Chapter 12 – Negated Mysteries

Several Hours Later

When I heard that a SERRCom facility was under attack… I didn’t think that anyone was referring to a dam.

Well maybe you just shouldn’t be so close-minded, then, Kate retorted.

That’s not what I meant. Mote shot her an impatient glance. How the hell is a dam on Earth a ‘SERRCom facility’?

The dam uses SERRCom tech, so it’s being overseen by SERRCom. It is, therefore, a SERRCom facility. Duh.

Right… Mote simply nodded along, not fully convinced by Kate’s explanation. He then turned his attention back to the environment around him: a large dam over three miles long, currently under construction across the mouth of the San Francisco Bay. Over forty years ago, during the Chaos Energy Quake of 2088, Earth was rocked by a number of devastating natural disasters — including two massive earthquakes along the west cost of North America. San Francisco was hardly the only city impacted by the quakes, but the incredible geological event actually depressed the land around the bay; when combined with collapsing flood barriers and rising sea levels due to climate change, over half of the peninsula and much of the other land that bordered the bay became permanently submerged. The San Francisco Bay Area Reclamation Project was an attempt to change that, by damming the mouth of the bay and then slowly draining water over time so as to recover lost land. It wasn’t quite a financially feasible project given regular Earthian technology and the state of the global economy, but SERRCom’s anti-gravity technology made the construction process significantly cheaper and easier, and their beaming technology could easily streamline the draining process, allowing SERRCom to swoop in, save the project, and curry favor with the American public — all at minimal financial cost. Mote himself had visited the dam a couple times as part of SERRCom publicity stunts, so he was familiar with its existence… but to refer to it as a ‘SERRCom facility’ seemed to him to be a major misnomer.

As he continued to walk along the top of the under-construction dam with Kate and Danielle in tow, he found himself looking out west. The sun nearly touched the ocean horizon, resulting in a fantastic display of nigh-sunset color that tinted the whole area orange. Mote regarded the sunset as a pleasant sight, but nevertheless scowled as he beheld it. He had first heard of an attack on the dam at noon on the east coast, yet it had taken almost half a day for him to receive clearance to investigate with the Eximius Vir. Furthermore, everything he had heard during that time pointed to EA being the instigator — and that robots had been dropped all over the Bay Area, not just at the dam. On top of that, most of the robot forces seemed to have been eliminated by an unknown force. Mote remained utterly baffled as to why it took so long to get mission clearance given those circumstances, and he was further frustrated that he was sent to investigate the dam instead of the robots that were actually attacking civilians, or the unknown force that defeated most of them. Still, orders were orders, so investigate the dam he would. At least it was cleared of construction workers and guard staff, so that he and the others could conduct their work in peace.

Man, this is fucking boring.

…In relative peace, that is.

Mote cast toward Kate a frustrated glare. Don’t you have any inventing to do right now?

Nah, she replied airily. I’ve been in the lab all week anyways, I was getting bored. And it’s been a while since I saw some action, so I thought, why the hell not tag along?! She then looked over at Danielle. …Though that was when I thought it was just gonna be me and Danielle. Then your sorry ass had to show up.

I’m the leader of the team, Mote responded in exasperation. And it hasn’t even been a week since our last mission!

Yeah, that’s not what you told me, anyways, Kate, Danielle spoke up. You said that you wanted to see Mote—

I said I wanted to see the armor, Kate interjected. It’s not my fault that only dumbass here can wear it.

Mote looked down at himself and the armor he was wearing. While Kate and Danielle wore the Chaos Energy-based Powered Armor that was normal for the Eximius Vir, Mote currently had on the ancient Aldredian armor. He frowned; the armor itself was a decent fit, but the robing that covered it all over made him uncomfortable — not to mention the fact that the armor was supposedly an ancient artifact. Simply taking it out for a spin as a normal set of armor seemed incredibly short-sighted.

I suppose it was your fault that the General ordered me to wear this thing, then? Mote questioned as he turned toward Kate.

Well, yeah. Kate crossed her arms. It’s not like you were ever gonna wear it on your own. This way, I get to actually see the damn thing in action! Maybe something cool will happen!

Like what? Danielle asked eagerly.

