“Koda! Are you alright?” Hands grabbed me and turned me sideways. “Did you let the switch go?” Something smelled burnt. My ears rang. First thing, I thrust my left fist up the dead-man switch securely in my hand, then I opened my eye. “Thank God, I thought I; you’re – here.” We locked eyes. Mother Goose kneeled in front of me, face pale, eyes shining as I’ve never seen before.
Huh, there were a lot of things I experienced for the first time today. Might be my newest hobby. I grabbed his arm, and he pulled me up and into a bear hug. Okay, unexpected, another first. Well, uh, I surprised myself by blushing hard, and you guessed it. Definitively a new hobby to show off. The heat in my chest and cheeks made my heart forget how to kick my head into gear. I drew a blank. “Attaboy,” Sam Spade waved from afar. I wasn’t sure he meant me or Mother. Awkward, but nothing to be ashamed of, just sayin’.
“I’m fine. Go, help Shepherd,” I mumbled, but he didn’t stop squeezing. I didn’t think I’d blush harder. Something told me I was beet red. “Markus?” I slowly pushed him away. “I’m fine. Look.” He looked a tiny bit embarrassed, but mostly scared. My latest adventure sure sacked his last nerve. “Go help her.” I managed to sit. Cricket was dazed, I listened for her, but I only felt her blanketing a part of my mind without her sharp, precise clearness. She probably saved my life. Again. Mother opened the controls on my suit. The display on my arms flickered. “I’m green.” I protested, swatted at his hands, but to no avail. He wouldn’t stop, so I let him proceed without the usual fuss. He went through my life support, oxygen, filters, heating, then used his scanner to do a double-check. Satisfied he smirked at me, so I shooed him. “Shoo!” He stood and finally went over to Shepherd.
He wrenched a plastic chair leg out of an overturned furniture and poked her. She was unresponsive, spread-eagled on the floor. Yeah, he poked her. Repeatedly. I didn’t know what I was expecting. I imagined he’d do something sophisticated. Now don’t get me wrong, I’d probably do the same before thinking of the scanners the suits had. Mother crouched beside her.
My favorite cyborg was covered with the thick black dust layer, the remains of the drone. I could make out a faint bubble-like white noise around her. Mother was about to start the same once-over he did with me. “STOP! Don’t touch the sand.” That wasn’t dust or sand. Mother froze. Those were microscopic robots. “Nanobots.” The swarm-mind Cricket had pointed out, explained itself. The question was, there were more drones, or just that exploded one. My back tingled. I stood and wobbled over to Shepherd. The floor was bucking, and I had a serious case of sea-legs. I reached them and leaned on Mother. “He’s dismantling her,” I told him and pointed to the visible corrosions on Shepherd’s armor. The sand was drilling microscopic holes into her plating, her body, and who knows what. “The sample. It, he, they, ugh- these things will compromise the sample.”
Then I saw it. To my horror, Shepherd was conscious and knew what Tampo was doing to her. She cried silently. “Can you hear me?” Mother tried. “One for yes, two for no,” I interjected. She looked at us but didn’t move. One eye blinked slowly. Was that all the control she could muster over her body? Holly crap, this was worse than I thought. First, her friend died in so many ways, then he ambushed her. “Are you in pain?” Two slow blinks answered. “Can you move?” -No. She opened her mouth, but only whistling feedback deafened us.
Those little beasties worked faster than expected. If we didn’t find a way to stop Tampo, she’d be a pile of metallic sand after she’d vaporized us with a middle-sized atomic explosion.”Have the nanobots reached the sample?” -No. “Have they reached the shielding of your reactor?” Three blinks. “Yes and no?” No. “Almost?” One blink. We had to come up with a plan ASAP.
“Whoever you think you are, this is not helping!” I shouted to nobody in particular. “You’re hurting her. You are killing her!” Tampo, or whoever he was now, observed everything in the room, I was sure. The monitors I didn’t damage flickered to white noise than to black. Code ran along some of the screens. Mother tried to scan Shepherd again, but I saw the error messages he kept receiving. No use. The nanobots shielded whatever reading there was to be obtained. Shepherd rusted fast, and by the look of it, her dismounting would be the end of us all.
Tampo’s answer came as writing on each screen: a big fat NO.
I thought of the lightning bolt that struck me and knocked Shepherd out. What a kick that was. Cricket finally showed up and looked at the moving sand on our favorite cyborg. Any ideas? She nodded slowly. “There is a window of one to three minutes when the reactor will shut down, and Shepherd’s brain will start to die off.” Great! Before or after she detonated? She rolled her eyes at me and shushed me. You too? I was about to point out, that she’d be done for if I was done for. Not impressed, Cricket pointed to her eye, then to mine. My eye? THE eye? Cricket nodded eagerly. I had the feeling I’d regret what was coming next.
I gave my switch to Mother and told him what Cricket wanted. “Shep can’t slow down with falling apart, and the only sensible things I got on me are these little babies,” I showed my pulse mines, “maybe magnetic shackles. Buuut… Those aren’t strong enough and the EMP might damage her instead.” He nodded along, not coming up with any of his genius ideas. How would I be able to pull the patch from my eye inside of my suit? I feared I’d have to take off the helmet. That was never a good idea, but desperate times called for desperate measures.”Tasers! I’ve always dreamed of tasering Shepherd.” I told Mother, who chuckled. I bet he wanted to see that too.