“I’m getting too old for this crud,” Garth said collapsing against a pile of rubble.
Hildi snapped off three quick bolts before ducking next to him. “Fat too.”
The Guardian chuckled between heavy breathes. He peeked over their cover. Plasma bolts seared the top of his head. Thousands of death machines cried out a sawtooth battle cry in unison. “I’d say watch it but you’re not wrong. I know it sounds crazy but I like being retired. Get to sleep in, don’t have to wear pants, and Barney’s the only person nagging me.”
“I nag because I care. Clip,” she said holding out a hand. He reached into a pocket on his vest and threw her a pack of crossbow ammo. “What’s our play here?”
“Oh, you want my fat opinion now, Miss Bigshot Aegis Hero?”
She nodded while checking over her utility belt. “Just cause I took the promotion and you decided to pack it up doesn’t mean I don’t want your opinion.” She handed him a live grenade. “So you here to talk or fight.”
He threw the device into a packed crowd of foot soldiers then ducked. The explosion shook the ground and sent pieces of robots into the air. When the dust cleared, twice as many machines replaced them. “There’s too damn many for us to take them on alone, I reckon. We should call in some cavalry.”
The Hunter put her gauntlet to her mouth, “Break, break, calling Alpha, Alpha, this is Hunter.”
Her wrist fizzed and popped, a voice piped over the static, “Received, Hunter. This is Cyberwolf. No one has eyes on Amy.”
“Damn it, I forgot.” She looked to the sky and said to herself. “Amy, where are you?” She pressed her comm and said, “There’s no way we can stay here.”
“Minotaur’s squad is only about ten blocks north of you. We’ll send help when we can. Stay low.”
“Copy, out,” she said with a huff.
Garth kicked his boot heels up on the hood of a nearby car. “I don’t know, the weather is nice. I could go for a nap right here. The neighbors are a bit loud though.”
Hildi gave him a shove. She pulled a box out of her belt. Tossing it in the air, it transformed into a miniature plane and zoomed away. Her gauntlet showed a video feed from the drone as it zipped across the battlefield.
“Is that new? Does everyone in Aegis get little robo-planes?”
“Barney put it together for me,” she said with a warm tone. “He said I needed someone to keep an eye out for me.”
Three-hundred miles away, Barney and Tonia Steel watched the feed from the plane on the couch. She poured soda into a novelty Hunter branded mug and passed it to her dad. He passed her a bowl of popcorn. “Does mom know we do this?” she asked.
“Mom knows I can watch the Falcon’s camera. We might keep our watch parties between us though,” he replied.
Tonia pursed her lips. “Is that lying?”
“Only if we get caught. Shoot, would you look at that…”
Falcon flew past thousands of steel bodies screeching in high pitched code packed into the narrow streets of Citadel. Glowing red eyes clashed against the deep grey of the streets. Heroes the world over battled the machines. Doubletake zipped between combatants destroying each with a perfectly placed sword strike. Battle Maiden fought waves of robots with her bare hands. Her tattoos glowed with each hit. Ichaival pulled back an invisible string with several tentacles. Clouds of glowing arrows launched from their bracers through the swarms. Bison faced off with a Goliath. She took hold of a streetlight and swung it over her head like a club. Hitting the Goliath, it flew backward like a foul ball.
Tonia’s mouth fell open. “Daddy, could I be strong like Bison some day. She’s so cool.”
Barney smiled. Then he stopped. He furrowed his brow. “No, I don’t think so. She’s a werebison. She was born strong.”
“What about mom? She’s strong. Could I be a hero like mom.”
Barney broke into a sweat. He chewed his popcorn fast. “I don’t know sweety. I mean, you took after me. You’re so smart. I don’t, uh, um, oh look, shoot.” He fumbled with a headset. Pressing a button he said, “Watch your six, you got two, honey.”
On the screen, Hildi fired a pair of arrows off in front of herself. They ricocheted behind her and struck a set of robots in the head. She pressed a finger to her ear and said, “Thank you, dear.”
“Any time–” Barney started to say.
“Go, mommy!” Tonia interjected
Hildi cleared her throat. “Dear?”
“Is our daughter watching with you?”