Like, I dunno. Maybe some secret weapons whip out when Mote needs them most, or maybe it’s got flying thrusters, or invisibility tech, you know… stuff like that.

Maybe it’ll manifest the ability to make other people shut up at will, Mote replied flatly.

Kate simply flipped Mote off in response as Danielle giggled.

Mote then turned around to focus on the path in front of him as the three continued along the top of the dam. They had covered over a mile at this point from their starting point on the peninsula, leaving them almost at the halfway point of the dam’s length. Signs of battle damage or any intruders had been nonexistent, which utterly baffled Mote — according to every report he had heard so far, at least a dozen robots had been dropped on the dam, and a further two dozen throughout the Bay Area. With the exception of EA’s battle with Austin and his friends back in Texas, all of EA’s attacks had been ultimately ineffectual, and his attack now in the Bay Area seemed as though it would have the same result. Something about that didn’t sit right with Mote, however; why would EA mobilize three dozen robots, and then do nothing with them? Furthermore, he hadn’t even claimed responsibility for the attack. Mote hadn’t the slightest idea what EA was after, and attempting to work out reasons in his head yielded only frustration.

The Electrotechnic’s thoughts eventually drifted back to his armor. It did seem to be special in some capacity, considering that someone had set up a special ‘tomb’ of sorts to preserve it for thousands of years. But the actual qualities that made it unique escaped Mote; aside from its dramatic and mysteriously familiar appearance, what made it different from modern day armor? And now that he thought about it, isn’t this exactly what Kate was supposed to be determining when she so rudely interrupted his reading time a few days ago?

Hey, Kate, he eventually spoke up after a prolonged period of silence, from what you said earlier, it sounds like you don’t know much about this armor. Is that right?

Mote was facing forward as he spoke, with Kate out of sight behind him — but he could still hear the scowl on her face as she replied, are you trying to say that I don’t know what I’m doing? I’ll have you know—!

No, that’s not what I meant, Mote countered. But I thought you were studying the armor already. Don’t tell me you haven’t been able to learn anything.

Of course I’ve learned stuff. I’m not a fucking idiot, it’s just, you know… it’s, er, mildly difficult to interface with the armor’s computer systems. Lots of weird and unfamiliar protocols. There isn’t really a hardware port, either. Not as far as I could tell, at least. See, on normal armor you can plug a wire right into the—

Mote stopped walking and turned around to face Kate, his arms crossed in impatience. I know how regular armor works. What I want to know is how this armor is different.

It looks cooler, Danielle offered. Like a sci-fi mage, or something!

’It looks cool’ isn’t a primary driver of armor design, though.

Actually, that’s not entirely true, Kate countered, buuuut I won’t talk your ear off about that. Some of those Black Suns designs are pretty damn slick, though!

Mote sighed. This armor, Kate. He gestured down at himself. I’m asking about this one.

Don’t talk down to me like that, she huffed. But I guess you should know that it runs on Chaos Energy.

That’s not any different from our usual armor.

No, I mean it runs solely on Chaos Energy. There’s no electrical batteries or capacitors anywhere. If that thing ends up in a CENT field then it just shuts down completely.

Then why the hell am I wearing it on an active mission?

Oh c’mon, we don’t run into CENT fields that often. Besides, everyone knows that tech that runs solely on Chaos Energy is, like, super fucking powerful. Just look at the Genesis as an example of that!

Alright, just how powerful is this armor, then?

Kate glanced away conspicuously. I, uh… well, it’s really hard to tell.

She doesn’t know, Danielle whispered loudly.

But it’s not my fault I don’t know! Kate quickly added. As I said, it’s pretty hard to interface with that fucking armor! Sarah and Kirstin couldn’t pull out the specs either, so it’s not like I’m fucking slacking off or something.

Mote simply rolled his eyes as he turned around and continued walking. Right, I’m sure. So you didn’t figure out anything else, huh?

I didn’t say that.

Really. What else do you know, then?

Well, you said that the armor had a helmet when you first found it, right?

Mote paused momentarily as he thought back to the moment he first discovered the armor. …It did, he eventually replied. It had an upside-down version of the sword emblem you see on the chest plate… why do you ask?

