While Holly was settling up (in the eternal sense) with the Celestine Paladin, Peter, Eun, and Kora ran out the hole Dissona had left in the ballroom. They caught a glimpse of her as she clacked down Stockton on her eight giant spider-legs, spearing random bystanders or crumpling cars with her spiny-haired limbs.
“Let’s go!” Peter almost took off, intent on chasing down the greatest threat the world had ever known, but Eun stopped him by grabbing his shoulder. He threw a pissed-off glance at her. “What the hell are you—”
“Look.” The Bite Mobile’s headlights appeared on their left.
When it was half a block away, it spun into a series of furious 360s, filling the air with loud screeches. The car slid to a stop in front of the teens, its gull-wing doors rising open as smoke from the tires wafted up from the asphalt. The speaker system boomed with an unmistakable timbre: the voice of Optimus Prime.
“GET IN.” Cool blue light flooded out from the interior.
The three teens piled into the car. Peter in front, Eun in the passenger seat, and Kora in the back. Flexi-sectioned seatbelts telescoped across them, extending from their shoulders to their opposite-side hips. The gull-wing doors folded down.
“HANG ON TO SOMETHING.”
That was all Peter managed before they squirted down the hilly road like a bat out of hell. The teens voiced a unanimous cry as they hit a level patch of street, gained some air—
—and touched down with a bone-jarring THUMP. The wheel spun without Peter touching it; they swerved around a quartet of pedestrians who went from chatting loudly to suddenly shrieking like little bitches. One of them shot both arms out—LOOK OUT!—and prevented his friends from stumbling into the path of the futuristic vehicle.
“Oh fuck. Oh fuck. Oh fuck.” Peter chanted it breathily under his breath. Crisp overlays lit up the windshield, displaying rotating targeting reticles filled with numbers, symbols, and tic marks. They formed around everyone they were passing by, zooming center mass and displaying glaring red Xs. A small caption underneath them read: “NO TARGET.”
Up ahead, Dissona’s back was jetting out pustulent gore. Peter pointed at it and shouted, “WHAT THE FUCK IS—”
Before he could finish, a pair of giant, wasp-like wings blasted out from her back. She clutched the air like a cartoon villain, letting loose with howling laughter.
Then she took to the air.
People screamed and pointed as her insectile form punched skyward. Her translucent wings beat the air, blowing peoples’ hair back before she zipped off toward a highway exit.
“The 101!” Peter yelled. “We need to—”
Optimus Prime cut him off: “ON IT.”
The Bite Mobile slalomed through the Friday night streets, weaving sharply in and out of oncoming traffic. Horns blared and drivers swore.
“Oh shit!” Peter’s eyes, already wide, widened a little more. They were approaching the off-ramp at breakneck speed; they couldn’t make the turn without skidding out. “Oh SHIT!”
But just as the wheel yanked sharply to the right, the Bite Mobile’s back sounded with a series of clanks. Peter shot a look over his shoulder and saw a sleek, compact jet engine emerge from the car, swinging on a motorized swivel to counteract the centrifugal force of the whirlwind turn. Its multiple thrusters burned with eye-catching blue, moving on ball-mounted joints to push at the exact right angles to stabilize the vehicle.
This time, Peter’s exclamation was filled with joy: “Oh SHIT!” Eun and Kora let out matching whoops.
They screamed onto the 101, chasing Dee’s flitting shadow across the asphalt. Lane markers became a whizzing blur as the digital speedometer climbed past 150, 200, 300…
“Oh my God!” Eun gasped. “We’re going four hundred miles an hour!”
Their multi-cluster jet-engine burned hotter, filling the rearview mirror with a wash of sapphire. They were cutting around cars just as fast as they had in the city. Compared to the Bite Mobile, everyone else was crawling along—everyone else was doing sixty or seventy.
Suddenly, high-tech munitions zipped down from above. Giant plumes of fire erupted around them. The Bite Mobile employed evasive maneuvers, swerving violently from side to side.
