I found Zoe hunched over the console, rapidly tapping at keys. Presumably running another diagnostic. I took a deep breath, centering myself. I was only going to get one chance at this.
“What’s with the commotion?” she asked, sounding mildly irritated.
You think you’re irritated now…
She was on the other side of the room. Thank goodness. Slowly, carefully, I approached the gateway, running my hand along the side of it.
“Minor emergency,” I said.
My hand stopped over one particular spot, a panel with slightly different colouration to everything around it. Now or never, Rachel. Do it. My fingers twitched. Zoe remained oblivious.
I punched through the panel with my left hand, breaking several critical systems along the way. Didn’t matter. They were never going to be used.
My fingers found the component that was connected there, wrapped around it, pulled it out again. A small, silver tube, with glowing blue lines running across the sides of it. Entirely Zoe’s design. That was what I needed.
Zoe slammed into me, the force of it carrying me all the way to the wall. She pinned me there, fury in her reddish eyes, snarling.
“What the hell are you doing?” she demanded.
I still had a grip on the component. Slowly, carefully, I slipped it into my pocket, and began to extract the part I had designed, a pistol-shaped delivery mechanism.
Keep her distracted.
“In summary? Betraying you,” I said.
Because I have to. And I’m sorry.
“What, you think I’m an idiot?” I said, staring her in the eye. “Your gateway isn’t a way home, it’s a permanent hole. A hole that would let you bring your entire warped cadre of psychos back here with you. You think I wasn’t listening when you talked about how awful it is over there?”
“Then why help at all?”
The delivery mechanism was ready. I opened the slot for Zoe’s component, then slid the whole device into the holster on my thigh. With my hand free, I fumbled in my pocket for the component.
“I needed this,” I said, as my fingers wrapped around it. “To get rid of you. Seemed easier than killing you.”
Before I could slide the component into my weapon, she snarled again, and knocked it out of my hands. Fuck!
“Because Charlie’s here,” I said. “And she will kill you. And me. Believe it or not, I’m trying to save you, here.”
“And yet all you’ve managed to do is kill yourself.”
My eyes scanned the room, looking for the component. This wasn’t over yet. If I could just get away from her…
“You can’t take Charlie alone,” I said, as my eyes settled on the blue glow. Found it.
“I beg to differ. She’s made a big mistake, coming here. And I’m in a bad mood, all of a sudden.”
I saw the victory on her face, betraying the lethal strike. Too bad.
“Yeah, I’m not done with you yet,” I said.
Please fuck let this work.
I activated the blade I’d built into my wrist, based loosely on the one that Haylie had wielded. I couldn’t copy her design exactly, especially not without a comparable power source, but what I did have should be enough.
Essentially, it projected a small field, in the shape of a blade, that used a combination of magnetic and radioactive elements. The field disrupted molecular connections, causing things to split apart at a molecular level. A blade that could quite literally cut through anything.
I could activate it for maybe three seconds at the most.
I swung, aiming to sever the arm that was pinning me to the wall. Nothing lethal. She reacted too quickly, dancing backwards, my one chance to use it for the next day or so.
“Close,” she said, grinning. “Not fast enough.”
“Got you away from me, didn’t it?”
Now just stay away long enough for me to get that component back. That’s not too much to ask, right?
“You really think you can take me in a fight?” she taunted.
Like this? No. Not a chance. None of my weapons have been designed to take you out. Couldn’t, not without arousing your suspicion.
“You really think I can’t?”
She laughed, a cruel, cold sound. Her hand went to her belt, and pulled out a small black box from a pouch.
“You’re nothing, kid,” she said, and pressed a button on the device.
My tinker brain took in the device, broke it down, immediately understood it. It sent a signal, a very simple signal. The signal that locked up all of the joints in my mechanical skeleton, rendering me completely immobile.
Helpless. Powerless. At her mercy.
Except the signal never reached my skeleton. I’d removed that system weeks ago, during one of my routine upgrades.
I flexed my fingers, watching her process the sight, and realise what had happened.
“Problem?” I asked.
“I went over everything in excruciatingly dull detail, even made modifications. You really thought I wouldn’t notice?”
The victorious smile returned. That wasn’t good. That wasn’t what I wanted.
“Guess I’m tearing you apart the old-fashioned way, then,” she said.
I threw myself towards the component as she charged at me. She got to me first, her nails sharp enough to shred the bulletproof covering of my pants, and the skin beneath it. I cried out, and hit the ground hard.
Don’t let her get the upper hand.
I rolled away, leaping to my feet, but I wasn’t fast enough to get away from her. She moved like an animal, all killer instinct. I raised my arms to protect my face, only to have the right one ripped open by her claws. Warm blood rushed out of the wounds, though thankfully the left one held up.
She didn’t let up, knocking my arms out of the way and driving her nails into my chest. They sliced through the fatty tissue of my breast, and I screamed in pain, but they didn’t get further than my ribcage, protecting everything vital.
I slammed my fist, the left one, into her face, and felt a satisfying crunch of bone. It would heal, but I’d hurt her. That was enough.
She picked me up and threw me across the room. I bounced off a table, sending tools and parts flying, pain flaring through my shoulder and hip. Her mistake.
I used the distance to reach into my pocket, pulling out a foam grenade. Since she never left the building, she’d never seen one in action. Surprise would give me an edge.
I cooked the grenade for a couple of seconds before tossing it, and even she wasn’t fast enough to avoid the blast. Foam erupted outwards and wrapped around her, holding her in place.
I rushed to grab the component again, but she simply ripped her way free from the foam and lunged at me again. Not a good way to field test the foam against superhumans. Dammit.
I curled up and rolled away from her, protecting anything vulnerable and pulling out the venom dart gun. Testing on humans? Not okay. Testing on her? No time like the present.
A volley of shots, and every one of them missed. She was too fast. She was on me before I could get away, but that put her close enough that she couldn’t avoid the final dart. She carved a gouge out of my shoulder, but the dart landed right in her neck.
She backed off, pulling the dart out and holding her hand against her neck, waiting to see what the effects were. When nothing happened, she smiled.
She picked up a metal bar, just long and thin enough to be used as a weapon. I braced myself, but she was too quick. She launched herself at me, grabbing me by the collar and lifting me into the air. She dropped me before I could fight back, pulling up my shirt as I fell, exposing my stomach.
I screamed as she drove the bar through my stomach, all the way through. Pain radiated outwards, and blood began to bubble out around the bar. She drove the bar into the floor, pinning me.
I struggled to pull the bar out, but she reached out, grabbing both sides of the gateway. With a grunt, she pulled it down on top of me, almost a tonne of metal falling on me, burying me alive. My arms and legs were pinned, my head was being crushed, I could scarcely breathe.
Sharp bits of metal had pierced my skin in several locations, and I could feel the blood pooling underneath me. My entire body was screaming in agony, and I couldn’t move a muscle.
Next Week: A Necessary Evil