragedy that a human life should be reduced to being a loose end; fodder for the battle.”
I tried to ignore him and kept my eyes on the goal. Every moment grew more desperate; all I wanted was to reach home and draw fresh air.
“Do you know what happens to an unprotected human body in outer space?” he asked; I didn’t, couldn’t answer. “First, the drop in external pressure causes air in the lungs to expand until they rupture, which is why you shouldn’t hold your breath in the void. Carol did, and she suffered for it.”
Shut up, shut up…
The Earth was the size of a football field; I was getting closer.
Dr. Vortex droned on. “The liquid in the eyes and on the tongue begin to boil. I imagine it’s excruciating. After ten seconds the water in the body begins to vaporize and flesh swells; epidermis is strong enough to keep it contained, but the process is far from pleasant. During that time exposure to cosmic radiation will cause severe burning, and as the body loses the ability to generate heat it will freeze.”
Suddenly there was a shift and the world exploded. A shower of gold rained on the pavement as I pulled myself from the ground. I looked up to see what had hit me; the steel hull of a ship in dock. Dr. Vortex had brought me back home on his own terms, and he was going to play with me some more.
“Every wound I just described has been listed in her autopsy report,” the madman continued from his pulpit. “How these wounds were inflicted, however, remain a mystery to the police; especially given the conflicting nature of Randall Drew’s death. Would you like to be familiarized with his grizzly end?”
Muscles ached to collapse, but I wouldn’t let them; Dr. Vortex had to be stopped. On my hands and knees I propped myself from the ground and back into the fight, even against knowledge that he’d lined up worse to come.
I roared like a woman possessed, and maybe I was; there was nothing rational about the way I threw myself into him and the wall of water that crashed from every direction. It came down with the force of a typhoon; if I hadn’t been in hologram form it would have been my death.
The pressure squeezed my body like a tube, and I was powerless to resist. Where was I? All around was darkness and cold, save for the endless floor that waited for my body to fall. Tiny creatures darted away; fish?
My hand was first to hit the sand, and the rest of my body rolled with it. How far down was I? From that depth I couldn’t see the surface. Knowing Dr. Vortex it was someplace unforgiving, likely untouched by a human being until that moment.
I fought against it, tried to fly, but I was anchored; alive, but stagnate, for how long I couldn’t say. So long as I was charged up I could sit and stay alive, but then I hesitated. Bubbles escaped my mouth, and gasping had me take in water. It hadn’t hurt me… yet.
What was he trying to do; kill me? That’s when I realized that no, that was the last thing he wanted. I was too important to him for whatever reason, and that’s when I understood that I still had a hand to play.
Going against sanity itself I let go of my hologram form and was swallowed by the cold. The vice grip of the ocean squeezed down while my chest filled.
As quickly as it had appeared the water vanished, and I was face down on concrete coughing up brine. Gods, I wanted to be sick, my skull wanted to explode, but I was out of that death trap; Vortex had done what I wanted. That was a step, right?
I didn’t hear him until the last few steps when he wrenched my hair and pulled me to my knees. “Stupid boy! What do you think you’re-?”
No time for chit chat; I flared to life and clung to form like I did to his throat. Searing heat erupted from my fingertips and into Vortex’s neck, cooking his skin and choking him. Action was automatic, and I might have killed him if I didn’t follow to where his arm was pointed.
My touch cooled when I saw the steel crate floating in the air, rotating like a pig on a spit and ready to come down on the hostages screaming beneath. Yeah, it would have been easy to put a stop to him right there, but at what cost?
“Let go,” the doctor grunted.
I did as I was told, fell to my knees and dropped my hard light form. Suddenly, the urge to fight wasn’t there anymore; I’d used every drop.
“You win,” I wheezed. What else could I do?
To be continued…