Well you’re obviously not wearing the helmet now, so where’d it go?

The Electrotechnic glanced back at Kate, who met his eyes with a questioning expression. He then glanced down; it hadn’t even occurred to him that every time he put the armor on after finding it, the helmet was gone.

Figures you didn’t realize, Kate continued with a roll of her eyes. I think it’s got something to do with that weird-ass storage mechanism. The whole weird ‘materializing’ and ‘de-materializing’ thing. Kind of like our special weapons, now that I think about it…

What does that have to do with the helmet? Danielle questioned.

It implies that the armor is modular… I think, Kate responded. I mean, clearly Mote can summon the thing without the helmet. Maybe there’s other parts that he can choose to summon and disappear at will.

Mote immediately glanced down at himself as he willed the armor’s robing away. Dismissing the armor and returning it to its storage device required only a single thought, so clearly removing the robing would be similarly easy… except that it remained. He tugged at the cloth articles in irritation before looking back to Kate.

She shrugged. Hey, it was just a suggestion.

Some suggestion—

Sssshhh!

Mote and Kate both turned their attention toward Danielle, who was holding up a finger as she stared into the distance. Her eyes were narrowed, and the shape of her pupils was deformed, resembling that of a hawk. She then turned her head and cupped her hand around her ear. As she did so, Mote quietly summoned his battlehammer; he was well aware of Danielle’s quirks, and of her ability to transform parts of her body to enhance her senses. If she thought she sensed something, then more likely than not, trouble was afoot.

…I hear fighting, she whispered after a few moments of silence. It sounds like robots… like EA’s robots.

EA? Kate’s face scrounged up in incredulity. That weird evil twin of the wimpy newbie? Is he really behind all this shit? I thought he got his ass beat.

No. The recruits destroyed his mech, but he himself managed to escape. Furthermore, according to the reports, the appearance of the robots that were spotted in the area match the other robots we’ve seen EA using, so it’s likely that he’s behind everything. And as much as I hate to say it, his tech — wherever the hell it came from — is a credible threat to SERRCom, so whatever he’s doing… Mote scowled. Danielle! Rapid entry!

Got it! she responded as she leaped into the air and transformed into a small fighter jet. Two mechanical arms extended out of the jet’s underside to grab Mote and Kate before Danielle shot off along the top of the dam, covering half a mile in the blink of an eye before releasing Mote and Kate and transforming back into her normal self. As the three tumbled through the air, Mote used his magnetic manipulation powers to slow their descent, allowing them to hit the ground at a measly speed of under a hundred meters per second. Kate stumbled and ended up sprawled on her back, but both Mote and Danielle gracefully rolled to a stop, with Mote leaping out of the roll in preparation to attack… only to discover a fairly confusing scene.

In front of them was one of the wider finished areas of the dam, nearly a hundred meters across. All along the edges were construction equipment and tethered supplies… as well as the wrecked remains of three robots. Closer inspection revealed that the robots were of a similar make to the ones EA used to attack SERRCom bases several weeks ago, but that wasn’t the part Mote was concerned about. Several meters over, along the edge of the dam facing the ocean, was a dark-clothed man who was dragging a fourth robot over the edge.

Hey! Mote shouted toward him, who are you? What happened here?

The man snapped his gaze toward the three members of the Eximius Vir, revealing that his face was covered by a demon mask. Mote narrowed his eyes, but before he could open his mouth to speak again, the man spun on his heel and launched himself through the air at Mach speeds.

Shit—! Danielle!

On it! she yelled in reply, and then transformed back into a jet. She grabbed Mote as she took off through the air, rapidly accelerating to supersonic speeds to intercept the fleeing man. Within the span of mere seconds, she had caught up to him and maneuvered to be just below him as he fell back to the ground; she then rolled over, allowing Mote to spot the man and grab him out of the air. A second mechanical arm extended from the jet to secure the man as Danielle looped up through the air and then back to the dam, where they left Kate. As she flew over, she released Mote and the mystery man, allowing them to fall to the ground as she looped back around herself.

