“We’re almost at our destination,”Sirvanna reported. “Is everyone ready?”
“Of course we are,”Alexa said. “Do you think we’re incompetent?”
“Sounds like someone needs another group hug,”Yuni said.
“Don’t you dare,”Alexa said. “Hug Alena. She wasn’t in the first one.”
“I… I didn’t notice,”Yuni said. “I’m so sorry!” She wrapped her arms around Alena.
Alena looked around awkwardly and mouthed the word “help.”
Katelyn nodded. “Yuni, that’s not right. You’re not in a group hug this time. When you’re just hugging one person you have to do it more tightly.”
“Oh, sorry,”Yuni said. “Like this?”
“Better,” Katelyn said. “But it’s still missing something.”
“Put your bosom into it,” Ines said.
“Like this?” Yuni asked.
“Perfect,” Ines said. Katelyn was chuckling into her hand.
The workshop was huge. Scraps of metal were strewn everywhere and large machines were standing around, some covered by tarps.
“Where are you?”
A small , grease covered hand came down from a scaffold. He looked up to see a petite Chinese girl with goggles over her eyes and her dark hair tied back into twin tails.
“Egg,” she said.
“And why should I give you an egg?” he asked.
She put down her soldering iron and climbed down the scaffold. “Zhao has been good,” she said, removing her goggles and looking directly at him. “Zhao is ahead of schedule with 17.8% of the work complete!”
He whistled. “That is quite a bit ahead. Are you sure you’re not taking shortcuts?”
“Zhao has finished everything perfectly according to specifications,” she tapped her chest and put her nose in the air. “Professor can check if he doesn’t believe it. Zhao’s work is flawless!”
“No, I believe you,” he said. “You’re an incredibly efficient worker.”
“Egg, then more praise,” Zhao held out her hand again.
He pulled a kinder egg from his pouch. “Shouldn’t you wash your hands first?”
She looked down at her greasy hands and then to the kinder egg. “But… but Zhao will just get them dirty again in five minutes.” She snapped her fingers. “That’s it! Professor will just have to feed Zhao.” She opened her mouth wide.
“I spoil you,” he said. “You know that.” He unwrapped the chocolate egg and placed it gently in her mouth.
She chewed it happily for a few minutes before spitting the toy into her hand. She looked it over. “Zhao doesn’t have this one yet.” She put it into her pocket.
“I didn’t just come back here to check your progress,” the Professor said. “I looked over your recommendations for design changes on the TF-7.” He held a schematic out. “I’ve approved some of them, but the others just aren’t feasible at this time.”
“But Zhao can do it!” she protested. “Zhao promises that it can all be done.”
“Sorry,” he said. “Maybe we can implement those next time.” He looked around. “Did you need any supplies or anything else?”
“Zhao needs Jenny to act as an assistant,” she said, almost immediately. “Zhao has lots of heavy things that need lifting. Jenny would be perfect.”
“You have plenty of equipment for that,” he said. “Be honest, you don’t really need Jenny, do you?”
She went silent and looked like she was going to burst into tears. Her answer was barely audible “no.”
“I thought so,” he said. “But I’ll tell you what. I’ll have Jenny reassigned to aid you after her current mission is over but only temporarily, understand?”
Zhao hugged him tightly. “Thanks Professor! Zhao is moved! She will do her best and make the best robots ever!” She pulled away from him and nodded sagely. “Now, back to work!”
He looked down at the greasy fingerprints on his clothes and shook his head, a very slight smile on his face.
You spoil her.
He didn’t bother turning around. He knew what he would see. “Perhaps, but she is a truly precious comrade.”
She’s a precocious brat who refuses to speak properly because it’s too “normal.”
“Don’t let her hear that,” he said. “Besides, she’s far too old for you to call her a brat.”
She looks and acts like one. Her actual age makes no difference.
“Okay,” Sirvanna said. “We just have to sneak past the enemy troops while they’re launching their attack, reach their headquarters and drop any resistance inside.”
“Do we paint the targets on now or later?” Katelyn asked.
Sirvanna ignored the comment. “Undine, scout ahead and see if you can find us a clear route. Mara, I want you to prepare to cloak us with shadows. Pixie, if anyone gets too close I want you to trip them up a little in a way that won’t give us away. If we are found then we’ll have to fight our way through and even with our powers that’s going to be nearly impossible.”
