Filip’s mind went blank, his thoughts knocked away like children’s toys brushed off a tabletop by an impatient parent. When he was a child fighting and hustling and playing with the other children on his hiveblock, they’d bragged about how brave and tough and clever they were. They’d each claim to have stared down wild animals, violent drunks and junkies, police, creatures unearthly and supernatural. It was all lies and games, of course, but even as a boy, Filip wondered what it would be like to really face something monstrous, something dangerous. What would he do then?
Now he knew. He’d freeze. He’d do nothing. Grigor Zonda was something between a legend and a fairytale told to frighten children. The greatest warrior in the People’s Army. The most powerful psyker anyone had ever seen. The tortured genius. The traitor. The butcher. The man who had become an unfeeling machine in service to the enemy. Fighter, sniper, pilot, strategist. There was nothing he couldn’t do, no weapon he couldn’t wield, no enemy he couldn’t defeat.
He walked right past Filip without even bothering to look at him. Why should he have? What mind does a tidal wave give to the ships and the villages it crushes with its passing?
Commander Zonda and Max and Trass’khar fired their weapons. Grigor was a font of psionic energy, Filip knew, and he channeled it, focused it around himself like a shield. He could see his friends shouting, could see their firearms roar as they spat death, but the noise barely came through to him. The despair that emanated from Grigor Zonda was like a fog that dampened noise and sights until they were whispers and ghosts. Words came to him in broken pieces and fragments. “Should not have come.” “Monster.” “Surrender.” “Kill you.” “Face me like a man.” “Didn’t have to be like this.” “Shut up and die.”
And then suddenly the world came into sharp focus again. Filip looked up and saw Max and Grigor face-to-face with each other, their psi-focusers projecting blades of yellow and dark purple that sparked and hissed as they met. They circled each other, Grigor’s face a passionless mask of flesh and cybernetic metal. Max’s was unflinching rictus, every bit as unnatural. “How’s it going, Greggy Boy? Been a while. You going to say anything? Yes? No? Just going to do that ‘strong silent type’ thing?”
“Your prattling betrays your true feelings, Clown. You know the hopelessness of your situation. Why deny it?”
Max laughed. “Just my nature, I guess.”
From where she had taken cover behind the massive terminal that controlled the base’s power systems, Genni cried out. “Max, move! Give me a shot! Give me–”
Grigor’s head snapped towards his sister, as if he’d noticed her for the first time. “Silence.” His psi-focuser surged with energy, enough to surprise Max and drive him backwards a few steps. With mechanical precision and inhuman quickness, Grigor lifted his plasma pistol and fired it at her. The bolt struck true, but it flew through the air strangely, ponderously slow. It caught her in the chest, but it sent her flying instead of punching a hole through her body. She slammed against the far wall with a metallic thud and a grunt of pain.
Max paid the attack no mind. If he didn’t care or if he couldn’t let himself care or if he simply had to maintain his focus, Filip couldn’t say. Trass’khar snarled and ran to Genni’s side. Filip just sat motionless as he had been, overwhelmed by despair.
But then the despair began to give way to anger.