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Flying to the temporary base of the alliance proved to be slightly more problematic than Basil thought was appropriate, mostly because Amazon just plainly refused to leave him alone anywhere near Mindstar.
Not unreasonable, truly, as she lacked some rather critical information, such as the fact that they were siblings.
It was still annoying. And time-consuming. Especially since she also (not unreasonably) refused to drop her armor around her archenemy, which made it impossible for Mindstar to pick her up directly and fly them both. In the end, she just levitated a slab of concrete on which Amazon stood, and flew them back.
Basil expected that he’d have to explain himself to whoever was currently in charge of the efforts (Father Manus? The local UH director? Doc Feral?) before they’d call in three of their people, but to his surprise, he could see them gathered on the platform on which Father Manus and his people had stood earlier. More problematic was the fact that Hecate was there, as well, her arms crossed in front of her chest, clearly staring at Mindstar with murder in her eyes. He had to hope that she’d be sensible enough not to do anything stupid right now.
The priest himself stood there, as well, looking as serene as ever – even though a good quarter of his head, as well as most of his left side were missing.
Basil stared at the broken china doll of a man as they touched down, and the man looked back at him, his good eye – the left one had a crack running through it from above, where a large part of the crown had been broken or blasted off – calm and serene. Even though his body was so broken it should’ve collapsed under the strain of its own weight, he did not seem inconvenienced at all, simply standing there unheeding of the fact that people could look into his hollow form. The insides of his ‘skin’ were formed to resemble the organs that should have been beneath them – Basil could actually see a cracked spine going down his back, like the world’s most delicate artwork on a china vase. It was crafted in such a way that he couldn’t even tell whether it was two-dimensional, or actually shaped out of the material of his body.
Stop staring, Amy told him reprovingly. You’ve got a job to do. She still sounded bitter.
He blinked, then briefly shook his head before he stepped forward. “Sir, thank you for calling them in,” he said to the priest.
Said priest inclined his head, smiling softly. “Words of your exploits have reached us here, young man. And I haven’t survived as long as I have by underestimating what gadgeteers are capable of when working together.” He tilted his head to the side, his voice taking a politely curious tone. “You say you know how you can kill him? How? And how did you find out?”
Tick-Tock (who still looked immaculate), Boom-Boom (whose armor had taken some heavy damage and was covered in scorch marks) and Polymnia (she looked a little pale, and there was dried blood on her ears) stepped forward in curiosity.
Hecate just snorted. “Great, give him a prompt for exposition…” she mumbled so quietly, probably no one but Polymnia and Basil understood.
Amy snorted behind him, biting down on a laugh.
Basil felt a little heat in his cheeks – of indignation, not embarrassment – but he decided to take the high road and ignore the comment.
“I have been watching the fight against it the whole time and taking readings of attack’s effects on it,” he began. “I noticed a few oddities in the way various kinds of attacks affected it, as well as to the way it recovers damage. It… helped me come up with an invention. From there, I deduced its nature, tested it and came to the conclusion that…”
Just five minutes later, Father Manus had agreed to his plan and had left in order to talk to mission control to try to procure the most crucial tool for Basil’s plan.
Mindstar and Amazon had left to join the battle and buy them time. Hecate stuck around, standing a little off to the side and glaring in the direction Mindstar had flown. The other gadgeteers had gathered around Basil and were discussing his theory.
“I’m still not sure,” Tick-Tock said in a wary voice. “You’re making a pretty big claim there, and it’s mostly based on an invention you came up with while fighting a monster – what if your power just came up with something completely unrelated?” Her tone was polite, not accusing, but Basil thought he saw tension in the way she held herself; her power armor being nearly skin-tight meant that it didn’t conceal her body language nearly as well as his own or Boom-Boom’s did.
The other two watched Basil for his response, though Polymnia didn’t seem to actually doubt him.
He could just shrug. “It is how my power usually operates. It takes what I study and gives me bits and pieces to connect and work into something useful. I have never known it to come up with something completely unrelated to what inspired it.”
“That sounds mighty strange,” Boom-Boom threw in. “My power tends to come in bursts, and when it comes up with something, it always puts out something complete. Puts me in the zone, you know?” He shrugged those huge, blocky shoulders.
<No two powers are ever the same,> Polymnia vocalised through her suit’s speakers, while smiling softly at Basil. <Just because we’re all gadgeteers doesn’t mean that we’d be any more similar than, say, someone who fires an ice beam and someone who lobs balls of acid.>
“Yeah, listen to her, powder-head,” Tick-Tock snarled at her brother, slapping the back of his head with a loud clang. “You might actually learn something.”
“Stick it up your ass and twirl!” he snarled back, trying to punch her shoulder, but she danced out of his reach, giving him a smug look that could be seen even through her helmet.
Basil stepped closer to Polymnia while the siblings squabbled. “How are you doing?” he asked, concerned. “Crocell’s screams can not have been good for you,” he continued, guessing as to the most probable reason for her bleeding ears.
