Ayesha held the thing’s gaze, unmoving, while it continued to shift into life.
The bass note intensified, and was joined by a chorus of whines and hums as the creature shifted position. Then a third light emerged from beneath the other two. This one was crescent-shaped. A glowing mouth beneath the eyes.
Target practise, Ayesha thought.
The blue-green light reached a peak, and with a hissing, spitting, crackling noise it flew from the creature’s mouth like a cannonball.
The sphere of light hit the walkway in front of the office window. It burst apart. Twisted shards of metal sprayed in every direction.
But Ayesha was already gone.
In the light that the sphere had cast, Ayesha had begun running around the edge of the walkway. As the ball hit it, she felt the whole structure shake beneath her feet, but it held.
As the ball of light faded, darkness once more fell. It didn’t last long. Another light, and then another hissing, spitting noise as another sphere was loosed. The walkway shook again, and Ayesha had to work to keep her footing. She felt something small and sharp skitter against her leg. It had been closer that time.
Ayesha’s speed was hampered by how far she could see ahead of her and how little traction her feet could find on the metal grating. The white-hot feeling of motion was still present, and the background noise of her brain had quietened leaving only clarity.
The thing could turn quickly. It was keeping up with her at this speed. No, she thought, It can’t. I’m too fast.
Another burst of light. Another sphere.
This one was fired ahead of her.
The sphere approached the walkway ahead. She saw it clearly. It was slightly smaller than a volleyball, distorted by movement. It looked like a glass sphere filled with smoke and strands of white hot energy.
Moving this fast, her brain couldn’t think. Just react.
Slow slightly. Bounce. Land. Sphere hits walkway. Bursts. Pushes up. Leap with the push. Twist. Find purchase. Run.
Ayesha continued, running along the wall itself. She felt alive. Powerful.
It shoots ahead, she thought, It thinks.
Another thought struck her with a pang of fear: She couldn’t change speed or direction running along the wall. The fear was pulled back. It wasn’t useful.
Then she saw it. Steel support pillar that ran up the wall. Ahead of her.
Spitting noise. The ball was in the air.
The hand that trailed the wall grabbed the pillar. She slowed. The sphere hit ahead of her with a burst of brick-dust. She changed her momentum. Twisted upside down. She was now in a tight ball, her feet nearly touching the pillar. She let go, and began to fall.
She waited, her head against her stomach, burying the instinct to twist, ready to land cat-like on the ground. She stayed curled up.
The light appeared.
Ayesha held steady, still falling.
The hissing noise started.
In the same instant, Ayesha thrust her entire body out like a loosed spring. Her feet pressed agains the metal pillar as she leapt from it, forcing her out into the open space at the centre of the room like a thrown javelin.
The sphere exploded against the pillar, exactly where she would have been had she continued to fall.
Ayesha felt the beautiful weightlessness of jumping. Ahead of her, she saw one of the chains that hung from a crane in the ceiling. The scant couple of seconds she had in the air allowed her to think. To plan.
Ayesha’s hands outstretched. Caught the chain. Although she was light, she had enough momentum to begin swinging. The moment she grabbed the chain, Ayesha started to slide down it. She twisted her body, forcing the chain to spiral.
It was a risk that Ayesha had while jumping. It could target where she would be, but she was spiralling chaotically. It had two choices: Her, or the chain.
Take the bait, she thought.
Another light, another hiss, another sphere loosed. It collided with the point that the spiralling chain met the crane above. Almost instantly, Ayesha felt the chain slacken as she began to fall in earnest.
Straight towards the creature.
Keeping ahold of the long length of chain, she let herself fall. Her balance kicked in, righting her, preparing her to land on the ground.
As she fell, light grew again. Ayesha tensed. She hadn’t expected it to reload so quickly. Biting down on the fear, she stared at its glowing mouth. Waiting.
There was nothing to kick against. Nothing to change her direction.
The sphere was loosed. It flew directly towards Ayesha, all the faster with her falling towards it.
Ayesha felt like she was an empty mould that someone had just poured liquid silver into. Her thoughts were lessened to nothing.
Using the momentum of the chain, Ayesha began to twist in a complex spiral, like a dancer with a scarf.
The sphere got closer.
Ayesha rolled around it. Twisting and contorting her body, she allowed the sphere to pass through the space she was occupying without it coming into contact with her. She could actually feel the heat of it. She didn’t even realise her eyes were closed until it passed her face and she saw the blue-green through her eyelids.