“Maybe we could disguise ourselves as traveling mimes,” Yuni said.
“Sneaking would be a better plan,” Sirvanna said.
“What was that?” Sirvanna asked.
“Aside from a small column of enemy troops the path is completely clear,” Ines repeated. “No backup, no soldiers to the sides, nothing.”
“That’s strange,” Sirvanna said. “Can they really win with a single column?”
Ines shrugged. “I think they’re robots. They were moving very… mechanically. It’s hard to describe.”
“Even so…” Sirvanna began.
“Can we just get moving?” Alexa asked. “The path is clear so let’s move.”
Sirvanna glared at her. Alena walked over and put a hand on Sirvanna’s shoulder. “The robots aren’t our problem,” she said.
“I’m concerned about what we’ll find at their headquarters,” Sirvanna said. “Most of their forces are probably there.”
“No use worrying about it,” Yuni said. “We’ll just handle it as it comes.”
“Famous last words,” Katelyn said.
“Perhaps,” Sirvanna said. “But Aurora is right. We have to go.”
The six steered clear of the enemy troops and arrived at their headquarters without incident. It was a large building surrounded by a barbed wire fence with barracks on both sides. There were no guards in sight.
“That’s even more worrying,” Sirvanna whispered. “It has to be some kind of trap.”
“Maybe if we just knock they’ll let us in,” Yuni said.
We can’t just knock,” Sirvanna said. “It’ll lose us any element of surprise we may have. Sylph can you…” She looked around. “Where’s Sylph?”
Alexa had hovered over the fence and was knocking on the front door.
“I get her stereo,” Katelyn said.
“We have to go after her,” Sirvanna said. She gestured and crimson lightning tore the front gate off its hinges. Ines was the first to reach Alexa’s side. The door was still unopened when the others arrived.
“Odd,” Alena said.
“Very,” Sirvanna agreed. “They have to know we’re here.”
“Maybe they don’t want to fight,” Yuni said. “Wouldn’t it be nice if we could make friends with them?”
“I’m sure that’s it,” Katelyn said. “The war is over and now they just want to be friends and give us free puppies.”
“Can I have a husky?” Yuni asked.
The door creaked slowly open. Alexa hurried inside followed shortly by the others. The entrance led to a large chambre filled with electronic equipment. There were several small doors to the sides and one large door at the far end. There wasn’t a single person in sight.
“Curiouser and curiouser,” Sirvanna said.
“Maybe they’re hiding in the closets?” Katelyn said.
“I hate it when people do that,” Ines said.
“Nice!” Katelyn exclaimed. She and Ines high-fived.
“Undine, flip open all of the small doors,” Sirvanna said. “The rest of us will keep an eye out.”
The doors were quickly opened. Every one, save a single one had shelving with equipment on it. The final one had cleaning supplies. There was still no one in sight.
“Just one more place to check,” Sirvanna said. “Pixie, I want you to open it with your telekinesis. Undine will go in and check for opposition.” She looked Ines in the eyes. “Don’t engage the enemy, find out how many there are and come back for the rest of us. Okay, go!”
The doors swung open. Ines rushed in and hurriedly came back out.
“Well?” Sirvanna asked.
“Five,” Ines answered.
“There are only five?” Sirvanna asked.
“Cute too,” Ines said.
“What are they doing?” Sirvanna asked.
“Sitting there,” Ines said. “With tea and biscuits.”
“Well, this is going to be easy,” Katelyn said.
“Appearances can be deceiving,” Sirvanna said. “We should…”
“Hey, are you guys gonna hurry up and get in here?” the voice bellowed from the other room. “We’re starting to get bored.”
“Do we go in?” Alena asked.
“Yes,” Sirvanna said. “But stay close and don’t attack until either they attack or I give the signal. Pixie, be prepared to deflect bullets.” The six walked in slowly, cautiously. It was as Ines had said. There were five of them.
A rather muscular woman with short brown hair and blue eyes stood in the front. The other four were sitting around her. One had bright red hair and brown eyes. There was a tall woman with long red hair, an eye-patch and a light blue right eye. One was really pale with dark hair and really bright violet eyes. The final one was a petite blonde woman with blue eyes and a ponytail.
“You have such pretty eyes!” Yuni was looking directly at the pale woman.
“Thanks,” she said. “I’ll try not to hurt you… much.”
“What’s all this about?” Sirvanna asked.
