Chapter 17 – Creeping Chaos
Austin blanched as the giant mech in front of him lurched forward. Without a second to spare he threw himself to the side, dropping his claymore and rolling unceremoniously across the lawn as the mech slammed into the front of his house. He quickly scrambled to his feet and bolted around the corner, taking refuge behind the side of the house. There he took a moment to catch his breath, attempting to psyche himself up for facing EA and his so-called “Bug Crawler.”
“Come on out, Fakie…”
Shit… Austin glanced to his side, toward the front of the house. He could hear the house-sized machine slowly stalking about. …If I could just touch it, then maybe I could control it… but does my power even work on something that big? And is getting close enough to touch it even a good idea?!
“There you are!”
“Ack—!” Austin yelped as the mech shoved its head into the space between the houses. The cockpit accounted for most of the head unit, and the canopy was transparent, so Austin managed to lock eyes with EA for a brief moment as he scrambled backwards and out of reach of the mech’s pincers. When he backed into the fence, he whipped around and tried to jump over it, but failed spectacularly and collapsed to the ground.
As he was recovering, the sounds of snapping wood and crumbling bricks reached his ears. Immediately he psychically ripped the fence out of the ground, taking advantage of his earlier touch to seize control of the fence and use it as a shield as the Bug Crawler’s tail crushed the house next door to Austin’s, sending all kinds of debris his way. With the fence now destroyed, Austin dashed into the backyard, flinging bits of debris at the mech the whole way. But instead of dealing any kind of damage, all of the debris simply bounced harmlessly off of the mech’s hull as each impact point shimmered brightly.
Looks like it’s protected by an energy shield… Austin scowled as he rushed around the back of his house and to the other side. Probably can’t control it by touching it, then, since I can’t actually touch it. I’ll have to beat it down first, by flinging stuff at it, I guess… but I can’t do that if I’m constantly on the run! Damn it! If only I could fly! He froze momentarily. Not even a minute ago, he had manipulated part of a fence to fly through the air — so “seizing absolute control” over an object seemed to include manipulating its position in space in ways that shouldn’t technically be possible. Which is par for the course when it comes to Chaotic abilities, but if he can make anything that he touches fly…
Austin’s thoughts were interrupted as the ground next to him lit up briefly — and then exploded. He reflexively shielded his face from debris as he scrambled away from the house and attempted to climb over the fence again, this time succeeding due to being on the side with the cross-supports. As he tumbled to the ground on the other side, the entire lawn erupted as EA’s mech crashed down into it, having jumped clear over the two-story house from the backyard. It whipped around toward Austin and reared up its head, revealing a small gun mounted on the underside. Without wasting any more time to stare down its barrel, Austin clapped his hands, focused… and then launched himself into the air just in time to evade being obliterated by a laser. He hung in the air over the mech for a moment, staring at his hands in awe as EA looked up at him.
“…Ha HA!” Austin whooped and pumped his fist triumphantly. “I can fly!”
EA gave Austin little chance to revel in his newfound technique — several slots in the back of the Bug Crawler opened up, each launching a small self-guided rocket aimed at Austin. He promptly dived to the side, flying low to the ground as he rushed out to the street and away from his thoroughly-wrecked house. “Mom and Dad ain’t gonna be happy about this,” he muttered to himself as he managed to outmaneuver the rockets and cause them all to explode some distance away. However he had no experience with flight, and the effort required just to evade the rockets meant that he failed to accurately gauge just how close to the ground he was. He yelped painfully as he skid and then rolled across the pavement, but he quickly picked himself up and brushed himself off — just in time to dive out of the way as EA’s mech landed in the middle of the street, sending the sounds of crushed cars and pavement echoing down the block. The mech’s tail whipped up and exposed a laser cannon mounted to its end as it began firing at Austin, but he quickly clapped and lifted back up into the air, at which point he began trying to evade the gun. As the gun fired lasers, it was impossible to see where it was firing until its target erupted in an explosion of energy, so Austin was left to simply make himself too difficult to aim at — which itself proved rather difficult.