As the sphere passed her, she had the presence of mind to continue whipping the chain so that the sphere wouldn’t sever any links.
She had continued falling, now mere feet away from the creature. She saw it clearly for the first time, illuminated by blue-green light that spilled from complex markings on its body. It was four-legged, about the size of a small car, and looked almost like a bear. The light of her flashlight hitting it reflected in such a way that she thought that it was metallic. It looked like it was made of burnished copper or something similar.
Ayesha saw its eyes fix on her, before she landed catlike on its back. Its mouth was glowing, ready to loose another sphere of energy, but it stopped. The light in its mouth died away as it looked at her this close.
Ayesha didn’t think about the opening it had given her. Instead she moved. Slipped around its torso. Underneath. Twisted around a leg. Back on its back. Run to the opposite leg. All still holding the chain.
At this point the chain, half of which was still falling to the ground, began to go tight. It had tangled around the legs. She tied the end of the chain as best as she could to the thing’s foreleg. The creature – the machine, as Ayesha now thought of it – began to thrash, but it was too late, two opposite legs were tangled.
Ayesha leapt from its body to the point where she’d seen it drop its tarp. One hand snaked down and grabbed a corner of the tarp, even as she thrust back with the opposite foot. Back to the monster.
The monster noticed her, and seemed to open its mouth to fire, but Ayesha dragged the tarp over its head, blinding it. It didn’t work as well as she’d have liked, it moved like it could still somehow sense her.
She jumped to its back. It reached up a forefoot to try and drag the tarp off its face. As it did, Ayesha leapt up and grabbed the other end of the chain, still falling.
As the machine put one foot on the tarp, Ayesha darted around its neck with the chain, tying the foot to its head.
The thing moaned and whined like the hum of generators, but couldn’t build the momentum to pull apart the chains.
Ayesha circled the monster, tightening the chain and tangling its limbs further. It continued to whine, and Ayesha could see its head turn to follow her, though blinded.
There was the wrenching sound of metal on metal. Ayesha saw it fall onto its front as it brought up its one free leg to rip at the tarp again. The chain links were straining. She’d have to act fast.
Ayesha moved behind the creature. Saw something on the ground, a pipe.
Distantly, she was aware of a noise. A voice maybe. She didn’t care.
She went for the pipe. Flicked it with a foot. Caught it. Prepared to charge forwards. To throw all her weight behind the pipe and break open the creature’s shell. She braced.
Something touched her arm.
Ayesha turned, ready to strike whatever was trying to grab her with the pipe in her hands. She faced her attacker.
The shock not only prevented her from attacking, but nearly made her drop her improvised weapon. She felt the momentum dissipate, and a babble of thoughts, memories, and above all questions poured into her head.
‘Luis?!’ she said.
The voice that had been speaking for a few seconds now resolved itself. Luis had been shouting at her, and she hadn’t realised.
‘Don’t hurt it! Please, Ayesha, don’t hurt it!’ Luis’s eyes were huge, despite the flashlight mere inches from his face, and he looked terror stricken.
For once, Ayesha didn’t know how to respond. ‘Luis?!’ she said again, dumbly.
‘Look, I’ve just been practising using my powers in this old warehouse for a little while now and I thought no one would mind since it’s all, like, covered in grass and moss and graffiti, and I didn’t think anyone would find-’
‘Okay!’ Ayesha interrupted. The headache was rising again and her throat felt dry. ‘Luis, stop! Start at the beginning, what’s happened?’ she indicated the huge machine now lying defeated on the floor, ‘You’ve been practising using your powers against that?’
‘Not exactly,’ Luis responded, sheepishly, ‘More, kinda, my powers… are that.’
Ayesha looked from Luis to the monster and back.
‘You control that thing?’ she asked, incredulously.
‘Yeah,’ he said, putting a hand reflexively to the back of his head, ‘I was figuring out my powers, and it turns out, I…’ he struggled for a moment to find words, ‘Kinda have a whole second, robot body.’
Ayesha suddenly realised that she was still holding the pipe as if she was going to strike Luis. Awkwardly, she let it clatter to the ground. Then she laughed.
‘Holy shit, Luis! You control a giant robot monster that can shoot lasers?’
Luis was smiling in spite of himself, ‘Yeah, I guess when you put it like that it is pretty cool.’