“We’re with special forces,” the woman standing said. “Unit designation Omega Theta Sigma. We’re the only ones here because, frankly, you’re not that much of a threat.”
“Excuse me?” Sirvanna said, her hair stood on end.
The group heard a rush of air and a loud thump
“Ines, your hand!” Yuni cried.
Sirvanna looked back. Ines’ right hand was shaking, badly bruised and hanging limply.
“Careful,” Ines said. “Her skin is really tough. I think I broke it.”
“She’s fast,” the woman said. “But not too bright.” She smiled at Sirvanna. “Surprised? Your gifts aren’t a match for ours. You can call me Behemoth. My pale friend with ‘lovely eyes’ is Carmilla, but by the time you figure out why she has that code name it’ll be too late. The lovely lady with the eye-patch is Anya, she doesn’t care for code names. The little blond lady is Druidess…”
“How come I’m always introduced last?” the final woman asked.
“Because it’s fun to pick on you,” Behemoth said. “My final friend is Svarog. Now, we’re willing to offer you a chance to surrender or you could fight us and risk death.”
“That attitude of yours really ticks me off,” Sirvanna said. “Omicron Squad, take them!”
“Too bad,” Behemoth said. She looked at her troops. “Take on whoever you like.”
Sirvanna headed straight for Behemoth, but Svarog moved in between them. “I like your confidence,” she said. “Try it against me!”
Carmilla appeared behind Yuni and gave her a wry grin. Alexa found herself face to face with Anya.
“I’ll take the little one,” Katelyn said. “You can have the tank.” She moved towards Druidess.
“I guess that leaves you and me,” Behemoth looked at Ines and shrugged. “It seems a little unfair.”
“You won’t take me by surprise again,” Ines said. “I know how tough you are now.”
Behemoth shrugged. “It doesn’t matter. You can’t do anything to hurt me.”
“You think?” Ines asked. “Well, let me show you just what I’m made of.”
Alena took in the situation. Ines was running circles around Behemoth, just out of her reach. Why was… oh, so that was it. It might work if Behemoth didn’t catch on fast enough.
Alexa had taken to the air, Anya had hovered up after her.
Sirvanna and Svarog were having a flashy fight. Sirvanna was hurling crimson lightning bolts, Svarog was countering with blue flames.
Katelyn and Druidess were sizing each other up. Some heavy rocks were floating in the air behind Druidess. Katelyn was smirking.
Yuni had turned around to face Carmilla. She had daggers of light floating between them but made no move to attack.
Yuni… She was just too innocent. It was going to get her killed if she didn’t toughen up. Alena grabbed her pistol and moved to assist Yuni.
Behemoth lunged at Ines, who responded by moving smoothly out of her reach and resumed running in circles. “What are you planning?” Behemoth asked. “Are you just keeping me out of the fight?”
Alexa formed the air around her into a vicious downdraft and sent it hurtling towards Anya, trying to force her down. Anya went down several metres but the descent eventually stopped when several metal plates from the ground floated between them to block the air. “My turn,” Anya said. Hundreds of nails floated into the air. Anya gestured and they went hurtling directly towards Alexa.
Flames erupted from the ground beneath Sirvanna. She barely managed to flip backwards in time to avoid it. She hurtled several lightning bolts at Svarog who hurriedly blocked them with a wall of flame.
“Let’s have a fair fight,” Druidess said, offering her hand.Katelyn shook it. “You seem nice enough,” Druidess continued “but I’m afraid I’m going to have to hurt you just a bit.”
“What,” Katelyn asked “All four feet of you?”
“Four foot two, actually,” Druidess said. “Are you judging me by my size?”
“Of course not,” Katelyn said. “I’m sure you’re quite deadly against kneecaps.”
“Oh dear,” Druidess said. “I’m afraid I’m going to have to hurt you qute a bit just to teach you a lesson. Nothing personal. Although I do so hate barbaric displays.” She never stopped smiling.
Katelyn willed the stones to slam against Druidess, but her concentration was broken when a vine broke through the metal flooring and wrapped around her waist. It pulled her down, hard.
Alena’s shot went right through Carmilla, who ignored Alena and stared at Yuni.
“Fire your daggers,” Alena said.
“Why?” Yuni asked. Her voice was somehow… listless. “We’re all friends here.”