After several stray explosions, Austin launched himself over the mech and landed on the road behind it, where he slammed his fist into a vacant SERRCom truck. He winced from the impact, but quickly moved his attention back to the truck as he manipulated it into the air and then launched it at the Bug Crawler. It impacted with the loud screeching sound of crushing metal, causing the surface of the mech to light up brilliantly as its energy shield absorbed the incoming kinetic energy. Ah ha! This should do it! Austin smirked to himself as he backpeddled to another truck, slapped it, and threw it at the mech just like he had the first. As the second vehicle was flying through the air, the mech jumped and spun around, bringing its head back to face Austin and deflecting the truck with its tail. Not to be deterred, Austin launched a third truck at the mech… only for it to catch the vehicle in its pincers. It then tossed the crushed mass into the air and spiked it with its tail as though it were a volleyball, sending it careening toward Austin.
“Eh—?” Austin stumbled backwards as a large, disk-shaped projectile flew through the air and crashed into the flying vehicle and knocked it back, clear of Austin. He barely had time to recover as a car zoomed past him, slamming into the mech — while at the same time, Spike came rolling to a stop by Austin’s side, having just jumped clear of said car.
“Spike!” Austin’s eyes lit up. “You’re alright!”
“Yeah… just suddenly showed up a few blocks over,” he responded as he stretched and cracked his knuckles. “Looks like I got here just in time. …Why does this thing look familiar?”
“We’ll have time to talk about that later— look out!!” Austin dove into Spike, knocking the both of them to the side as the Bug Crawler brought its tail laser to bear. The spot where they had stood barely a second early promptly exploded, sending the both of them tumbling along the ground. Spike recovered almost immediately, jumping back to his feet and summoning a massive shield to block the next laser blast. But the mech’s high-energy beam obliterated the shield, staggering Spike and leaving him open to attack — yet before EA could follow up, another truck smashed into the mech’s side. A second truck quickly followed, diverting EA’s attention away from Spike, who took advantage of the opening to wind up a punch and slam his fist into the mech’s front right leg. Its energy shield shimmered brilliantly, covering nearly the entire leg and protecting it from harm — but the sheer force from Spike’s punch still caused the leg to buckle, sending the mech stumbling to its side. Spike promptly grabbed the other front leg, encircling it with his arms as he attempted to pull it off, but a second later the mech simply flicked him away, sending him flying into a nearby house.
Austin watched Spike in alarm, but quickly shook off his concern. Spike was a Forcetechnic — he’d survived fiercer blows than that over the past week and a half. But as Austin turned his attention back to EA’s mech, he noticed EA refocusing on him, and with his supply of vacant trucks dwindling, Austin found himself in a tight spot. He quickly clapped his hands and then shot off into the air, narrowly avoiding another laser blast as he flew over to the wreckage of one of the trucks he had previously used as a projectile. He slapped it and began lifting it into the air; however, manipulating an object through the air required significant effort, and while he was moving a truck, he couldn’t move himself. So when he saw a salvo of rockets homing in on him right as he launched the truck wreck at the mech, he panicked and reflexively shielded his face with his arms instead of attempting to move out of the way.
But before the rockets came too close, a jet of water burst through the air and sliced each one in half, causing them all to prematurely detonate. The mech began turning to identify the source of the attack, but water promptly inundated the street, causing the mech to lose its footing and haphazardly fall to the ground again. Without wasting a second, Spike bounded across the lawn and leaped forward, spiking the cockpit with enough force to shatter the canopy through the energy shield and slam the whole unit into the street, creating a small crater. He was promptly knocked back by the mech’s tail, but landed feet-first and dashed forward to continue his assault.
“Austin! You’re okay!!”
“Twy! You’re back!” He glanced over as she rushed to his side, floating in a water bubble that was itself floating in the air.
“Where’s Sky?” Twy questioned as she kept a watchful eye on EA’s mech, “or the rest of the SERRCom forces?”
“Dunno. I think EA beamed ‘em all away, scattered them across the city or somethin’.”
