When the brightness and the thundering boom of the explosion ended, I saw that the guitar’s charge had turned a chunk of the mech’s chest into a smoking ruin.
It fell backwards, crashing onto the street.
The left arm beat the ground with jerky flailing motions. The shell muffled the sound of screaming, but I could still hear it.
“Oh God, oh God, it hurts…”
You wonder, sometimes, what kind of person takes a job operating a mech for organized crime. Do they have a family? Kids? What does a job like that represent to them? A big payoff? Excitement?
Also, does it bother them when they’re ordered to hunt down children in the street at night?
I didn’t know the answer to any of those questions. All I knew for sure was that if you blasted their mech with an explosive charge, it hurt them.
Alex caught up with me. “You got him. You really got him. Come over here.”
He jumped over the body, landing next to the unmoving right arm.
“Is that suit strong enough to bend metal?”
Walking around the legs and over to him, I said, “I don’t know. Why?”
He put his hands on the body and leaned over, looking at the buckled metal where the blast had made a hole.
“He’s going to bleed out soon. The metal cut into his leg.”
I stood next to him and looked inside, promptly wishing I hadn’t . Past the sparking wires, the broken rubber tubes dripping liquids, a bent piece of the mech’s metal shell had pierced his charred thigh and grey jumpsuit. Blood had soaked through, pumping out around the wound.
“Bend the metal out.”
“Won’t that hurt him?”
“Not as much as ripping the wound open if I heal him while it’s still inside.”
I reached in with both hands and pulled the metal back, arranging myself so that I could use the artificial muscles in the suit’s arms instead of the less powerful fingers.
He screamed wordlessly as the metal came out, ripping his skin a little bit sideways. Then, mercifully, it cut off.
I turned toward Alex, “I didn’t kill him, did I?”
“No, he’s just unconscious.”
He put his hands inside and closed his eyes for a moment. Seconds later, he opened them. “He’ll be okay. I’m going to have to go over this again, but he’ll be okay.”
Shouting from the direction of Syndicate L’s building reminded me to check behind us.
Looking past the three Jennys who had just caught up with us, I noticed that the supers from the top of the building and the people in powered armor who were still mobile were fighting. Oddly enough, they weren’t fighting the Defenders. They were fighting each other in the middle of the street.
I wondered why, but then I recognized the Defenders’ psychic, Empath. She stood just on our side of the Syndicate L building, just in front of the Morgan Smith Title Company, a shadowy figure barely illuminated by their sign. I wondered who Syndicate L’s hired villains and powered armor operators thought they were fighting.
One of the big guns fell off the top of the building, pushed by one of Raptors’ outstretched wings. His feathers glistened, reflecting the streetlights below him.
On the other side of the street, someone threw one of Syndicate L’s soldiers off the top of the strip mall.
“When did they show up?” I asked no one in particular.
Alex followed my gaze. “I don’t know.”
Brooke said, “Just now. I portaled back to my room and grabbed my Defenders phone when we were suiting up. I pressed the distress call as soon as I got my utility belt back.”
“What?” Alex said, “Why? It’s like having our parents sitting on our shoulders everywhere we go.”
“Because we were completely overmatched. They’d planned for everything we could do. If they’d known about the Rocket, we’d never have gotten out.”
They continued arguing with each other.
Meanwhile, I looked over the scene. People stood in the windows of every house I could see, but no one came outside.
Carlos walked over to the mech.
He put his hand on it and the top hatch opened up, revealing the unconscious body of its operator. He looked fortyish and a little overweight.
“Can I get him out?” Carlos asked. “I’d like to look at the mech. Can I?”
“Sure,” I said. “I don’t really want him in there if anything still works.”
“The hatch works,” Carlos said. “At least if you bypass a couple systems. You blew up the fire control for the gun and the paralysis ray. That was cool.”
I walked over to the top of the mech and pulled the operator out. He moaned, but Alex would have said something if we weren’t supposed to move him, right?
As Carlos began to check out the control panel I said, “Don’t run away with it.”
“It’s too broken.” Carlos reached inside and the right arm flexed.
“By the way,” I said, “where are my bots?”
Carlos sat down in the cockpit and pulled the controller out of his pocket. He held it up for me to grab.
I took it. It had been turned off.
“Look at this,” he said. “I figured out how make ’em do what I want without the controller.”
The bots swarmed out of the darkness.
“Open your pouch and I’ll give them back,” he said.
They flew inside.
I closed the pouch. “Could you have taken over those guys’ powered armor back there? It would have helped.”
“No, I need to touch things for a little while first.”