A tap with my tongue accepted the private connection. I replied, “Artaxus grabbed us.”
“I’m coming.” Rachel didn’t give me a chance to respond.
I didn’t have time for that anyway. The mech had begun to make the kind of low pitched squeaks that made me think of houses settling or boats on the water, but with more strain as the body shuddered. Somewhere, something cracked.
I hoped it wasn’t important, and it must not have been. The mech didn’t fire off a major alert-just a few minor ones. Of course, that didn’t mean that I was going to stick around and find out if Artaxus could actually crush the mech.
I activated the mech’s claws, setting the front and back legs to push forward while twisting downward and out from under the dragon’s arm.
The dragon must not have been a cat person because I appeared to have surprised him–or so I guessed from the creature’s outraged roar. That was funny. In my experience, this was what happened whenever you picked up a cat.
In retrospect, it may not have been the push to get away as much as the claws on the mech’s paws. All of them were roughly a foot long and extended or contracted at will. They cut into the dragon’s scales, and could have cut deeper had the claws been longer.
Behind me, Haley muttered something I couldn’t understand, and more paintbots flew out of the mech, hitting the dragon’s face.
Between Haley’s actions and mine, we almost got away.
Artaxus belched out more flame, surrounding the mech, and red alerts scrolled down the screen as all the gravitic panels failed at once. A couple screens on the mech’s dashboard went dark, but that wasn’t the last of it.
We fell to the ground.
“No,” Haley said, but the mech wasn’t listening as it hit and rolled on to its side.
I stared at the controls, trying to figure out if enough of them worked to at least get the mech righted and walking. Failing that, we might possibly be able to turn back into a van and drive away?
It struck me that I might not be thinking clearly.
From her seat in the back, Haley asked, “Nick are you okay?”
I pushed a few buttons. “I’m fine. Just trying to figure out if anything works.”
“It doesn’t.” Haley pulled herself out of the webbing and her seat.
That worried me a little because if Artaxus attacked the mech again, Haley would only be protected by the stealth suit she’d pulled on before we left the garage. On the other hand, if Artaxus ripped open the mech’s side, and filled the compartment with flame, the webbing wasn’t going to help at all.
“It’s self-repairing,” I said. “Anything could start working at any second.”
“Are you willing to bet your life on that?” She pulled a particle accelerator rifle out of one of the equipment cabinets in the back. She pushed a fuel cell into the rifle, grabbed a utility belt from the cabinet and put it in on.
“No, but I’m not wild about running across the grass either.”
Big suburban houses and lawns stood next to the bottom of the cliff. I couldn’t see any of them through the mech’s walls, but I’d seen them from the park. By comparison to Michigan, Colorado wasn’t big on trees. We’d be running across big lawns with almost no cover, but cars and the houses themselves.
If we got lucky, maybe someone would have a rock garden.
Plus, who were we kidding? We’d barely moved before Artaxus knocked us down. He had to be sitting out there waiting for us. Haley might be able to smell him even inside here by now. For that matter, she could probably hear his heart beating.
Haley looked at me and bit her lip. “I know there’s not much of a chance, but we should try. He’s not right next to us. We might make it if we can get past a house.”
“Maybe if we fly,” I said. “We’d have to stay low to the ground at first, but I’m sure the Rocket suit’s faster than he is.”
I looked at the mech’s seating compartment. We could pop out the top–which was currently the side since we were on the ground.
“Are you enjoying yourselves in there?” The dragon’s voice filled the space. Something about it felt unnatural. Probably magical. “Once when I was younger, I trapped a human couple in their house, or maybe it was a section of my lair? A castle? Well nevermind, it was a long time ago, and the place was irrelevant in any case. What’s important is that I drove them mad by the sound of my voice alone. If I remember correctly, I believe I made them eat each other while they were both still alive.
“It passed the time. Now alas, I don’t believe I can do the same with either of you because of the excellent protection that the Bloodmaiden has woven about you. Very impressive. It’s especially impressive when you consider how many people she’s protecting. I suspect if I break it on one of you, I’ll break it for all.”
The dragon walked toward us, and we heard each step.
It was too late to fly out of the top if it really had ever been possible. Still, if we sat tight, something might break our way.
Of course, that assumed that the dragon didn’t just decide to eat us.
“Rocket,” Rachel said over the comm. “I’m going to distract him. If you think you can run, run.”