“Why would he do that? If he can just beam us away on a whim, then…”
“Fuck if I know what’s goin’ through that bastard’s head. But we gotta beat up that mech he’s piloting, he’s already wrecked half the neighborhood—! Whoa—!”
Austin braced himself as Spike slammed into him, having been thrown back by the mech’s tail. The two tumbled to the ground again, Spike barely able to summon another shield to protect them from an incoming laser blast. A second blast blew the shield away, exposing them both, but before the laser could fire again Austin slapped himself on the arm and grabbed Spike by the collar of his shirt, throwing them both to the side. Spike landed on his feet and immediately charged at the mech, summoning another shield to protect himself as Twy began firing jets of water at the Bug Crawler’s hind legs. The mech’s shields flared up again, signaling that Twy was doing at least some amount of damage, but EA’s attention remained focused on Spike. The Crawler began stepping back, swinging the tip of its tail down and in front of the cockpit in an effort to swipe Spike away — then, a moment later, the unidentifiable wreckage of a truck swung through the air by Spike’s side and up at the tail, knocking it out of the way. Spike threw up a quick thumbs-up to acknowledge Austin before balling his fingers into a fist and slamming it into the mech’s leg, toppling it again. Austin immediately followed by slamming the truck wreck into the mech’s topside with such force that it completely collapsed; Twy then siphoned enough water out of the surrounding environment to completely encase the mech in a bubble of water. Then, her entire body tense in concentration, she began attempting to crush the giant machine with the water surrounding it — its entire surface promptly lit up as its energy shield fought against the pressure of the surrounding water. But the pressure wasn’t enough — one step at a time, the mech slowly turned toward Twy and brought its tail-mounted laser cannon to bear.
“Sis! Get back!!”
Twy barely had time to acknowledge the command before the giant water bubble exploded into steam, obscuring half the street in a white cloud and throwing boiling-hot water droplets across the entire block. Spike immediately summoned two shields, holding one over his head and throwing the other toward Austin, who managed to slap it in the air and then manipulate it to sit just over himself and Twy, shielding them both. Once the brief rainfall subsided, they looked back at the mech — and then at Sky, who had just burst onto the scene and was now launching waves of fire to clear out the steam. As the flames rolled over the mech, its surface flared up again, a sign that the energy shields were still active. But Sky remained undeterred, using sustained combustion underfoot to keep herself airborne as she continued lobbing fireballs at the giant machine. A moment later, the hatches on its back opened up, giving way to another salvo of rockets… which Sky spotted and immediately detonated with a blast of fire. Half of the rockets were only halfway through the mech’s shielding when they exploded, causing substantial damage to the launch bays — but more importantly than that, the mech’s entire surface briefly flashed a bright white before a sort of static effect swept across its armor. Austin took advantage of the opening to lob his shield at the mech, and when it hit, no light was produced.
“Alright! The shield’s down!!” he shouted at Spike and Sky, “one more good hit, and the whole thing’s down!”
“I don’t think so.”
Austin flinched, startled by EA’s first words since the beginning of the battle. But before he could respond, the mech jumped high in the air, clearing a distance of several houses before crashing back down to the street in the middle of a cul-de-sac. It then whipped around to face the four, extended two flaps of metal from its back, and lowered its tail to mount the tip against the flaps.
“You’ve done better than I expected!” EA shouted over the mech’s loudspeakers, “you managed to take down the energy shield. Good job! But I think it’s time to end this little game.”
“Shit, shit!” Austin immediately grabbed Twy’s arm and rushed toward the nearest house. “Everyone!” he yelled back toward the street, “take cover!!”
Sky glanced his way in confusion, but Spike reacted faster, grabbing her out of the air and tucking her under his arm as he made a mad dash for Austin and Twy. Austin peeked out of cover momentarily, just to keep an eye on EA’s mech — and then widened his eyes in horror as the house across the street exploded.
“What the hell?!” Sky exclaimed, “what was that?!”
“The mech has a laser…” Austin scowled. “EA must be pumpin’ more power into it than he was before—!”