“This is…” Behemoth gasped for breath “pointless. You can’t… win by… running… in circles.” Behemoth reached for her again, but Ines easily evaded her arm. Or could she win? Behemoth wondered. She was having trouble breathing. The air seemed really thin. That had to be it! Ines was siphoning the air away from her somehow. She could still beat this, if she had enough strength.
Alexa was moving as fast as she could, creating drafts around herself to try and keep the nails off course. She grimaced as she felt several graze her and one go into her left shoulder. She forced herself to concentrate in spite of the pain. She had to focus, focus.
Sirvanna avoided another fireball, barely. These close calls were taking their toll. Her flesh was starting to burn. She hurled a stream of lightning at Svarog, who responded with another wall of flame. Sirvanna concentrated. The lightning bent, moving around the flames and striking Svarog’s back.
Katelyn’s head was pounding. She tried to pick up the rocks again, but the vine slammed her into the ground again before she could concentrate.
“I’m not a cruel person,” Druidess said, she had maintained her matronly smile “but I really can’t stand being judged by my height.” Her right arm transformed into a grizzled, furry claw. She back-handed Katelyn’s cheek.
She had to be affecting Yuni somehow, but bullets were useless she just phased through them. What could she do? Alena was starting to sweat. And that’s when Carmilla started advancing. Alena moved between her and Yuni.
Behemoth reached down She peeled up a segment of the floor, almost blacking out in the process. She quickly swung it. It hit Ines, sending her sprawling. Behemoth was forced to one knee. She took as many deep breaths as she could.
Gale force winds slammed at Anya. Alexa was forcing her back! She was trying to hide behind her metal plating, but it wasn’t enough. That was when Alexa felt pliable steel wrap around her and quickly become incredibly hard. Alexa gasped as the thick metal squeezed her.
“Not bad,” Svarog said. “But I’m still going to burn you.” She hurriedly began forming another fireball, Sirvanna decked her.
“Still conscious?” Druidess asked, looking into Katelyn’s bloody and bruised face. “Too bad, I didn’t want to hurt you any more, but I will give you credit for persistence. It’s such an admirable trait.” She raised her paw and gave Katelyn another hard hit. Katelyn hit the floor and didn’t get back up.
Alena fired several more shots at Carmilla. They went right through her. She was out of bullets soon enough, so she threw the gun. That seemed to take Carmilla by surprise, it actually hit. Carmilla reached up to her bruised forehead, almost indifferently. She kept advancing.
Alena tried punching her, but her fist was caught in mid-air. Carmilla pushed her away and continued towards Yuni who seemed to be trying to move, but unable.
“That was close,” Behemoth muttered. Ines was up. She ran past Behemoth and hurled two chunks of metal at her. They actually hurt, a little. Behemoth sighed and began advancing towards Ines.
Alexa focused her power on getting rid of the metal entangling her. It was loosening, little by little. Anya hovered over to her. Alexa noticed that she had brass knuckles on.
“Good night,” Anya said. Her fist slammed into Alexa’s face. The winds holding her aloft dissipated instantly and she started falling. Anya gestured and her descent slowed. Anya set Alexa down very gently.
Sirvanna kept punching. Their powers were about equal, but she was stronger. If she could just keep it up… Rising fire forced her back.
Svarog wiped her bloody lips. “I don’t care about orders anymore, I’m going to kill you!”
Carmilla put her hands on Yuni’s shoulders. She moved her head down and kissed Yuni’s lips. It was several seconds before she pulled away. When she did Yuni spasmed for a moment and collapsed onto the ground. Her skin had gone pale.
“Thank you for the meal,” Carmilla said. Her skin had gotten much darker, almost tan. She licked her lips and looked over at Alena.
Behemoth slammed her fists into the ground. The floor rumbled beneath Ines, making her lose her footing. Before she could recover Behemoth’s fists were hitting her in the back. She hit the floor.
The fire was everywhere. Sirvanna could barely avoid one without another erupting in front of her. Had Svarog been toying with her? No… that wasn’t it. This fire wasn’t as intense. It was red. Svarog had sacrificed power for increased coverage. Sirvanna spent thirty seconds building up the lightning in her hand before releasing it. It shattered Svarog’s fiery barrier, slammed into her and sent her into the wall. Svarog tried to get up for a moment, but quickly collapsed.
Alena threw one of her knives. It went through Carmilla just as anticipated and hit the light. The room was shrouded in darkness.