“Okay,” I said, “but, they can practically disintegrate you with a shot, and I’m thinking they’re machines, so their reaction times are going to be faster than we’d expect. Plus sneaking past them will be harder. I mean, it depends on their design, but—“
Haley sighed, sounding more irritated than anything else. “I know. I’ll be fine.”
I wasn’t going to change her mind. “So,” I said, “I guess I’ll fly out and get their attention, and you’ve got the van and everything in it to work with after that?”
She gave a brief smile. “Don’t worry about it. Go. I’ll help if you get in trouble.”
I’d noticed before that she seemed more confident after she’d fully transformed.
“Alright.” I put my hand on the door, and we looked at each other.
“Good luck,” I said.
She nodded, and a little more slowly said, “Good luck.”
I looked at the HUD. The feeds from my roachbots showed no change in the alien machines’ position circling the van. What I needed to do was get their attention, and pull them away from the van. Haley would be able to do something, and maybe I’d be able to keep most of them busy enough that we would survive until help arrived.
Maybe I could even take them all out.
I gave the roachbots their targets.
Then I opened the van’s back door, and jumped out, engaging the rockets and shooting across the field, but not in a straight line. I did my best to jerk and weave unpredictably—left, right, up, and down.
The machines had been circling at a distance of about one hundred feet, and around fifty feet off the ground.
There were six of them—not counting the two that Haley had apparently hit with missiles. Those two lay on the ground burning, one of them on the field below me. The other lay in the grassy median between the two parts of the freeway.
Unsurprisingly, cars weren’t passing the van anymore. With the missile launches and the circling alien machines, they apparently decided to stop on the highway. A few had attempted to drive across the median, and gotten stuck.
The people in the cars at the front of the traffic jam (or the ones that were still slowly moving on the freeway’s other side) got a show.
All the flying machines opened up on me, making obvious what I’d already guessed—they weren’t here to scare us off from investigating. They were here to kill us.
Viewed in a certain light, that was good news. We were moving in the right direction. We were making somebody nervous.
As the warning messages ran down the screen, and my helmet filtered bursts of light down to a less blinding intensity, I found myself wishing that someone were a little less nervous.
A beam hit my helmet, and I felt the heat. Another ran across my arm. Still another hit my leg. Amazingly, the suit’s structure stayed intact.
About that time, the roachbots began to hit their targets. The first wave had been EMPbots, and they…
My suit registered electromagnetic pulses around each machine, and not a one of them dropped. Well, wait. That wasn’t quite true. One of them did, but it was because the new suit included two lasers similar to the one the guitar used to have.
The guitar’s laser could cut through a battleship’s hull given time. I’d designed these to cut more quickly.
So even as the EMP failed to take machine out, a laser under each of my forearms blazed blue, and I turned, raking each beam across the machine’s hull.
Without any of the explosions I’d have expected from years of watching movies, the machine simply fell, hitting the ground and flipping over several times before stopping.
I’d have celebrated except that the other machines had adjusted their formation so that they were between me and the van, allowing them all to fire on me at once.
That’s when the alert messages started saying things like “Heavy Damage Left Arm: Repairing.”
The good news being that repairing the damage worked. The bad? I only had so much material to work with.
The messages reminded me of the part of the plan where I was supposed to be heading for the stand of trees, making it that much harder to hit me. I was about to do that too except the second wave of roachbots hit—the explosive ones.
They hit the lowest machine, digging into the seams, and other openings.
The explosion split it in two. Pieces of metal and ceramic fell to the ground.
At about the same time a white beam speared another of the machines from below. It didn’t seem to be affected at first, but then it flopped sideways. It floated in the air for about a second more, and then it fell.
I didn’t need to guess who the beam came from, and I had no cause to complain. There were only three left.
One of them dove toward the van, and the other two started firing at me.