part VII

It was the pain that brought her back.

Roe groaned and opened her eyes, searing pain coursing through her body. Her head lay against the hard ground, blood dripping from her ears onto the cold pavement.

Everything was a blur. She strained her eyes to clear them, and, after a moment, her surroundings came into focus. She saw the black pavement. The dented dumpster behind her. The purple sky above. The thief limping towards her rifle, far out of reach.

She tried to move but grunted at the sting of pain shooting from her mangled shoulder. It burned through her. Drew the breath from her. But, again, she saw the thief, his shaking hands, his reddened skin, reaching for the rifle.

Roe summoned everything she had. With every will and every muscle, she channeled the pain and raised her right hand to mash her multi-tool. She pressed it desperately, as the thief lifted her rifle and turned to face her, fury burning in his eyes. But it malfunctioned. The cloaking sputtered, sending only small sections of her battered body in and out of sight.

“You’ll pay... for that...” the thief growled, as he limped towards her, rifle hanging from his trembling hand. “Kill you...” his words shook with rage, “with your own... gun...”

A robotic screech sounded from above, and W0RM dove down towards the thief, but the rat-faced and square-headed men, still recovering on the ground, had found their weapons and began firing into the air. Roe screamed, “GO!” to the bird, as he dodged and fluttered, reluctantly squawking and disappearing back into the sky. Then, forgoing cloaking, Roe winced and rolled herself over an attempt to get to her feet.

Roe got up and didn't look back. The entrance to the alleyway was in sight yet so far away. She frantically pressed her multi-tool again, but the word “RECHARGING” flashed over and over on its cracked display. She let out a distraught cry and tried to run, the thief now behind her, the butt of the rifle against his shoulder. She lurched forward but stumbled and fell back onto the ground.

It was too late.

Hunched helplessly, she closed her eyes, as he aimed the rifle behind her. This was the end, she thought. It’s over. She was afraid. She was alone. She was dead.

He fired.

The deafening shots clattered off of the walls for what seemed like so long that they became muted, almost silent. Then something happened.

Something that made the thief exclaim, “What… the hell?

Roe slowly opened her eyes. A shimmering blue light was reflecting off of the ground below, while the sound of a furious wind echoed around her. She wasn’t dead. She was very much alive and, somehow, untouched by the hail of gunfire the thief had just unleashed.

She looked up.

It was Ari. Standing in front of her, straining, her braided hair billowing back, as a glowing blue energy emanated from the palm of her outstretched left hand, blasting over Roe. Mouth agape, Roe looked behind her, towards the thief, to find the energy coalescing into some kind of writhing force field that bisected the alleyway, holding the rifle’s countless slugs suspended within it.

Ari glanced down to Roe, sweat glistening over her brow, and asked through a clenched jaw, “Are you okay?”

Roe nodded, speechless.

“Okay,” Ari said, shakily, “I can’t hold this much longer, so, when I release it, I need to you to help me make sure they’re knocked out, alright? Can you get up?”

Roe nodded again, still stunned silent, and pulled herself to her feet beside Ari.

Ari looked back ahead towards the men and began counting down. “Three... two...” and with “One!” the blue energy expanded in a blinding flash, knocking the thief back off of his feet, as it dissipated into nothing. And, before Roe knew it, her boot was in the thief’s face, and he was out cold.

Battered, bloodied, and astonished, Roe looked to Ari. She stood breathlessly over the unconscious others. W0RM suddenly fluttered down and landed on Ari’s shoulder. She smiled and giggled, pleasantly surprised, “Oh, hey W0RM.”

A still moment hung in the air.

Roe held her injured arm, gaping at the exhausted Ari, when their eyes met, and it finally burst from her.

“What. The hell. Was that?!