As Mote and the unknown man tumbled to the ground, Kate jumped back and fabricated a variety of explosives to block the dam pathway. Mote quickly created a lightning storm behind him to block it off in the opposite direction — and then, for good measure, when Danielle returned to the group, she transformed into a massive barricade to help Kate block her side of the dam.

The masked man jumped to his feet after recovering from the tumble and quickly glanced about him. Judging from his quick launch earlier and his rapid movements now, Mote deduced that the man was most likely a Velocitechnic — a Chaotic whose power was super speed. He also seemed to be around six feet tall, with a slim, athletic build… but the rest of the man’s body was obscured by his demon mask and dark clothing. He clearly didn’t want people to know who he was, but Mote wasn’t about to let that stop him.

You’re surrounded! Mote shouted, prompting the man to turn towards him. You should first know that we speak on behalf of SERRCom. Evading us counts as evading the highest law in the Earthian Territories!

“Oh fuck off,” the man countered. “That isn’t even close to true. Everyone knows that SERRCom shouldn’t have authority on Earth itself.”

You’re trespassing on SERRCom property, dumbass, Kate retorted.

And we found you disposing of criminal evidence, as well, Mote added.

“Are you— are you serious?” The man turned to look at Mote, though his mask hid any expression he might be making. “I’m just cleaning up after myself. It’s common decency, you know.”

Mote’s expression hardened with irritation. This isn’t your place to clean up.

“Like hell it isn’t! I live here, dude, and it’s because of your stupid dam that these robots were marching all over the Bay! You had hours to deal with it — it was all over the damn news, but you didn’t even show up until now. So much for being Earth’s ‘heroes’, huh? I’ve done a way better job of it than you.”

Mote scowled — it wasn’t his fault that he had been prevented from addressing the attacks sooner, but he had a feeling that the masked man wouldn’t accept that explanation. At least I know he’s Earthian, if he really does live around here and knows about the Eximius Vir. But this also means that there are more unaccounted-for Chaotics on the loose… Wait. Could he be the unknown force responsible for defeating all those robots in the city?The Electrotechnic then raised his voice, questioning, when did you discover your abilities? Are you a friend of Austin Travis?

The man paused for a moment before replying, “who’s Austin? …Wait, do you mean that dude who’s evil twin blew up Dallas, or some shit? And who you arrested for no damn reason?”

I’d think blowing up a city is a fantastic reason for arresting someone! Kate countered.

Even so, he didn’t ‘blow up Dallas.’ The damage from that battle was confined to a single neighborhood, Mote corrected. And the arrest occurred before then, but was still justified.

“Yeah, because SERRCom can’t help but abduct regular people when it’s in their best interests, right?” the masked man retorted.

It isn’t just our best interest. Leaving untrained Chaotics on the streets is a massive liability.

“Ha! Yeah fucking right. And you wonder why I decided to run the moment you showed up.”

Mote… Danielle’s head appeared on the barricade, allowing her to speak. I think you’re getting distracted here…

I’d say I’m perfectly on topic, Mote responded sharply, his attention never once leaving the unknown man. We’ve just discovered evidence that there are more Earthian Chaotics. On top of that, he might be the ‘unknown force’ mentioned in the earlier reports. This is immensely pertinent to SERRCom’s operations.

But it’s not what I came here for, damn it! Kate crossed her arms and stomped the ground impatiently. I heard there was a fight, I came here for a fucking fight! And then we get here and this fucking stupid-looking dumbass already did our jobs!

Keep a lid on it! You chose to come on this mission, don’t complain when it doesn’t go your way!

“Holy shit, is this really what passes for ‘heroes’ in SERRCom?” the masked man remarked.

Tch… Mote glared at the man before pointing at Danielle. Apprehend him. I’m sure the Director can get him to be more cooperative.

“Like hell I’m going with you guys,” the man countered. He then spun on his heel; Mote immediately reacted to strike him with lightning, but the bolt failed to manifest just short of the man — at the same moment he tripped and went sprawling across the pavement.

Shit…! Mote rapidly began inspecting his surroundings. Only one thing could nullify an attack like that: a CENT field. And while Mote himself could use his powers inside of a CENT field, his ability to manipulate electricity or magnetism still dropped off sharply with distance when he had no access to Chaos Energy. But that field wasn’t there before, it only showed up just now. So where—?