Austin flinched as the house next door to the one they were hiding behind exploded in a burst of energy.
“…Let’s try something,” Spike muttered as he summoned another shield in his hand. He then tossed the shield out toward the street; it was annihilated before it even hit the ground.
“Well… shit,” Sky swore. “What do we do now?!”
“If only I could get close enough to touch it, then I could just flip it and smash it into the ground or somethin’…” Austin frowned. “But we’re too far away…”
“And the moment we go out there—” Spike paused momentarily as another house across the street ceased to exist. “…Well, that’ll happen.”
“So if we move at all, we’ll get shot by a massive laser?!” Sky rapidly glanced between Austin and Spike, her eyes wide with panic. “There— there has to be a way around this!”
“…There is,” Twy spoke up. “…I have an idea…”
Austin, Spike, and Sky listened attentively as Twy outlined her plan, punctuated by the continued sounds of houses being wiped off the face of the earth. A minute later, Spike and Austin exchanged uneasy glances as Sky grabbed her sister by her shoulders.
“You can’t seriously expect—!”
“No, she’s right,” Spike interjected. “…If we wait, the other SERRCom forces might show up and take out the mech for us, but we don’t know if we have that long. There are only so many houses on this street.”
“I hope they’re all empty,” Austin muttered. “It’s at least midday, but still…”
“All the more reason to hurry this up,” Twy urged as she shook Sky off of her. “We need to move now!”
“On it!” Spike whirled around and summoned a massive tower shield in each hand. He chucked one into the street, charging after it a second later as it was blown to smithereens. Almost immediately, he jumped and placed the remaining shield under his feet just as Sky ignited the air beneath him, causing an explosion that launched him into the air — and avoided the next laser shot. As he soared through the air, he began summoning and throwing shields at a rapid pace, launching each of them at the ground with enough force to lodge them in the street and create dozens of cover opportunities. He then created one more shield to protect himself as the mech’s tail flashed, prompting another laser blast that obliterated Spike’s shield and sent him flying backward, where he tumbled to the ground in a painful roll. But thanks to his Forcetechnic durability, he was able to immediately jump back to his feet and rush for the nearest shield as Sky and Twy rushed out to take cover behind other shields. Twy quickly began gathering together all of the water she had used to submerge the mech the first time, forming a massive water bubble in the middle of the street that also served to lessen the power of the incoming laser by diffracting it. The next blast exploded against one of the shields in the road, this time merely blowing it backwards instead of destroying it outright. Just as it tumbled past, Sky and Twy leaped out of cover and rushed forwards, pushing the water bubble ahead of them. A moment later, Twy doubled back as Sky rapidly superheated the water, causing another steam explosion that obscured the entire street.
The twins immediately took cover behind a nearby shield as Spike rushed forward, using the cover of steam to advance undetected. He grit his teeth as he entered the hot environment, stopping momentarily to summon two more shields and throw them out of the steam cloud in two different directions. As soon as he heard one of them explode, he burst out of the steam cloud, protecting himself with a third shield as he charged toward a house that had not yet been destroyed. He managed to evade two laser blasts as he moved, but the moment he took cover behind the house’s wall it was blown to smithereens, knocking him back. He tumbled along the ground, taking hits from all manner of hot and sharp debris but coming out with only scratches. “Shit, this whole passive durability thing might be more useful than the super strength itself,” he muttered as he picked himself up and shook himself off. He promptly hid behind a piece of wall that was still standing; peeking out, he could tell that EA and his mech were only two more houses down. He glanced across the street, noting the twins as they took cover across from him. With a curt nod, he summoned another shield and dashed out into the street again, prepared to take another laser blast—
—only for the Bug Crawler to lunge forward with incredible speed, knocking Spike’s shield away with its tail and then pinning him to the ground with its front leg. Sky immediately made to attack, but the tail whipped around toward her, prompting her to take cover again.