‘I mean,’ said Ayesha, recovering her composure, ‘Not quite as cool as my powers, but, yeah, still pretty cool.’
‘Oh, yeah!’ said Luis, as if just realising that she too was a superhuman. ‘I mean, jeez, I didn’t know you could run as fast as that! I saw your from the office and from down here, obviously, and before I realised it was you, I was trying to shoot you down. I was turning to follow you, and my targeting could barely keep up, and I was like, “No way! How is anyone moving this fast!” I mean, I thought I was fast with shooting, but you were so-‘
To her surprise, Ayesha found that Luis’s joy at the situation was infectious. She too was unable to stop grinning.
‘Yes, Luis,’ she said, raising her hands palms facing him, ‘I know, I am the coolest person you’ve ever met. While I love to hear people tell me it at length, do you think we should maybe help out your little friend over there?’
Luis seemed confused for a moment. ‘Oh, you mean untie it? Yeah, we should probably, yeah…’
The pair made their way to the hulking form on the ground. The creature had stopped struggling now. Indeed, if it wasn’t for the awkward way chains contorted its limbs, it could have almost looked like it was sleeping.
Ayesha was about to touch the creature, but stopped herself. ‘Hey Luis, you’re giant robot here, he doesn’t hold a grudge, does he?’
Luis was already untangling two ends of the chain. He barely looked up. ‘What? Oh, no, don’t worry about it. I like, control it with my mind, basically. I mean, it’s basically me. Like, I don’t think it has a mind of its own.’
Ayesha shrugged and got to work.
She felt the material of the creature as she touched it. It was indeed metallic but slightly warm to the touch, shining with a orange sheen in her flashlight’s beam. Small lights were interspersed along its armoured body in symmetrical patterns, the same distinctive blue-green colour.
As her hands came into contact, she thought she noticed Luis stiffen for a moment before returning to work as well.
Interesting, she thought.
‘Do you still call it “it”?’ said Ayesha, as she hopped across its back to unwrap two knots from each other.
‘I guess?’ said Luis, frowning slightly in the light from the thing. ‘I can’t really think of, you know, a cool name or anything.’
‘Don’t you have any ideas?’
‘Well, I was thinking something like… “Mecha-Bear”, or “Brass Blaster”, or maybe after, like, some sort of mythology thing, like…’
At this point, Ayesha actually had to stop working in order to focus completely on stifling her laughter.
Luis noticed her laughing. Even in the blue-green light, Ayesha thought she could see his cheeks reddening.
‘Oh, shut up!’
‘No Luis, please,’ said Ayesha, her voice shaking slightly from suppressed laughter, ‘Tell me which mythological figure you were going to name your giant robot after.’
Luis started smiling now too, though he was trying to hide it. ‘Alright, fine. Dumb idea.’
‘I don’t know,’ said Ayesha, ‘If the superhero thing fell through, you could always have a successful antique restoration business with Brass Blaster here.’
‘I said it was dumb, okay.’
‘Nah, there’s got to be something similar that’s good! How about, the “Copper Crusader”? Or the “Rusty Renegade”?’
‘Name’s are hard, okay!’ said Luis, his hands methodically dragging the tarp from the creature’s face. ‘It’s weird. You come up with something that sounds awesome for a super-hero, and then the moment you say it, you just sound dumb.’
‘You’ll think of something eventually,’ said Ayesha, ‘Maybe even something not terrible.’
They threw the last of the chain from its back. The creature helped them, tilting its body so that they slipped down easily. Then it stood up fully. Standing, it was taller than both of them, almost seven feet at its large shoulders. Though its body was segmented and shift was accompanied by the singing of internal engines, its movements were surprisingly lifelike.
There was something else about it too, Ayesha realised. The curve of the segments of the limbs, the detailing and the small ornamentation along its surface suggested that it was built to be not only functional but beautiful.
Ayesha looked up at the machine, trying to take it all in, while she opened up her bag to retrieve her water bottle. Then she looked at Luis. Luis was going over the robot’s body, checking for signs of damage.
In the darkness, Ayesha noticed something else. She had seen the small, metal implants that emerged from Luis’s skin on the night of the attack, so she knew where they were. Luis was wearing a beanie, and had pulled it down at the back so that it covered up the spot on the base of his skull where the most prominent implant was fixed. From just below the beanie, a light was glowing. The same blue-green light that radiated from the creature.