In the middle of his thought, two robots appeared in the air directly over the masked man. Mote noted that they faded into existence in much the same way that the Battlecruiser Genesis did when deactivating her ACS, but even more notable than that were the robots’ appearances. They looked incredibly similar to the other robots EA had used against SERRCom, but these two appeared to be somewhat more lithe, and sported massive mechanical wings on their backs that looked similar to those of a bird’s. Both robots wore silverish-blue armor and had large black orbs in the upper center of their chests, which Mote guessed to be an optical sensor of sorts. Just below their sensors was an insignia that Mote hadn’t seen before: a blue circle with two horizontal black bars and two vertical black bars, interwoven with each other and the circle.

Before Mote could study the robots further, however, one of them swooped down and grabbed the masked man. Mote immediately moved to strike it down, but the other robot fired a cannon at him, striking him squarely in the forehead and launching him backwards. Momentarily disoriented, the Electrotechnic could barely regain his bearings before the two robots took to the air over the eastern waters.

Fucking finally! A goddamn fight! Kate grinned as she fabricated a rocket launcher out of thin air and took aim. Just before she could fire, however, a bolt of lightning struck the rocket’s warhead, causing it to explode in her face. Her armor’s energy shielding easily absorbed the blow, but she still stumbled backwards, coughing, and then turned toward Mote in fury. What the hell was that—?!

Those robots are using CENT fields, you idiot! Mote interjected. Other Chaotics don’t hold on to their powers in a CENT field like we do. If you hit that robot with an explosive while it was holding that man then you could have killed him!

Oh yeah? Well what are you going to fucking do, then?!

Go after them! He began running toward the dam’s edge. Danielle! Air formation!

Got it! Danielle replied eagerly. As Mote leaped over the dam’s edge, she launched her barricade self into the air by transforming her bottom half into a springboard; then, mid-air, she latched on to Mote’s back and transformed into a large jetpack with a shoulder-mounted railgun.

Mote! Damn it, Mote! Kate shouted after him, your armor doesn’t work in CENT fields, dumbass!!

I hardly need the armor against a couple robots, anyways! Mote shot back. He could see Kate shaking her fist at him and moving her mouth in some kind of response, but he was already well out of hearing range by then. He turned his attention toward the two flying robots as they sped off across the bay waters. …Alright, Danielle. Leave the one holding the suspect to me. Do whatever you want to the other one!

Understood! One pin-cushioned robot, coming right up! she replied through a speaker manifested on the side of the jetpack. The shoulder-mounted railgun then began taking aim on its own as Mote focused on maneuvering through the air. This was hardly the first time he had engaged in aerial combat with Danielle in the form of a jetpack, but it had still been a while — and the last time, he hadn’t been fighting CENT field-wielding robots that also held a hostage.

I almost prefer fighting Drakkars, he thought to himself in frustration. At least then I don’t have to hold back, or worry about CENT field nonsense!

The shoulder railgun fired, bringing Mote’s attention to the robots. The projectile impacted the trailing robot, knocking it off course; Mote immediately followed by lashing out with a bolt of lightning, yet while the bolt managed to successfully connect, he could tell that it was weaker than he intended. With a scowl, he straightened himself and tightened his form to increase his speed through the air, rapidly gaining on the two robots as he summoned his massive battlehammer. Danielle fired twice more on the trailing robot as Mote passed it; the first shot hit, but the robot dove out of the way of the second bullet before ascending upwards and straight into Mote. It snatched him out of the air and held him close as the second robot spun around and took aim with its gun; Mote immediately blasted the robot that was holding him with an intense electrical charge, launching himself downward just as the second robot fired, thereby hitting the first robot instead. Danielle then corrected Mote’s course and zoomed off toward the robot holding onto the masked man, exchanging railgun shots with the other robot as she did so. Mote readily pumped extra electricity into Danielle’s railgun each time it fired, increasing its power several times over until they closed to within a few meters of the hostage-holding robot. The Electrotechnic tightened his grasp on his battlehammer as he prepared to smash it into the robot’s wings, but just as he moved to attack, it swung around in the air and thrust the masked man toward him.

