Two bullets hit me before I began my first mid-air Rocket suit integration. The first glanced off my arm, not doing much. The second would have gone through my heart if my armor hadn’t been in the way. Three years ago, it would have killed me. In the meantime, I’d replaced the original material with a substance that had origins in alien tech and repaired itself.
Judging from the strength of the hit and the damage the HUD reported, I decided that the bullet had to be armor-piercing.
It didn’t go through my armor, pushing me backward, ricocheting downward toward the forest.
I didn’t have time to give a thought about how close I’d come to death. I’d chosen to go upward for a reason and it was already falling toward me.
I’d given the floating pod the release as I shot upward. Above me, the Rocket suit adjusted its shape as it fell, aiming all the way. When it hit, it was hard to say whether it was more like being smothered in a ceramic blanket or diving into pool of ice cubes.
Either way, I felt a series of small thumps followed by feeling the suit change around me, adjusting as the armor become thicker, the armaments more varied, and the sensors more precise.
Meanwhile, in my HUD, connection after connection, system after system, reported successful integrations. It didn’t stop there. I’d modified it to make a successful connection to my implant. It didn’t allow full control by thought, but “phase one” did allow the weapons to be fired by thought.
All of that was amazing, but there were other questions on my mind. “Everyone okay?”
Tara spoke, talking in a quiet, calm, voice but fitting more words into a second than I could have. “We got hit, but everyone’s alive. PF will target you first. Watch out for the rooks.”
She stopped, but then added, “If you keep them low, we’ll be able to help.”
Checking back where I’d seen the crowbots before I saw nothing, I continued not to see either humans flying above the woods in the distance or any kind of technology.
So that was good maybe in a loose sense. If attacking meant allowing Haley, Vaughn, and Tara to get away, it sounded worth it. Of course, Tara hadn’t said anything about getting away. She’d said they’d be able to help—presumably with destroying the birthing chambers if we had to.
Thinking about the clearing around the Hardwick buildings, I knew that if Protection Force or Rook’s bots were still here to attack, they’d have easy time of it. The armor I’d made the team took some damage, but not as much as my suit by far. No one else had wanted that much armor.
I spun around in the air, turning in the direction of Protection Force’s main group of soldiers. If I was going to “tank,” I’d better start. How to start? I needed to do something that made me and only me the target.
Letting myself drop, I used the rockets to change my position from upright in the air to flying straight toward the group and firing while I did it. I fired off EMPbots, figuring that if I could take them out of the fight without killing them, that would be a good thing.
They might not all be connected to the Nine. Besides, I’d killed enough people out in space. I didn’t need to kill any more.
The bots flew away from me, leaving burning lines of fire behind themselves in the darkness, hitting the nearest of them and simply letting other EMPbots explode in the middle of the group. That should be enough.
Little bursts of light illuminated the Protection Force logo on their chests, but none of them went down. They’d hardened their armor against EMPs. I’d done the same, but it was annoying when other people took the obvious precautions.
It did bother me for one other reason. If they’d done their research, they knew that I used EMPbots. How many more of my standard attacks had they prepared for?
At the same time, they weren’t standing around and doing nothing. A group of six or so had peeled off to fly in the direction that the rest of the group had gone. The rest were coming for me.
I couldn’t help but notice that while they might be coming for me, some of them didn’t appear to be enthusiastic about it. While the main group flew toward me as a group, spreading out so that I couldn’t easily target them at once, a few flew behind the group. I hadn’t been sure they were going to follow at all.
It was hard to know if they were intimidated or were fans of the Rocket.
Whatever was going on there, it didn’t stop the whole group from firing off more rounds at me. Most pinged off my armor. A few exploded, surrounding me with flame for a moment.
I took a quick inventory of what I had on the suit. What would take them down?