Thanks to my helmet dimming the flash, I had time to notice something I’d missed while fighting Calvin–that Cindy had charged Vaughn and Sean.
“Had charged” being the operative term. Cindy shuddered as the lightning hit, and fell. Unfortunately, she got back up again, randomly reminding me of the song “Tubthumping.”
The song doesn’t have any lyrics about screaming and tearing people limb from limb, but that’s what appeared to be on her mind as she leapt toward Vaughn.
She might have succeeded too, but as she flew through the air she hit a wall of ball bearings which enveloped her, preventing her from reaching Vaughn. He’d started diving to the left earlier, and hit her with lightning practically at the same time he hit the ground.
If Sean had surrounded her with ball bearings and kept them away from her skin, he might have created an improvised Faraday cage.
Judging from the spastic jerking of her arms and legs, he hadn’t adequately created a path for the electricity to follow that went around her.
Of course, he hadn’t been trying to keep her safe, so that was okay. I was actually more surprised that he hadn’t managed to create an accidental Faraday cage, untintentionally protecting her.
Cindy wasn’t stupid though. She grabbed a couple ball bearings with one hand, and flung them forward.
One hit my armor in the chest, knocking me backward into the wall. I’d almost forgotten how much of a punch the Cabal’s strongest people could deliver.
Almost at the same moment, Haley gave a wordless cry.
She’d been standing partially behind me, but as I flew backwards, she’d dodged me, putting herself in the way of the second of the ball bearings.
It hit her upper right arm. Along with her shout, I realized that I’d also heard the crack of the break without recognizing it.
Pulling myself away from the wall, I considered using the sonics to get a look at the damage, but didn’t because I remembered that she’d hear the noise.
Also, she was already moving, jumping behind Samita and Amy.
Cindy drew back both of her arms, grabbing ball bearings in each hand. They covered her face, so she couldn’t aim, but if she ever hit Sean, that would end.
The ball bearings in her left hand never hit anyone, but it was a close thing. Sean stopped them less that a meter from his face.
In that moment, I realized that anything we were doing here was only temporary. We had to make it permanent or leave.
Calvin was still struggling in the goo, but he’d be out eventually. Vaughn and Sean had Cindy in place, but they couldn’t keep her down. Sure, Paula appeared to be down for the count, but we weren’t going to want do that to all of them.
I had a few killbots in the suit. I also had a laser. Whatever protected the Cabal’s soldiers against physical damage didn’t work against lasers.
The problem, of course, is that lasers were mostly useful for punching holes through them and chopping pieces off. Their regeneration worked against it, but not instantaneously.
Lightning arced from Vaughn’s hands toward Cindy even as Sean began to move the ball bearings out of her reach, holding her in the air by touching only her back and the back of her lower legs.
It was kind of clever.
Taking the ball bearings away from her face and arms gave me a good look at her though. Both her skin and training suit had circular char marks from where the metal had heated up. They made me think of branded cattle.
Fortunately the burns were already healing a little.
With any luck, they’d heal completely before any authority figures showed up. People would understand that we had to fight them, but it would be harder to forget if everyone saw Cindy looking like she’d been grilled while Paula lay on the floor with her intestines visible to all.
As she stopped jerking around in response to Vaughn’s lightning, she shouted, “ST-stop! Please stop.”
A bit of flesh fell from the back of her neck. I recognized the charred remains of the flesh creature.
Calvin screamed, shaking and ripping at the goo. Not wanting him to escape I turned toward him, setting the laser to a low setting, and stepping around him, giving me a better view of the back of his neck.
“No. Don’t.” Samita threw a pill in front of Calvin. It exploded into a cloud of white dust.
He fell asleep.
She crushed a second pill in front of Paula’s face as Amy withdrew her spear.
Paula had been gritting her teeth, her face tight with fear or maybe pain. I couldn’t know which, or if it might be both.
As the white dust settled across her face and then her body, she relaxed, and her eyes shut. Then she gave a small snore and began to breathe regularly.
“Sleeping pills?” I stared at the dust, guessing that touching it would be a bad idea.
“Exactly. They’re not much use as weapons, but they should keep them out of this.” Samita took a step toward Paula, her hand covering her mouth, leaning down so she could see the back of Paula’s neck.
The bit of flesh had fallen off, and curled up in a ball with the eye shut. It was almost weirdly cute.
Calvin’s had done the same.
“Without being attached to the body, I suspect the parasites will die of starvation before they wake up.” Samita shook her head. “Disgusting that life would be used in such a way.”
Haley took a step after her. The bone in her bicep had broken through the skin. “Sam? Could you get one of your bandages out?”