What—? Shit!! Mote quickly dismissed his hammer to prevent himself from accidentally crushing the hostage, while in the same moment Danielle activated the jetpack’s reverse thrusters to yank them away from the robot. Just as she did so, however, the robot lunged toward them — and then chucked the masked man through the air before using its now free hands to grab Mote. The other robot caught the hostage mid-air, leaving the first one to deal with the Electrotechnic. A hatch on its chest opened up, revealing some kind of cannon; Mote quickly began raising the voltage in his body in preparation to deal an incredible blow to the robot, but as he did so, he felt an odd draining sensation across his body. Is this robot stealing my energy? How the hell?! His brow furrowed in confusion and anger, Mote engaged a massive electrical blast against the robot — at the same time that both Danielle and the robot fired. The robot’s cannon turned out to be a laser as a blast of energy exploded across Mote’s chest; almost immediately afterward, a round from Danielle’s railgun pierced through the laser cannon, thoroughly destroying it — though the robot itself remained intact as it released Mote, dove through the air, and then sped off toward the other robot.

Mote watched the robot in mild confusion for a moment. He had thought that the robot was responsible for the draining sensation that he felt, but when its laser cannon fired on him, he found himself protected by an energy shield — by his armor. The same armor that was supposedly completely useless inside of a CENT field.

…Damn it, I just don’t know what’s happening anymore. But I can sort this out later, there’s more important things to worry about now! He sent himself into a dive, rapidly gathering speed before leveling out and rocketing forward — with the aid of a literal rocket engine that Danielle momentarily manifested from the jetpack. Within seconds, they were upon the two robots again; Danielle promptly transformed the rocket engine into a second railgun and began unloading into the robot that Mote had already damaged while he himself began firing lightning strike after lightning strike toward the robot now carrying the hostage. The strikes weakened just before reaching the robot due to its CENT field, but they were enough to momentarily lock up its systems, allowing Mote to rapidly gain on it and eventually reach it. He reached out with his hand and slapped the robot’s optical sensor on the way past, imparting an incredible electric shock as he did, thereby obliterating the sensor. The other robot immediately began firing on Mote with a wrist-mounted laser cannon, but Mote simply ignored the blasts as they exploded across his armor’s energy shielding and he summoned his battlehammer once again. With one powerful swing — aided by Danielle engaging her thrusters at just the perfect moments — Mote slammed his hammer down on the robot’s shoulder and completely sheared off its arm, but just before he did, the robot managed to toss the hostage through the air toward the other robot.

Mote scowled and began to fly toward the other robot, but just as he took off, the damaged robot behind him reached out with its good hand and grabbed one of Danielle’s railguns. Danielle promptly fired the gun, unloading a round straight into the robot’s knee — but it then ripped the gun off of the jetpack and tossed it aside. Mote immediately spun around in the air and slammed his hammer into the robot again, fighting the draining sensation he felt as he managed to smash his hammer across the robot’s chest and send it flying backwards. He then turned back around and sped off toward the hostage-holding robot. Damn it! Danielle, are you alright?

Perfectly fine! she responded cheerfully. Jetpacks can’t feel pain, you know?

They also don’t normally talk or automatically fire railguns, Mote thought to himself, but the battlefield was no place for banter. The robot holding the masked man was flying in a straight line to the south, at an altitude of over three kilometers; Mote rapidly closed the distance, ignoring just how high above the water he was as he prepared to transfer his forward momentum into a powerful hammer strike. Just as he was upon the robot, it swung around to thrust the masked man in the way of Mote’s hammer — but he anticipated the maneuver and simply dismissed his hammer as he harmlessly rocketed past the robot. Now behind it, Mote fired up Danielle’s reverse thrusters at full power and whipped around to slam his palm across the robot’s back, imparting enough of an electric shock to momentarily lock up its systems. He huffed as the draining sensation overtook him again, but he managed to fight it as he summoned his battlehammer once more and sheared off the robot’s wings with one mighty swing, sending it careening to the ground below… until the other robot zoomed into the scene and grabbed the falling one.

