Skulker peeled himself off the ground. His head throbbed, and his eyes felt like they were trying to pop out of his skull. The fuck was that? Gunfire and screaming rang out around him. Something large roared. Bad. A hand grabbed his shoulder and pulled him upright.
“Get up,” Miya shouted over the uproar. “Chris is down.”
Skulker couldn’t hear the pops and zings from incoming gunfire, so he poked his head over the hood of his shot up car. I just got this damn thing. Chris lay face first in the street, a pool of blood gathering beneath him. Shit, shit, shit. Chunks of robot lay scattered around him.
Most of the remaining robots had scattered around Olivia, standing in the wreckage of a particularly large robot. She rushed at one. Rather than standing its ground, the robot backpedaled as the others circled around her and fired.
Miya grabbed Skulker’s arm as he raised his pistol. “They’re distracted. We’ve gotta get Chris,” she reminded him. Right.
Skulker jumped over the hood of the car and teleported to Chris. Miya’s golem trundled up on four legs, many of the bones comprising its body fractured or broken completely. It shifted, forming a low, crude wall between him and the robots. Skulker knelt down and turned Chris over. Not breathing, no pulse. Fuck.
He stared down at Chris even when Miya sprinted up to join him. His mind raced. Six bullet wounds to the chest.
“Dead,” he managed, before Miya could say anything.
Another roar from Olivia caught his attention. He peered through the golem. Two more of the robots were down. She took flight after a retreating group, leaving nothing but a golem between five stragglers and Skulker and Miya. Damn it.
Beside him, Miya crouched, hands on Chris, and said, “No. Maybe I can… I can-”
Skulker grabbed her shoulder and pulled her towards the nearby buildings lining the streets. The living come first. Fuck. I’m gonna rip someone’s fucking head off by the time this is done.
“Get your golem moving. We gotta go, now!” he shouted.
Miya cursed, he couldn’t make out the exact word, and sprinted alongside him to cover. Bullets whizzed around him; the robots’ rifles softer than normal gunshots but no less deadly. The golem took a serpentine shape, slithering along behind them. Skulker raised his arms over his face and busted through the glass door of the building, taking a few cuts. Miya and her golem followed.
“Back door,” he urged her. He ducked against the doorframe and fired back at the robots once she was clear. You fuckers stay out there. Rather than reloading, he spun on his heels and teleported after Miya. Together they pushed an emergency door open and ran into a back parking lot.
“They following?” she asked
Metal footsteps clanked on the tiled floor behind them. “Yeah. Golem trap.”
Miya nodded. The golem pressed itself up against the wall to the side of the door they’d exited.
Olivia went east. Skulker led the way, Miya’s shorter legs struggling to keep up. Gunshots rang out, none aimed at them.
What felt like an eternity later, Miya gasped, “Golem’s gone.” Hope that bought us enough time.
It didn’t take them long to find where Olivia had gone. Three more robots lay in pieces on the sidewalk. Three bots, but I only count one head here. No, wait, that’s a fake mouth thing. Two. A couple nearby cars had claw marks, dents, and bullet holes. The remains of a shattered tree lay across the chestplate of one of the bots.
Wordlessly, Miya and Skulker continued. Every now and then they stumbled across another robot, and lots of destroyed property. They heard a roar in the distance ahead of them, along with sirens and gunfire all around. We ain’t the only thing happening in the city.
The comm in his ear buzzed. Skulker slowed to a jog, then a walk. Miya caught up a moment later. He looked around. The residential neighborhood they found themselves in looked deserted at first glance. Dogs barked nearby, and some lights flickered on the windows of nearby houses. They ain’t dumb. They’ll stay inside. No use going out and getting vaporized if it’s a super’s rampage.
“Skulker, Miya, Nomad, you there?” asked Amanda.
Between pants, he replied, “Yeah. Both here. Chris is dead.” Miya looked around behind them, chest heaving.
Rob spoke up, also over the comm. “Repeat that?”
“Chris is dead. Too many bots in the area, we couldn’t grab his body. ‘liv’s on a rampage. Tryin’ to catch up now.”
“She’s tearing apart every robot she can find,” added Miya. She and Skulker resumed walking in the silence followed.
“How?” asked Rob.
“Power nullifier, I think. Tha’ big bot.”
“Must have been,” said Miya. Skulker boosted her up a fence, then teleported after her.
“What? Power nullifier?” asked Amanda in a shaky voice.
“Didn’t think that was possible,” said Rob.
“Whoa, hold up,” said Skulker. They approached around a humvee with two clawed up robots halfway out of it and a torn up engine block. “We got bots in military vehicles.” Another humvee down the road lay on its side, with more robots scattered around it. She’s doing a number on these things.
“OK. That can’t be good. We’ll be on the lookout,” said Rob. Silence reigned. Shit. I don’t know what to do. Chris always had that figured out. I just shoot stuff.
“So, where are you two at?” asked Amanda. Skulker rattled off their location.
“Dropped off Purifier. We’re armored up an’ followin’,” said Rob.
“Keep following Olivia. We’re not loosing anyone else,” said Amanda, her voice tense.
“We’re maybe three minutes out. Stay safe,” added Rob.
“You too. See ya in three.” The comm shut off.
They followed Olivia’s trail of destruction through the city with a jog. More busted robots, more torn up scenery, and the occasional humvee. One of the bots was still moving when they found it. It crawled with its one functional arm away from a small crater in a lawn. A crater? The fuck is she doing? They put a couple bullets in it and carried on.
