»There she is! … No, no, you can’t go back to sleep … Open your eyes, little birdie!«
The darned growling voice wouldn’t stop sing-songing right into my ear. I wanted to push it away, then recollection hit me: the SEA fighter! I jolted upright, yanked up my fists and punched him in the sides. One-two. »Ouch!«
»Well, ho now.« He caught my wrists, vislike holding them in midair.
The armor plates. How could I forget? I shook my head to clear my thinking. Apart from this gorilla of a…—well!—this SEAfie gripping my arms, I wasn’t tied up or anything. A quick check of my suit’s status and that of my bones underneath resulted in nothing broken or seriously harmed.
I was crouching on the ground of a deserted underground passage, leaning against the steel wall. Despite the constant hissing of the ventilation valves all around, the air down here smelled stale to the point of half-dead.
»Well, she does seem to be conscious now. Welcome back, partner.«
Now that voice I would have recognized anywhere! I craned my neck trying to peek around this mountain of a SEAfie. He grinned, stood up and moved away a bit.
»Nat—are you alright?!«
»Thanks to our new ally here, yes, indeed I am.« She reached out to help me get up.
New ally? Was I missing something here? I searched her expression for a clue, but there was none. Just Nat’s usual poker face. But she seemed relaxed enough for me to consider the thought, that in an unexpected turn of events our aggressor appeared to be a comrade-in-arms instead. But then what the…
»What is going on here, anyway?« Trying not to sound too confused, I put on what I hoped was my best detective-at-work face.
»You wouldn’t stop shooting at me, so I knocked…«
»Shhh!« With a thrust of her hand Nat cut him short. »Listen.«
Alarmed I tilted my head slightly so as to hear better. The SEAfie guy squinted and was just about to say something when I kicked his shin and glared at him. Secretly I caught my own breath. Those armor plates be damned! Good thing I was wearing decent steel plate boots myself. I wiggled my toes.
A whizzing sound quickly drew closer, above our heads, from the side, the ground—coming from more than one source, definitely!
»Bots!« I smacked my back against the wall, drew my gun and armed it, ready to fire.
Nat and the SEAfie both stood pistols in hands, aiming down the corridor. Little dancing light beams flitting there: over the walls, ceiling, floor, everywhere at once. The scampering and skirring coming from the far side of the tunnel made my hair stand on end. Silently I started counting to ten, steadying my heartbeat while doing so.
The first bot whipped hissing around the corner only to be greeted by a blast from Nat’s sono gun. With a ›clang‹ it dropped to the ground—a ball of melted junk. There were more, though, many more! Firing away I quickly lost count of the creepy little critters.
A flash of red laser light almost blinded me and left a burning sensation on my cheekbone. Definitely too close for comfort!
»Got it!« The SEAfie leapt and shot in one smooth move. With a frizzling sound the bot that had almost gotten the best of me imploded, leaving behind a stench of melted steel and fiber plasto.
The clamor died down. Bots lay in heaps all around our feet.
»Why… thanks, I guess?« Talk about an awkward moment. Here I was, fighting side by side with an enemy agent and owing him my life, or so it seemed. I glanced at Nat who stood a few feet back.
»You got hit.«
»Just a scratch. How about you?«
»Sorry to interrupt, ladies.« The SEAfie had picked up one of the bots that appeared not as badly damaged than most of the others. »These buggers have been reporting home all the while. Can’t be too long before we get company again.«
Nat’s glum expression told me she thought so herself, and I was ready to agree. Pouching one of the bots for later inspection I followed the both of them down the tunnel.
Our feet beat a thumping rhythm to the racing of my heart. My inner alarm was peaked once more by the little red light flashing inside my visor. The silent alert! Nat had set it off while we had been talking. Something wasn’t kosher.
And it wasn’t the bots.
~ to be continued ~
This is not a drill!