It’s still active? Damn it! Mote scowled in irritation as he dived toward the two robots. The wingless robot was still clutching to the masked man, but since it was being carried by the other robot, its ability to maneuver and use the hostage as a shield was greatly diminished — a fact that Mote eagerly took advantage of as he prepared to slam his hammer down on the winged robot from above. Just as he closed to within mere meters, however, the robot holding the masked man simply chucked him toward the bay waters below.

The hell?! The action distracted Mote for only a fraction of a second, but it was enough for the winged robot to dodge out of the way of his hammer. Danielle managed to land a shot on its torso with her railgun, causing even more damage to its already wrecked frame, but the robots continued flying on as Mote turned his attention to the falling man.

Go save him, Mote! Danielle shouted, I’ll keep the robots distracted!

Alright. I’m counting on you, Mote replied, and then threw himself into a head-long dive. He could see the masked man flailing in the distance as he rapidly approached the bay waters below.

1500 meters, 1400 meters…

Mote recalled that a fall from this height into water was just as bad as hitting solid ground. If the masked man was truly a Velocitechnic as Mote had surmised, then he ought to be able to survive the fall just fine, but even so…

1200 meters, 1000 meters…

Can’t risk that, though. Not with these surprise CENT-field wielding robots around. I have to reach him…!

Mote felt the jetpack railgun fire once, and then once again, followed by a projectile screaming past him — and then a laser blast exploding across his back. He tumbled out of control, momentarily disoriented as the world around him spun into a gradient of dusk-covered darkness, but within moments Danielle had managed to correct his course. Without wasting the time to thank her, he immediately scanned his surroundings to locate the masked man again, at which point he dove after him. Thanks to Danielle’s jetpack thrusters, Mote was able to rapidly close the vertical distance as Danielle continued to exchange weapons fire with the robots behind him; he then quickly slowed his descent speed to match the falling man before grabbing hold of his arms and engaging the jetpack thrusters to further slow their falling speed. By the time Mote thought to take another look ground-ward, he realized that it was now practically impossible to tell how high he was. The sun had now set, and as he was currently falling over the waters of the bay, there were no nearby lights nor landmarks to keep track of. As far as he could tell, he — along with Danielle and the masked man — were simply descending into a deep black abyss.

Shit! This stop won’t be pleasant. Good thing this guy is a Velocitechnic! Mote immediately pumped a massive electrical charge into Danielle’s jetpack thrusters as he engaged them all at full-burn, slowing his descent speed from near terminal velocity to zero over the span of a second. He paused momentarily to regain his bearings, at which point he noticed that the light from the jetpack thrusters was reflecting off of the water barely five meters below his feet.

Mote! Here they come!

The Electrotechnic snapped his attention upward to the two robots. It was difficult to make out any details in the constantly darkening dusk, but it seemed as though they both were missing more limbs than he recalled. Must be Danielle’s work, but they’re still active? This is ridiculous—! Mid-complaint, a realization dawned on Mote: he was hovering mere meters above the waters of an ocean-connected bay, and the robots were rapidly closing the distance on him.

Two laser blasts exploded against Mote’s energy shielding, sending him recoiling through the air, but he wasn’t focused on that. Instead, he slowly lowered himself toward the water’s surface as he rapidly increased the voltage through both his body and the waters below to incredible levels, all while ensuring that none of the current transfered into Danielle or the masked man. A second later, several sparks began to manifest under the water’s surface as the voltage in the environment continued to rise, at which point the robots seemed to realize what Mote was attempting and turned to leave — but it was too late. Not even half a second later, a bright streak of lightning leaped up from the waters and struck the two robots with such incredible energy that their armor plating exploded off of their frames, accompanied by a deafening crack of thunder that momentarily depressed the waters and then continued to sweep across the bay. Mote could feel the masked man recoiling from the noise as he held him, but the Electrotechnic simply watched the two wrecked robots with a smirk as they collapsed into the water, their circuits utterly fried and destroyed.

However, his moment of triumph did not last for long — he soon felt his altitude lowering even further as the jetpack thrusters faltered. Shit, that blast must’ve interfered with Danielle somehow. Well, I’m tired of the water anyways — time to get back to land. Mote hefted the masked man up into his arms proper, carrying him princess-style just as his feet began to dip into the water. He then leaned forward as he manipulated the electric currents in the water around his feet to form two virtual rails on either side of him, propelling himself forward like the projectile of a virtual railgun. Within seconds, he could see the shore, at which point he began to slow himself… but he misjudged the distance and hit the muddy shore while still at speed. He involuntarily let go of the masked man as they both tumbled along the ground and rolled unceremoniously to a stop.

