She pushed the button.
All the voices disappeared into static along with the displays in the helmet and every light in the armor. As of that moment, she was alone in front of the exit to HQ, and not standing either.
She didn’t know what the suit did to help her stay balanced, but whatever it was, it had to be electrical because moments after the lights faded she fell over backwards.
Taking stock of the situation, she stared upward. Stars peeked through the leaves and branches, visible in the dusk.
They seemed so much less comforting than they had last night. She took a breath, reminding herself that all of the aliens had to be in the same position she was–stuck in their suits. Even if they managed to get out, they had powers, and Man-machine’s device made powers useless.
Her phone started beeping–the League phone.
Man-machine had been right. Suits based on his designs had a chance of keeping everything inside them safe even if the suits themselves went down.
She’d have felt even happier about that if she could get at her phone. She wasn’t wearing one of the League’s uniforms, so her phone was in the back pocket of her jeans which she couldn’t reach without getting out of the armor.
Thinking back to when Chris had trained her, she remembered the emergency escape gesture. She couldn’t forget it.
“It’s easy,” Chris had said. “You do the Vulcan ‘Live long and prosper’ gesture with the right hand and throw the horns with the left hand–you know, like heavy metal bands do.”
She’d stared at him, still unable to imitate the Vulcan gesture. “How am I supposed to do that?”
“You can do it,” Chris had said. “All you have to is practice. Besides, think how unlikely it is that you’ll do it by accident.”
Lying on the ground nearly a year later, she made both hand gestures. The chest and helmet opened, separating with a click.
By the time she pulled herself out of the chest cavity, the phone had stopped beeping. She frowned. Then she pulled out the burrito gun, pulling the strap over her shoulder.
Reaching out to her back pocket, she checked the notifications on the front screen. She had a list–Haley, Marcus, Chris… and the spybots?
She tapped her code into the phone and the League dashboard opened up, showing that she had access to the spybots from her phone, and that the message system had transcribed the messages, all of which amounted to, “Are you okay?”
She typed in, “Suit down. I’m fine.”
Was that lying? She didn’t feel fine. She looked into the darkness, wondering what was going on out there. Had the team taken them all down? She somehow doubted it, but she hoped so–desperately.
She pulled out her earphones/microphone combo, plugged them into the phone, and tapped into the League channel.
The first words she heard were Haley saying, “–not staying down! They’re ripping their suits off, and getting up! I thought you said it worked on powers?”
Sounding surprised, whether by Haley’s attitude or by the aliens, Cannon said, “I don’t know. Could be that the Abominators used that trick themselves, and now everybody’s shielded their armor against it.”
Haley said, “Shift? Our turn. AI, tell them how to operate the weapons and fly the jet, okay?”
Then Kayla heard the hatch open, then the sound of a particle accelerator rifle, and feet running–which stopped abruptly.
Kayla guessed that Haley must have jumped from the plane. Marcus’ muttered, “Woo hoo.” Then wings flapped, the door shut and sealed.
Cannon said, “Half the time I hear her, I think I hear her grandfather.”
C laughed. “I hear that sometimes too, but sometimes I hear her grandmother, and her parents. She was a sweet child. Still is, mostly.”
Chris’ voice came over the comm. “AI, show me how the weapons console works… And… You’re a battle simulation AI, right? Show me where it’s most likely to go next and… indicate targets for me with the priority of making it easy for Night Cat and the Shift to win, and keeping all of us alive.”
From the other side of the hill, deeper into the woods, came shouts of anger, sometimes pain, and the hum of particle accelerator rifles.
Kayla was about to ask C to let her back into the tunnel when Chris said, “Control, they’re coming your way. Are you safe?”
She said, “I’m out of the suit. Can C let me in?”
C began, “Of course–”
Chris broke in, “No, AI says if you let her in now, odds that the aliens get Abominator tech go up to greater than 70%. Sorry Control… Can you hide? I don’t think they’ll go after you.”
Gerald Cannon said, “You’re going to let her die?”
“No,” Chris began, and then C said something, but Kayla wasn’t listening anymore. She could hear the shouting and shooting coming closer.
She got off the ranger’s access trail (it passed the League’s vehicle entrance/ exit), and ran to the side of the huge rock. Crouching next to it, she pointed the gun toward the trail, and wondered if she’d stopped in the right place. The bushes on her left side weren’t going to make it easy for her to change positions if it came to that.
She edged away from the bushes, telling herself It might do some good.
She heard the first of them find her suit. It growled something in a language she had no hope of recognizing. Another growled a reply.
Then came more screaming, a humming followed by another scream and the scent of burning. More humming noises came from the distance, but at a higher pitch.
Some of the aliens must have had pistols inside their armor.
Kayla tried not to think about that, asking herself what advantages she had over the aliens. She couldn’t think of any initially, but then she remembered that she’d been the MVP during her conference’s basketball tournament the year before.
Great, she thought, when the aliens came for her, she could wow them with her rebound rate. That would impress them.
As she stifled a laugh, one of the aliens came around the corner. No longer in armor, and not carrying a pistol, its arms and legs ended in claws, and its teeth were fangs. Thick, but short fur covered its body.
As their eyes met, it howled.
Not sure what to do next, she fired the burrito gun, mashing down on the buttons on the front handle. She didn’t know which ones.