The machine noticed her looking at Luis, it’s head cocking to one side slightly. Wordlessly, Luis noticed too, turning to see her. She watched him go beet-red again before turning away, unsure of where to look.
‘Erm, is it – uh, is everything okay?’ he asked, swallowing a slight stutter.
‘You’re kinda glowing there, champ,’ she said, taking a swig from the bottle. She relished watching the small moment of Luis flustering, unsure of what she meant. ‘Literally,’ she said after her drink, putting him out of his misery.
His hand went for the metal plate again. ‘Oh, yeah. My implants are kinda in-synch with the thing here. I guess it’s something to do with with how we got our powers?’
His voice tilted in a question. Ayesha shrugged. ‘Could be. So, about those powers, what exactly can you do, Luis?’
Luis glanced at the huge hulking creature. The creature looked back at him. The look was so absurd, a huge, expressionless robot creature and a teenage boy both glancing at each other so in-synch, that Ayesha nearly laughed.
‘Well, okay, so, here’s what I’ve figured out. I don’t think I can do anything different. Like, I’ve been trying to lift heavier and heavier stuff or run really fast or something, but I don’t think I’ve changed at all. But, I have this whole other body, basically.’ He patted the creature’s flank. ‘So, I can see what it sees, hear what it hears, that sort of thing.’
Feel what it feels, added Ayesha, silently, thinking back to his reaction from her touch.
‘The robot can do all sorts of things. There’s more stuff that I don’t think I can access yet, but I can move him around pretty easy.’ He demonstrated, and Ayesha watched the creature lope back and forth in the small pit. She felt the ground move slightly with every footfall from its weight. ‘It’s really strong, but pretty slow. Plus I can shoot out those bolt things from its mouth. They seem to burst things apart. It has a whole bunch of targeting and computing, but the main thing is that I’m a pretty good shot with it and it can target new stuff pretty quickly.’
‘I kinda got a first hand taste of that – you nearly hit me, and I was running at about a hundred miles an hour.’
Luis’s eyes widened.
‘Oh yeah,’ Ayesha said as if she had only just remembered, ‘I can run at a hundred miles an hour, by the way.’ She took another quick swing of water.
‘No way!’ said Luis. Ayesha could see that the infectious light of playing superheroes had come back into Luis’s face.
‘That’s just my jogging speed,’ she said, basking in his appreciation and packing away her bag, ‘I can do faster.’ She patted the robot’s flank too, taking care to watch for the telltale shift in Luis’s expression from the contact. ‘But your giant robot’s pretty cool,.’
Luis looked like he’d remembered something. ‘There’s something else it can do! It’s really cool! Okay, erm. Stand over there.’ He indicated a little further apart from the two of them.
With no small amount of trepidation, Ayesha stepped onto the spot Luis had indicated, facing him and the robot.
Luis grinned, his posture like a child with a magic trick to show, ‘Okay, face me, and hold up some fingers behind your back.’
Ayesha smiled back and held up three fingers.
‘Three!’ said Luis instantly, still grinning, ‘Try again!’
Ayesha new that Luis was only a little younger than her, but in this moment he might have been a child with a new toy.
She smiled too, and held up eight fingers, but then quickly changed them to six.
‘Eigh- no! Six! Sneaky, nearly got me that time! One more.’
Somehow, even the creature radiated joy. Ayesha wasn’t sure if it was the hunch of its shoulders, or its subtle movements, but it seemed as excited as Luis was.
‘I think I’ve got the trick, Luis.’
‘Hey, you got to show off by running on the walls and stuff! Let me try again!’
Behind her back, Ayesha held up her middle finger.
‘When you’re ready,’ she said, grinning.
Ayesha watched Luis’s expression change. He laughed once, catching her joke.
Then he cut himself off, his eyes widening.
Quickly, both Luis and the creature turned to face the same direction. Above them, and further out. To Ayesha, it looked like the pair were trying to see through the solid wall of the open-roofed underground area they were in.
Ayesha read enough in his expression to freeze too, waiting to see what he would say.
Luis turned back to her.
‘Ayesha, how did you find me here?’
‘Are you sure you weren’t followed?’
‘Certain. I was running.’
‘Right, because there’s, like, four people heading towards us,’ he said, his breathing growing faster and his voice shakier, ‘And I think they’ve got guns.’