“Not bad, not bad…” EA offered Spike a pained smirk as he stared at him through the broken canopy of the cockpit. “I wasn’t sure if you’d pick up on the laser’s firing interval, or the fact that I needed a sight-line to attack… well, mostly. But since you did, it made my job a lot easier.”
Spike scowled. The mech wasn’t putting down enough pressure to actually crush him, but with his back to the ground and his arms pinned at his sides, it was impossible for him to get the leverage needed to lift the mech off of him.
EA cocked his head. “Got nothin’ to say?”
“Tch…” Spike snorted. “…Think you’re so smart, huh?”
“Well, yeah. I am an Intellitechnic.”
“Hah. …You’re missin’ somethin’… real obvious…”
“Huh…?” EA narrowed his eyes, and then snapped his attention toward where Twy and Sky were hiding. “…Shit, Fakie—!”
Austin dived toward EA from above and slammed his fist into the impostor’s face. Then, using his Imperator powers, Austin telekinetically ripped EA out of the Bug Crawler’s cockpit and threw him at the ground some distance away; following that, he slapped the mech’s exterior and began straining to lift it. He managed to raise it off of the ground enough for Spike to scuttle out from underneath, at which point Spike grabbed the leg, tore it off at the hinge, and then swung it down on the mech’s cockpit like a massive bat. The cockpit unit completely sheared off of the mech from the blow, causing the giant machine to crumple to the ground, lifeless.
Austin alighted on the ground next to Spike. They glanced at each other, grinned, and exchanged a firm fist-bump.
“Ha! What took you so damn long?”
“Hey, I was bein’ cautious. I can’t take lasers to the face and survive like you can.”
“Heh…” Spike snorted in amusement, and then turned back toward EA. Twy had immobilized him by trapping his hands and feet in water bubbles from which he couldn’t escape.
EA struggled briefly, though when he realized that the water shackles were surprisingly secure, he simply turned his attention toward Austin. “Where did you even come from?”
“Really didn’t see me comin’, eh?” Austin remarked triumphantly. “I was sneakin’ around the alleyways to get behind you. Spike, Twy, and Sky were just distractions!”
“Right…” EA glanced toward Twy. “So this was your idea, yeah?”
“It was,” Twy responded, ignoring Austin’s indignant outburst.
“Tch…” EA smirked spitefully. “Looks like I underestimated y’all.”
“Even more proof that you aren’t me.” Austin stepped forward to stare down at his physical counterpart. “I wouldn’t’ve been that careless.”
“The hell’re you talkin’ about?” Spike refuted, “you’re careless all the damn time.”
“Heh, guess you’re right…” EA sighed. “…Suppose I’ll have to work on that for next time.”
“There won’t be a ‘next time,’” Twy countered. “We have you pinned. Once SERRCom gets here, you’ll be locked up for good.”
“And then we can get on with our lives,” Austin added as he glanced around at the ruined neighborhood. “…Though… now that we’re done fighting… this looks really bad…”
“Yes, well, hate to break it to ya…” EA grinned. “But y’all are gonna have to hang on just a little while longer. I’m not done yet.”
“What?…” Austin snapped his attention back to EA as Spike and Sky backed away cautiously. “…The hell are you talkin’ about?”
“Just think, Fakie. I beamed away everyone else who was here so that we could fight. So why do you think I can’t beam away myself?”
The two stared at each other briefly — EA in triumph, and Austin in disbelief.
Austin then lunged for his impostor, his arm outstretched. “No—!”
“See y’all later!” EA chuckled before disappearing in a flash of light just before Austin dived into his former location.
Twy sighed impatiently as she allowed the now-empty water shackles to disperse. “Great. Just great.”
“He got away!” Sky exclaimed, “come on! How did he do that?! We had him!”
“I guess he ain’t workin’ alone…” Spike mused. “…That would explain a lot, actually.”
“That’s not the worst of it.” Austin scowled. “He got away. That means we failed to catch him! Do you know what that means?!”
“Yep…” Spike pursed his lips, glancing off to the side as Mote and Danielle dashed into view. “…Looks like we’ll be with SERRCom for a while longer…”