Haley swung forward, and at first it looked as if she might hit the ground, but she retracted the line, giving her more space. Then more quickly than I could see, she set the line to detach, retracted the line entirely, holstered the gun, and hit the ground in a series of flips.
At any rate, she had to have done that. I missed it because once the line detached, I flipped myself over, using the rocket pack to slow down, and finally hover in place.
I saw Haley’s last couple flips, and then she came to a stop standing, facing the trees.
Clearly the years she’d spent in gymnastics hadn’t gone to waste.
Still feeling a little disoriented from my own aerial acrobatics, I glanced at the HUD. The feeds from the roachbots showed that the remaining two machines had driven through the clouds of my bots, destroying a few.
The moment they cleared the trees, they were firing.
Caught mid-hover, it wouldn’t take much to hit me, and they did.
[Red Alert! 17% of overall protection remaining!]
Haley gave them more of a challenge, leaping out of the way, seeming to barely dodge beams that would have reduced an arm to cinders.
Not even bothering to dodge, I fired off the test bulletbot at the closest one, the one firing at Haley, feeling the smallest push as it left the muzzle under my arm. Directing the few remaining exploding bots to attack it as cover, I watched to find out what would happen, and tried to think how I’d handle the last one.
I had basically no roachbots left, low power for the lasers, and the armor had taken dangerous amounts of damage.
I didn’t have time to finish my thoughts as roachbots exploded against the first machine’s silver hull, doing no noticeable damage.
The bulletbot’s feed showed something different though. Weaving in the air, it followed the other roachbots, but as they exploded uselessly, it cut through the hull, aiming itself for the most complex source of electromagnetism—which would probably be the machine’s “brain.”
It cut through layers of metal and ceramic, past layers that I suspected were electromagnetic shielding, and then it caught the scent, stopping inside structures that reminded me slightly of a computer, but that I mostly didn’t recognize.
Then the feed cut off, and I watched the rest through my helmet.
Flame and smoke escaped from the seams and the new holes appeared along with a crack about a quarter of the way down its body.
It tumbled through the air as it fell, hitting the ground on its nose and landing on its back. Between its silver hull, streamlined shape, fin-like protrusions, and the flames, it made me think of a fish on fire.
I didn’t have much time to admire my handiwork though. I’d realized that the other machine had stopped moving, and wasn’t firing its lasers either.
Haley pulled the particle accelerator off her back and fired at it in one fluid motion that I knew I couldn’t hope to imitate.
Well, she tried to anyway. The rifle gave a burst of bluish-white light, but didn’t hurt anything. It was either out of power or had been damaged in the fight.
As she did that, I turned my full attention to the machine using the suit’s layered perceptions to view it—particularly the thermal. The machine was burning up, except it wasn’t. The heat appeared to be localized to one spot two-thirds down.
I ran through possible reasons in my head, settling on the one that seemed most likely, that the machine’s power source would explosively detonate on demand.
I began to dive toward Haley, wondering if I’d grab her before it exploded, hoping the device’s explosion wouldn’t extend to the highway where the people who hadn’t run were watching us, some of them recording on their cell phones.
As I dived, I decided that I should send the remaining few EMPbots an order to attack the machine on the off chance that they might damage whatever mechanism ran the self-destruct.
I didn’t get the chance.
A stuttering series of sonic booms distracted me. Then I saw a multi-colored blur descending from the sky, grabbing the machine, and pulling it upward.
When it exploded, I couldn’t even feel the heat, but the explosion had to be visible for miles. Everything seemed to darken as my helmet prevented the brightness from blinding me, and the sound from deafening me.
As my vision cleared, Izzy descended from the sky. I hadn’t noticed it before, but she wore a different costume than the blue, exercise clothes I remembered from before. Mostly black, this costume included a wide diagonal line that crossed her chest. The line was made of patterns in red, blue, and yellow, giving the impression of a sash. The same colors accented other spots on her costume.
I landed next to Haley, noticing that the section of costume covering her left thigh appeared to be melted and cracked, gray turning to black in spots. I couldn’t see anywhere blasts had burned through to her skin.
“I’m okay,” she said. “They got close, but never hit me.”
“Looks like you’ll need new pants.”
Frowning, she said, “An entirely new costume. Look.”
She pointed to scoring on her shoulder and back.
Izzy landed next to us. “That was too close. I’m sorry I didn’t come sooner, but I had to change.”
Looking up at Izzy, Haley said, “Don’t apologize. You were here just in time.”
Izzy smiled for a moment.
I said, “I’m surprised you didn’t bring the Mystic.”
She shrugged. “I would have, but he said it would be better to go without him. He was right. I wouldn’t have arrived on time if I’d had to slow down to let go of him before grabbing that thing.”
Then Izzy stopped talking, and looked down at the grass. When she looked up, she said, “This doesn’t have anything to do with anything, but you’ve known the Mystic for years. Has he talked about me at all?”