I didn’t have time to ask Cassie how her gun had stopped the shot because the next flash of purple targeted me.
Keeping myself in phase took everything I had. By the time that the purple glow around me disappeared, I knew that everything I’d pulled out of whatever power reserves I could access was gone. I wasn’t going to be able to prevent that if he did it again—not for a little while, anyway. All I could do was hope he didn’t realize it.
Thinking about it, I didn’t fall over, but I wobbled.
“You okay?” Cassie put her hand on my shoulder. Her mask covered everything but her mouth and chin, making it hard to read her, but hints of her worry came through the implants’ connection.
I thought back, “I’m fine. I’m tired, but the suit does most of the work.”
Cassie thought back, “From what I’m seeing, it doesn’t do balance.”
In the background, through the spybot, Victor told Rook, “I got most of them. They’ll probably drown. Only two left.”
Rook made a noise somewhere between a growl and a scream. “Two? Which two? And how?”
“I don’t know how. With two of them, the teleporter just didn’t work. One of them, Captain Commando, has Abominator tech. The Abominator library tells me that they built countermeasures into their combat gear. The other one? The Rocket—”
Rook interrupted. “Yes?”
Victor paused, staring at him, but continued, “With the Rocket, the library told me, ‘Artificer. Extreme danger’.”
Turning away from staring into the forest in our direction, Rook tapped a claw against his leg. “Well? What does that mean?”
The muscles in his cheeks tightening, Victor shook his head. “I don’t know. What I know about the Abominators is only as good as what they knew when they made the birthing chambers. I’ve got their tech in my head now, but it’s thousands of years old. All I can get is that the Artificers were an ancient race that predated the Abominators. All the Abominators knew about them is that they were ahead of the Abominators. Far ahead to the point that excavating Artificer ruins was a serious risk. And that’s it. That’s everything.”
Rook turned back in our direction. “He’s got alien tech that’s ahead of our alien tech. That’s why he won. Damn. And I didn’t even know those people existed. Where do we find Artificer technology? Are any of their ruins on Earth or in our solar system?”
Victor’s eyes lost focus. “Mars. There’s an Artificer site on Mars. That’s what attracted the Abominators to this system in the first place. They probably excavated the site. Abominator technology is based on the Artificers’ technology-what they understand of it. You should know that the Artificers terrified the Abominators. That’s clear.”
Whipping his head around, Rook poked Victor in the chest with his claw. “Except the Rocket’s got it, doesn’t he? And haven’t I been researching Abominator tech for years only to learn that he’s been ahead of me the entire time?”
Rook stopped talking, staring out into the forest. “He’s brilliant. Of course, having access to the original team’s hardware doesn’t hurt. He may have been to Mars already.”
Then he turned back to Victor. “Well, what are you waiting for? If you can’t shoot them, we need to get them. Where are they?”
I didn’t wait to find out the end of that conversation before pinging Cassie’s implant with, “Let’s go. I’m only here to keep Rook’s people away from the rest of the group. Now that they’re near Wisconsin, there’s only one thing worth doing—”
Cassie interrupted my thoughts with, “Blowing the birthing chambers to hell?”
“Yes.” I looked her up and down and then at the spybot’s feed in my HUD. Rook, Victor and the True were running through the forest. “We have to fly.”
Cassie stepped on my foot and put her left arm over my shoulders. I grabbed her waist and fired off the rockets. It wasn’t the most aerodynamic way to do it. We leaned right. I compensated as we dodged tree limbs on the way up.
Then beams of I-didn’t-know-what started cutting through the tree branches. Cassie aimed the gun downward, firing off a stream of autofire energy blasts that lit up the forest below.
Meanwhile, her gun laughed like a madman in my mind, keeping up a constant stream of chatter that I blocked out, catching only, “THIS IS THE BEST DAY I’VE HAD IN MONTHS!”
As we passed above the last tree branches, I told her, “Please don’t let him start a forest fire.”
She thought back, “Do you think that’s going to help?”
The endless white blasts made me think of snowflakes—deadly, burning snowflakes that caused damage to everything in sight. On the other hand, the shots fired at us were fewer and farther between—so at least it had worked. Better, I hadn’t seen any purple blasts. With any luck, Rook and Victor would keep on thinking we were invulnerable.
If we were even luckier, it might not occur to Victor to try to teleport someone into solid matter.