There was a pause. “No? Well, they canceled school, uh, because of the doomsday. Oh! Look out!” A pair of skeletal robotic foot soldiers opened fire on Hildi and Garth’s cover. One jumped onto the hood of a crushed car and fired at the heroes. The Guardian grabbed the machine off the hood. His fingers crushed the steel frame. Its legs and hands wrapped around his head. The robot’s skull hissed static. An arrow wedged itself in the machine’s eye socket. It went limp in time for Garth to grab the second diving at Hildi.
The Hunter said, “We will have a long discussion about this once I find more cover.”
Garth nudged her and pointed down the street. He said, “I think Y’all will have to postpone that talk.” The synthetics in the field were joining together into one mass. Six of the hundred-foot Goliath class battle mechs began climbing one another. The shorter foot-soldiers followed. Soon they formed a four-hundred-foot tall death machine. It turned to face the assembled heroes and began lumbering toward them.
“At least we’ve trained for giants. What do you say, one last hunt?” Hildi asked.
The bright red alien nodded. He punched his palm. “Last hunt? Ha, I still got plenty of fight left in me.”
Hundreds of heroes raised their fists. Together they charged at mechanical monster. Barney made a quick pass around the robot with the drone. He said, “There. It has a weak point in the lower back just underneath the plating.”
Hildi scaled the pile of broken concrete. “You coming?”
Garth tightened an oversized lifting belt. “Ready.” Hildi was already ahead of him firing exploding bolts into the colossal’s ankles. He sighed. “How does she have this much energy?” Garth broke into a run.
Each explosion sent foot soldiers flying off the mechanized mass before scrambling back into place. The giant turned its attention at Hunter and kicked at her. Guardian sprinted in time to punch the foot out of the way.
“I need to get closer to its lower back,” Hildi said.
“Sounds like you need… a ‘lift’,” Garth said. He held out a hand to her. She put one foot in his palm and aimed herself like a spear. He hurled her into the air. Hildi flew through the air losing a barrage of arrows under its crawling armor. One struck true blowing away a crater of foot soldiers.
Barney covered his eyes, “Please be careful.”
Hildi answered him, “I’m always careful.” She fell back to the ground. Guardian caught Hunter again and threw her into the air with a twirl. The colossal screeched in pain. Hildi grabbed a foot soldier by its head. It clawed at her with its arms. She swatted the hands back. Taking a pack from her utility belt, she attached an explosive at the machine’s waist. A ginormous hand swept at her. She dove off the robot toward a street cart awning. The giant was quicker. It landed a punch on her that sent her crashing to the ground.
“No!” Barney and Tonia said.
Garth saw her impact. The machine drew its fist back. He sprinted to her. The giant threw a punch at her. Guardian caught it. The force shattered the tarmac under him. “That all you got?” he said. Rocket thrusters extended from the machine’s arm. It pushed Garth deeper into the ground. “Damn my mouth.” Hildi stirred. “Get up!” Her eyes fluttered. Her arm moved. “That’s it, get up.” She struggled to stand.
Tonia pulled a plush red doll closer to her chest. “Why isn’t momma getting up?”
Barney pulled his daughter closer to his chest. “She’ll get up. Just watch. She’s fine.” Hildi’s hand withdrew a small black tube with a red button. “No,” Barney said. “There’s too much weight over her.” He scrambled with the earpiece. “If you blow the legs off now, it’ll…”
Tonia squeezed her father’s hand. “It’ll what?”
Hildi squeezed the button. An explosion rocketed the robots back. Its legs seared off its torso. Falling forward it rocked Garth off his stance back on to his heels before he was pushed through the street. The fist shook the ground with its impact before the top half of the robot fell forward.
Hundreds of heroes reached the legs and torso. They began attacking the scrambling robot foot soldiers. Quake rattled the rest of the colossus apart. From under the fist, a red arm dug itself out of the rubble. Garth threw the machines away from the crater. He dug through rock with his nails.
Falcon pulled in close to watch. Barney was motionless. Tonia took the earpiece from him. She began yelling, “Momma! Momma?” They watched as Garth withdrew chunks of scrap metal. He kept digging even when his hands began bleeding a dark blue. Amongst the war zone, he knelt and collapsed.
“Daddy, what… where’s momma?”
“I… I… don’t know, Sparkplug.”
The End? For now.
“I’m getting too old for this crud,” Garth said collapsing against a pile of rubble.