She gave him a chagrined smile in response. <Yeah, that first one knocked me out right away. Gloom Glimmer freaked out and teleported->
A huge explosion, which shook the ground they stood on, cut her off, and everyone turned to look in the direction of the battle, where a ring of greenish energy could be seen spreading and fading.
<That’s her, I think. She went to join the frontlines,> Polymnia explained. <Anyway, she teleported me here and healed my ears – though for some reason, her power didn’t let her take away the freaking headache.> She rubbed her temples.
“That is strangely fickle of it,” he replied in sympathy, having quite the experience with splitting headaches, even as he noted that oddity down. He’d have to add it to Gloom Glimmer’s file later on.
Just then, a new figure approached them, another girl looking to be about their age. She was tell, clearly well-trained and wearing a relatively simple costume – a skin-tight blue bodysuit with a yellow half-cloak and a yellow question mark on her sternum, as well as yellow boots and gloves. Adding to that was a blue mask that covered the upper half of her head in the front, her black hair spilling out the back, her mouth and jaw showing dark skin and sharp features.
She approached them, looking slightly apprehensive, like she was nervous to be around them, at least until Tick-Tock stepped up to her and took her hand.
“Vra, what are you doing here? I thought you’re in the think tank?” she greeted the young heroine. Basil had never heard of her before, she had to be a very recent addition, and not one that had drawn a lot of attention from the media or the online message boards.
She looked at him, though, rather than her friend, as she replied, “Father Manus sent me to tell you that your plan isn’t going to work out – the Subjugator just got taken down and we can’t get a line to its operator anyway.” Her voice, though clear and even a little deep for a girl, was hushed and uncertain. She was meeting his gaze, at least, though just about so.
Basil turned away, clutching his hands behind his back. “That is unfortunate,” he said quietly, stewing over it. “We need the Subjugator to pull this off. There is no way we could build the device from scratch in any reasonable time frame.” He looked at the girl, Vra, again. “Do you know how badly damaged it is?”
She blinked, then closed her eyes briefly. He was about to ask her again when she opened them, just seconds later. “There is no detailed damage report, but from eye-witness accounts it appears to have lost a wing and its lower hind jets, along with damage to its main body,” she replied in a much more self-assured manner, either having expected the question or else looked it up without any communication device.
Must be her power, he thought. “Then it might still be of use,” he concluded and turned to the others. “I am going to go and assess its state with my own eyes. Are you with me?”
The siblings and Polymnia looked at each other, then at him, nodding.
“Taking a look can’t hurt. At the very least, seeing Sovereign’s own tech will be reward enough.”
“Eh, why not?”
Basil looked at Hecate. She sighed, finally looking at him. “I’m coming along. You’ll need someone with some common sense around.”
It didn’t take long for them to make their way to the crash site. Basil may have lost one of his grappling hook systems, but the other one was still functional and he just had to be adjust his rhythm a bit.
Tick-Tock followed by way of an odd flying device she’d literally folded out of her armor’s backpack, resembling a surfboard. It created bursts of blue-ish energy at precise intervals, propelling her forward and up, after which she’d glide downwards slower than she should have, as if surfing over waves.
Polymnia was using her mechanical limbs to leap from building to building, or crawl up and down the facades of buildings – she was definitely the slowest of them, but none of the group had the means to carry her, except perhaps Boom-Boom, but no one sane wanted to travel too close to or with Boom-Boom.
Hecate was flying along in her smoke-shadow form, higher than the others.
Boom-Boom… Basil still had trouble believing it, but Boom-Boom was literally blowing himself up. As in, literally using explosions to launch himself into the air, making giant leaps, only to use more explosions to launch himself into the air again.
Some part of Basil was just loving the thought of explosion-based movement, but most of him was just shocked to realise that most of the damage he could see on Boom-Boom’s armour was almost definitely self-inflicted.
For crying out loud, he was even using explosions to cushion his fall.
Nevertheless, they all arrived at the crash site in good time.
The Subjugator had not gone down easily at all – the entire area around it, for at least a block and a half, was in utter ruins, blasted to pieces and then scorched by massive energy discharges for good measure. There was not a single piece of construction still standing there.
In the centre of the devastation lay the remains of the Subjugator. Much as Vra had said, its left wing was gone, ripped off it seemed. Several of its jets at the back were missing, as well, as well as a big chunk of its head, along with the lower and left ‘eye’. It was also covered in lesser damage, from front to back, mostly it seemed caused by Crocell’s claws. Wires and other parts were spilling out of its greater wounds like a mockery of guts.
To Basil’s great relief, the arc cannon itself seemed to be largely undamaged.
Even though it had taken such horrible damage, the Subjugator was clearly still active. Its uppermost eye had swiveled around and was looking straight at the group standing a good fifty metres away from it. Several small slots were opening and closing along its body, as tiny, spider-like drones – none bigger than Basil’s clenched fist, most even smaller – were spilling out and crawling all over its chassis.