As Mote laid on the ground, he couldn’t help but simply stop for a moment to catch his breath. He felt Danielle release him and saw her transform back into her normal body in his peripheral vision, but he simply laid on his back and looked skyward. No stars were visible; it wasn’t quite late enough in the day, and even if it was, the light pollution in the area would prevent him from seeing all but the brightest constellations. Even so, he didn’t often get this chance to simply gaze at the sky… and after that fight, he felt he deserved it.

“Fucking hell… what the hell just happened…?”

Mote turned his head to the side, where the masked man had recovered and gotten back to his feet. His clothes were covered in mud, and he had lost his demon mask in the chaos of the encounter, revealing a disheveled balaclava that failed to cover all of his hair — Mote made sure to note its color as dirty blond. I just saved you, that’s what happened, Mote eventually replied as he slowly sat up.

“Hmph. I could’ve saved myself…”

Really? How? Danielle questioned.

The masked man passed her an annoyed glance. “Look, don’t you assholes get all high-and-mighty on me. The only reason you saved me is because you could use your powers while I couldn’t. …Now that I think about it, how does that even work? That’s hella unfair.”

What? No, I wasn’t… Danielle looked over at Mote, confused, before turning back to the masked man. I was just curious…

There are lots of things that I’m curious about, as well, Mote stated as he climbed back to his feet. And now that the distraction is out of the way, how about we get back to our previous conversation?

The masked man scowled. “Oh fuck you, dude. I’m outta here!”

Wait—! Mote began, but the man disappeared in the blink of an eye, leaving behind only the chunks of mud that his high speed flung into the air.

Danielle began a partial transformation into a jet, but paused when Mote didn’t say anything. Uh… are we going after him?

The Electrotechnic stared into the distance. Catching the man on the dam had been easy, since there was only one direction for him to go — but now they stood on the southeastern shores of the San Francisco Bay. There were suburbs and city blocks in every direction, and when coupled with the rapidly approaching dark of night…

Mote slowly shook his head. No. He managed to escape us this time.

Oh… Danielle appeared crestfallen as she undid her partial transformation. She then forced a smile as she added, well, at least we figured out what was going on at the dam, right?

More EA activity… but we already knew that much, Mote muttered as he turned to gaze out over the bay. And then two robots that were more trouble than they’re worth, as well as yet another Earthian Chaotic. Damn it, we found more questions than we did answers. I’d have almost preferred to find nothing.

Yeah… Danielle sighed and looked down.

…Hey, during that fight… Mote passed Danielle a questioning glance as she turned to meet his gaze. …Did it ever feel like… you were being drained of energy?

Huh? Uh, no…? Why?

Mm… Mote looked away. …It’s a question best saved for later. Probably for Kate.

Speaking of Kate, we should probably get back to her. Danielle grimaced. Oof, she really won’t like that she missed out on this fight, huh?

Mote snorted in amusement. She really won’t. I bet she’ll have some… choice words for me.

You did blow up a rocket in her face.

Oh please, she’s survived bigger explosions than that, even without her armor.

And I can easily live without ever eating, but I’ll still be disappointed if someone steals my cake.

Mote passed her an incredulous glance, opened his mouth to respond, and then simply settled on an amused smirk and a shake of his head. Well if it’s cake that you want, then I suppose we had better head back soon.

Right! Danielle exclaimed, and then leaped onto Mote’s back as she transformed into a jetpack again. Especially since you’ll have to write up a mission report before you can do anything else, she continued through a speaker on the side.

Tch. You know, every member of a mission is supposed to write a report.

Yeah, but no one expects a good write-up from me or Kate. You’re the one who actually takes the time to work on it!

The same effort that we should all be putting into it…

Ah, it’s fine, it’s fine!…

The two continued bantering back and forth as they flew across the waters of the bay, more than ready to retrieve Kate and head on home.

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