A thud came from over the radio, followed by the sound of rushing wind.
Through the haze of the explosions’ smoke, the elemental’s tentacles swung upward. They’d hit something in the air. Larry had a good guess as to what.
“Hey, are you okay?”
Alexis’ said, “Give me a second.”
He gasped for breath, then seemed to catch it. A series of popping noises followed, and the earth elemental turned toward the jungle, standing and flailing its arms at something it couldn’t seem to catch.
Alexis said, “Your companions, they can escape now!” A strong wind blew in the background.
He had a point. Larry turned back toward the hangar. This wasn’t a good place for them to be. They didn’t have armor. They shouldn’t be in the middle of all this, and a hangar wasn’t the place to hide. The creature could crush it without thinking.
He checked where he’d seen Sloan fall. The man was still there, lying on what was left of the runway, and according to the suit, still showing a temperature around 98 degrees Fahrenheit. The creature would probably come for him. It had at St. Helens. Larry still wasn’t sure how the guy had gotten away.
One more reason to get Cheryl and Lim out of the area.
The earth elemental bellowed.
Alexis’ voice came over the radio again. “He has realized I’m not going to let him hit me again. I would hurry.”
“Goddamn,” Larry muttered. “Are you guys in there?”
He turned to look. The helmet made it obvious. Two people with normal temperatures were standing outside of his direct view, next to one of the inside walls.
He stepped inside. The helmet adjusted, and he could see the two of them. Lim held his raygun, and Cheryl stood next to a machine, holding a rod that connected to it with a hose.
A pressure washer. He thought about it. It wasn’t a bad idea, but he didn’t want to test it. They needed to get out of here.
Then he felt the ground move. It wasn’t like an earthquake or an explosion. It felt smoother, but still big, and the first was followed by a second, and then a third.
He turned enough for the helmet to show the creature entirely on his right side. The earth elemental was walking toward them. Worse, it already stood over Sloan. It held one of its whip-like arms over Sloan, clearly ready to strike a final blow.
It didn’t. The arm hung in the air, and then the creature lowered it, screaming.
On the ground, Sloan started laughing. The laughter sounded on the edge of hysterical. Obviously unsteady, he began to pull himself up, fell, and then pulled himself up again. He stayed up the second time.
Holding his left arm with his right, Sloan walked past the hangar, toward the arena.
The elemental screamed again, but didn’t follow. It turned toward the hangar. When it stepped toward him, he understood why he felt the ground move like it had.
The earth rose to meet its feet, more absorbing them than being stepped upon, but not preventing it from moving either. It stood in front of the hangar nearly instantly.
He didn’t have a choice. He would have to slow it down long enough for them to get out the back.
He stepped out, and addressed it. “We don’t have to fight.”
It screamed and aimed three tentacles at him. He made the suit leap, landing on the runway in front of the next hangar over.
It jumped toward him, and he jumped again, landing on the jungle side of the runway. The creature turned to follow and its back faced the hangar.
Larry set the missiles to fire—all of them, but not all at once. He planned to stagger it. It wouldn’t leave him anything to fight Armory with if he needed to, but he didn’t think he would.
As he held the suit’s arms out to fire at it, the creature slammed into him with the three tentacles that had replaced its left arm.
They hit even as he fired, knocking him sideways. Even through the suit’s padding, it hurt. Error messages flew by, many in red, the most unnerving using the words “critical failure.”
He couldn’t move the suit’s left arm. He realized it as the error message appeared. This meant that he’d lost access to six of the seventeen mini-missiles he had left. Worse, they’d been activated, meaning that they were ready to fire if they were sent the command.
The error messages indicated that the none of the weapons slots were likely to open, and that the connection to the missiles flickered on and off randomly. He wondered how likely it would be for a power surge to be interpreted as a fire command.
He set the suit to stand up and leap. Even without the arm, it managed to, feeling a little off balance, but not falling.
He landed on bare ground—where the runway used to be before the elemental absorbed it.
The elemental lurched toward him, waiting until it stepped toward him, and then leaping again. He’d had an idea—one that would use all the leftover missiles.
Landing the middle of the runway—this time in front of his plane’s hangar, he stopped. The elemental had shifted course as he leaped, and dove for him as he landed.
Waiting until it was practically on top of him, he pressed the self-destruction sequence, feeling the air on his body as the ejection seat fired.