They heard the rumbling of a large approaching vehicle behind them. The comm crackled to life again. “No worries, it’s us.” The BAT pulled up next to them. They all came to a stop.
“You see bots chasin’ behind us?” Skulker asked his brother through the broken window of the driver’s door. Gears, and Delta beside him, wore their full armor.
“Nope. Just dead ones,” replied Gears, his voice dull.
“Cool. I’ll climb in the back. Keep an eye out.” Gears nodded as Miya climbed in the cab behind Delta.
Skulker traded his pistol for Senior Lopez, his sniper rifle. Once in the bed of the truck, he pounded the roof twice with his fist. Gears resumed driving. Skulker sat with his back against the wall of the cab.
Chris. Fuck. He’s a good guy. Is, was, fuck it. Didn’t deserve that. Not much I can do about it now, except shoot everything that looks like a bot. And that’s it. That’s all I can fucking do do.
The truck turned a corner, then slowed down. Now what? Skulker twisted around to catch sight of a line of burning MHU trucks. This can’t be good. He heard gunfire. A few bots fired at a building. How many of those fucking things are there?
Gears brought the truck to a full stop. As the others began piling out, Skulker crouched down, rested his rifle on the wall of the truck bed and took aim.
Gears tossed something at a pair of robots. It exploded into hundreds of wires tangling themselves in the robots’ limbs. Delta opened fire, cutting down another robot. Miya hung back, without a golem or any way to affect robots with magic exclusive to living beings. Skulker picked off another one trying to circle around the building where they’d been firing.
Suddenly, Gear stopped advancing. He held a hand to his head. A robot fired at him, though his armor held. Skulker caught sight of a larger robot lurking in the wreckage of one of the MHU trucks. He scrambled to readjust his rifle. Miya rushed forward when Delta also froze, firing at the smaller robot.
Rather than armor, this large robot had a rod sticking out of its back. Oh, I recognize you. Piece of shit nullifier thing. Skulker fired. The robot took the shot to the chest, staggered for a moment, and continued. He fired three more times. The first shot ripped through a different part of the chest, the second removed its arm, and the last stopped it completely. It collapsed in a heap of sparks and twisted metal.
A hushed silence fell over the street battleground, Miya having handled the last robot. Gears and Delta looked as though they’d recovered.
“Hey, we’re friendlies,” called out a voice.
Two MHU officers stood up from behind the low wall, rifles pointed at the ground. The two parties stared at each other for a moment. Don’t try to arrest us. For the love of god don’t be that dumb.
“Oh, it’s you lot. Right now you’re not shooting at us so I don’t give a shit. Name’s Jeremiah.” They climbed over the wall to join the others.
I guess I’m not doing anything useful now. Skulker returned Senior Lopez to its sheath on his back and jumped out of the truck. A couple teleports put him beside his brother.
The other officer spoke up. “Bob. Hi, Delta.” She nodded in response.
The one named Jeremiah smirked.
“We’re looking for a friend. What happened?” asked Delta, her voice electronically distorted by her helmet.
“Bunch of bots ambushed us. Took out the first and last two trucks before we knew we were being attacked. We managed to get out before they lit ours on fire. They picked most of us off, I think we’re the only two that made it. They had us cornered, then that feral came out of nowhere and took a lot of the heat off us.” You’re really damn chipper about this, all things considered.
“Six trucks worth of MHU officers gone?” asked Gears, his tone incredulous.
“Divide and conquer. We got about ten calls in as many minutes. We figured it was a trap, so we only responded to about four of them. Didn’t fucking matter, though.” Jeremiah spat and grinned. “And not that I’m complaining, but what brought you here to save our sorry hides?”
“We’re looking for Olivia. The feral,” said Delta.
Bob pointed down the street. “Right over there, last we saw. Went in that office building.”
Skulker took one look and teleported in that direction. He spotted a large, ragged hole torn into the wall of the building Bob had pointed out. He climbed through the rubble. Inside, Olivia was on her knees, head hung low. An armored robot lay unmoving in front of her.
Skulker teleported over and waved a hand in front of her. “Hey, you hear me?” She made no response. He heard some of the others jog up from behind and kept trying Olivia to react. No, she’s not dead. She’s breathing. Her eyes are open. The fuck, Olivia? Hell, why were you even out here?
“Shock?” suggested Jeremiah as he took in the scene.
“Dunno,” replied Skulker. To Olivia he said, “Come on, gotta get outta here.” She made no response.
Skulker grunted and lifted her arm. He wrapped it around his shoulders and hauled her to her feet without resistance. Damn she’s heavy. Three hundred pounds of love right here. Gears approached and shouldered most of her weight. Together, they half dragged her back to the truck. She made no sound.
Miya and Delta kept watch by the truck. In the background, he saw Bob searching through the ruined trucks for any survivors. They placed Olivia in the bed of the truck. Jeremiah and Bob joined them, Bob shaking his head.
“Where to now?” asked Gears.
“Streets aren’t safe. We’ve been given orders to fall back to the mint,” said Jeremiah.
“Not HQ?” asked Delta.
“No, it’s been overrun. The guy on dispatch duty barely made it out.”
“He’s still goin’? Tha’s commitment,” commented Skulker.
“Rain, shine, or nuclear annihilation,” Bob muttered.
Everyone exchanged glances. Payback time. “Let’s get movin’ to the mint, then,” said Skulker.