“Oh my God, is that thing actually repairing itself?” Tick-Tock breathed, sounding both shocked and elated.
“Indeed,” was all Basil could say as he marvelled at the huge gadget. “No wonder he rules half a continent.” And with that, Basil walked closer towards the fallen machine.
The big, spherical eye with the glowing red lens tilted down, following him as he approached.
“WHO DARES APPROACH OUR GREAT SOVEREIGN’S WORK SO BRAZENLY!?!” it shouted in its customary chorus.
Damn, I was hoping the speakers would have gotten damaged, at least, Basil thought, as he came to a stop no ten metre away from it.
“I am Brennus,” he introduced himself, standing straight. “I am here because I have figured out how to slay our common foe – but I require your assistance to do so, for I lack the materials and technology to do so on my own, here.”
The Subjugator watched him, for a few moments, while its drones kept doing repairs – though it was unlikely they’d be able to replace its missing wing or propulsion system.
“Explain yourself,” it spoke in a far calmer voice, its eye focused upon Basil.
Basil could hear the others behind him exhale in relief. None of them had been sure that the Subjugator would not respond violently to being approached – Sovereign was rather infamous for how jealously he guarded his creations.
“To be succinct, I have gathered every gadgeteer participating in this battle because I believe that, with some modifications, your arc cannon could actually slay Crocell in one shot,” Basil explained.
Behind him, just out of his hearing, Hecate leaned over to Polymnia. “Wow, he actually can do short.” Polymnia bit down on a giggle.
“Arc cannon? You are referring to the Zeus Caster,” the Subjugator replied. “Your proposal is intriguing, though more information is required before you may be allowed to muddle our glorious Sovereign’s work with your lesser skills.”
Wow, that is not insulting at all, Basil thought. “Alright, my observations and tests have led me to the conclusion that Crocell’s bodily form is being maintained by some kind of extremely powerful, multi-faceted force-field,” he explained. “That is the reason why certain attacks cause disproportionally more damage to it than others, such as your Zeus Caster, while others, such as Mindstar’s telekinesis, are completely ineffectual; furthermore, the force-field does not simply protect its body – if one observes its wounds, one can see that they do not regenerate normally – instead of the flesh growing back from the inside out, it simply grows seemingly out of thin air in the entire area between the undamaged flesh and the outer edge of its force-field. Its body, if it even is really its body, and not just some kind of decoy, is just a huge amount of seawater – I tested it earlier, while I was in contact with it, the clear liquid it ‘bleeds’ is simply more seawater – that is being compressed into a bodily shape by its force-field, with more material being more densily packed towards the centre, which is why we have had an easier time damaging its surface, while its inner parts are more hardy – they are, quite literally, made of more and thus denser material.”
He paused to take a breath, and give it some time to process the information (he wasn’t even sure whether there was a pilot inside, a remote pilot somewhere else, or whether it actually had an AI of its own, really).
“That is an interesting theory, which appears to be corroborated by this masterwork’s own observations. So you propose to modify the Zeus Caster so as to cancel out the specific wavelength of the beast’s force-field and thus slay it instantly?” it replied smoothly.
Basil blinked. That was, actually, precisely what he had planned. “Yes, well, that is the idea.”
“How will you determine the specific wavelength which must be cancelled?” the Subjugator asked.
Basil looked over his shoulder, and Polymnia stepped forth, the machine’s eye turning to focus on her. <That will be my job,> she replied. <I can modify my equipment to search for the precise wavelength needed, as long as I get a bead on Crocell.>
“This unit’s power source has been damaged. It will most likely be unable to power the Zeus Caster to a sufficient degree.”
Tick-Tock and Boom-Boom looked at each other, the eye turning to watch them, then the former spoke. “That won’t be an issue. Boom-Boom can overclock what’s left. It’ll break down afterwards, certainly, but it will be enough to power the weapon.” She tilted her head, tapping her jaw with a finger. “Furthermore, there will be very precise timing required, as well as synchronizing the various pieces of equipment, which both fall under my speciality.”
The eye turned back to Basil. “And I presume you are then the one to do the actual adjustments and calculations for the Zeus Caster itself?”
He nodded, his mouth dry.
The Subjugator fell quiet, looking at each of them in turn again.
“That is acceptable. You may do as needed, so long as you take nothing away nor make any records of this unit’s own parts.”
Basil let out a breath of relief. He’d been dreading the possibility that it might refuse to co-operate, but apparently, whatever intelligence stood behind this machine was sensible enough to work with them.
“Thank you. I promise we will not betray your trust,” he said.
“Enough words. Get to work. Today shall be one of the grandest days of your life, for no other reason than that you are allowed to gaze upon our glorious Sovereign’s masterwork! Nothing shall stop us from claiming victory!”
As if in answer to that, there was a huge crash, nearly throwing them all off their feet.
Crocell rose out of the dust at the edge of the shattered block, its form changed once more.
And then it charged towards the group of gadgeteers, and one contriver.
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