Of course, the xosk wasn’t under any obligation to let me punch a hole in its body, and however much the tentacles had a mind of their own, they might have had an inkling that if the body lost everyone lost.
That’s my best theory why, after shrinking away from me as I charged the xosk, they got it into their minds to surround me and try to grapple me as I reached the body. It was at the same time not too bad and terrifying. The tentacles were everywhere around me and pulling me in toward the mouths.
At the same time, I was stronger than they were or at least my armor was. Even though they tried to pull me, I could stop and hold myself in place. They tried to be clever about it, pulling my legs in opposite directions, but the V4 suit was too heavy and had the ability to deliver tons of force with a punch or kick.
That was a good thing because it had somehow escaped me how malleable the xosk’s body was.
I’d aimed for a spot that didn’t have any mouths, but as I ran for, it developed at first a small mouth, and by the time I was within a few feet, a mouth large enough to swallow a full-grown man. Worse, it had at least three layers of teeth, each a few inches further down the throat.
It didn’t seem likely that it could bite through my armor, but it would be a bad time to find out that I was wrong.
So, how to handle the mouths? As the tentacles tried to pull my feet out from under me, I stepped to the right, breaking a few tentacles off, but avoiding the mouths. Standing in front of a section of empty wall save for some broken tentacles, I started punching.
It felt like punching jello, muscular jello.
When the suit hit, I felt an initial give and then a tearing as the suit’s hand penetrated its body. A dark liquid, more viscous than blood, flowed out and around my suit’s forearm.
If it sounds gross, that’s because it is.
My second punch hit, penetrating like the first. I didn’t feel a wall behind it at all. I needed to punch harder to get through. I also needed to not think about the tissues that I felt ripping as I pushed the suit to smash whatever was in the way.
All the while, the xosk screamed in my mind. My defenses dulled the effect, but I could still hear it.
Through the noise and the weird, blood-like substance, Amy asked, “Are you doing okay?”
“Kinda?” My world appeared to be all tentacles.
Amy made a noise somewhere between a grunt and a sniff, “I can barely see you and I don’t like it. I’m giving you some help. Don’t move left.”
I had less than a second to think about the last sentence. Then the xosk screamed loud enough that it felt like I no longer existed and that the only thing that did exist was its scream.
At the same time, the tentacles cleared to my left, blackening and turning to dust along with a huge hole where the mouth used to be.
The destruction gave me time to notice something that I’d missed in the process of trying to punch through the xosk. While I’d been tearing it to shreds directly ahead of me, it had spilled outward below me. I stood up to my suit’s knees in xosk. I’d noticed that I couldn’t move as well as I wanted, but I’d assumed it was tentacles.
Somewhere in the back of my mind, I wondered what would happen if the xosk absorbed me and if any of the xosk’s multiple minds were once other creatures.
I started moving my legs, trying to get out. I didn’t plan to run, but staying in the same spot while fighting this thing wasn’t a good idea. It wasn’t as easy as it should have been. I lifted my legs to find the xosk’s body clinging to them and when I put them back on the ground, they were as caught as they’d been before.
Turning on the rockets didn’t work either. They didn’t turn on. All I got was error messages about connection issues.
That led to the obvious conclusion—it was in the suit and it would reach me soon. I’d designed the suit in layers, but it wasn’t as if the materials for any given layer was all that different than the others.
I hadn’t designed it with the idea that I’d be facing something that could worm its way between the nanotech that held the suit together. There wasn’t supposed to be space to squeeze through.
Could I open the suit and jump out? Maybe, but the V4 costume under the suit wasn’t going to be much protection and I’d be jumping into tentacles whatever direction I went, even left. Amy might have killed a spot to the left, but the tentacles were still on my armor everywhere.
Something warm and gooey touched my feet.