“PULL OVER!” a voice blared through a megaphone. “THIS IS ANOS’S SPECIAL RESPONSE UNIT! PULL OVER AND SURRENDER YOUR ILLEGAL TECHNOLOGY!”
“Illegal tech?” Kora leaned forward between the seats and looked quizzically from Peter to Eun.
“Beats me.” Peter shrugged. “I built this thing on electromechanical paradigms. But I can’t say if that’s still the case since Bitefighter possessed it. I’m not sure if—”
Bitefighter’s hologram materialized on the luminescent grid that was centered below the windshield. The extradimensional rapscallion dropped to a knee and scribbled something on his whiteboard. He held it up so all could see:
Stable version of element 115.
Eun’s brow crinkled. “Element 1 fift-what?”
Peter shot her a sideways glance. “Bob Lazar was the first person who ever talked about it. He used to work at Area 51, trying to reverse-engineer Gray technology so the government could—”
“Enough with the history lesson!” Eun snapped. “What does it do?”
“It allows consciousness to make a wrinkle in the fabric of space-time. UFOS have a long history of defying physics; element 115 was what they used to—”
The Bite Mobile’s wheels folded up so they were in a horizontal flight configuration, just like Lola, the flying car from Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D, and they took to the skies.
Peter started screaming all over again. The other two joined in.
“You have a choice,” Atriya said, looking Holly in the eye.
“Do I?” She sounded glib and cocky. In actuality, she was terrified.
“You always did. And now, you’re about to come full circle. There’s two ways you can do it. Personally, I hope you pick the same route I did.”
“Doubt it,” Holly sneered. “I pave my own way, dipshit.”
Atriya sighed. He rubbed his eyes with a thumb and a forefinger, as if he was suffering a massive headache. “That’s what I expected.” His hand dropped away. He gave her a weary look.
“You’re starting to bore me.” She propped her elbow onto her armrest and leaned her cheek into her hand, squishing her face against her palm.
“I’ll get to the point.”
Atriya leaned forward, resting both forearms atop his thighs. “The Eye of Scylish. It’s an existential gateway. Due to its transitive nature, it’s ability to transport you is inextricably linked to your—”
Holly impatiently cycled a hand by her ear. “I’m not here for a fucking philosophy class.”
Atriya’s eyes turned unmistakably sad. “Very well.” He rose to his feet. “Don’t look at me,” he warned. “Not unless you want to be completely unraveled.”
Holly scoffed, but once again, a shiver of fear ran through the depths of her psyche.
She heard him breathe. In…out. In…then out. A deep MMMMMM poured through the room, filling not just her ears with a bone-thrumming hum, but her entire body. The closest she could come to articulating the feeling was that her very cells felt shaken and rattled, like her DNA was being pushed and pulled, nagged and twisted. There was light, too; she’d closed her eyes and looked away, but her vision was flooded with dazzling sunspots. They were brighter than anything she’d ever seen—bright enough to make her breath hitch in her throat
“Stop,” she hissed, squinching her eyes tightly shut. She covered them both with the flats of her palms, but it didn’t help. “Stop,” she commanded. And then, in a piteous wail: “PLEASE FUCKING STOP I CAN’T TAKE ANYM—”
And then it ceased. Her body stopped thrumming. The unbearable light dimmed and vanished.
“Fucking…what the fuck…” She blinked dazedly. Her vision gradually went from a giant pale wash to recognizable shapes. Everything was limned with a buzzy white aura.
Atriya was still on his feet, hands folded behind his back. Centered on the wall behind him was a circular portal, although that was too plain a word for it. The gateway was ringed with vivid chains of information. Within that border of multicolored data was a heavenly singularity that pulsed and throbbed—a blue, incandescent circle that drew ceaselessly from its edges. Radiant lines slowly crawled toward the portal’s focus: a singular dot of purest white. The lines possessed a magnetic pull; the miasmic glow that filled the circle followed sluggishly in their wake, like some sort of otherworldly syrup. Despite the drainlike motion, the circle remained full; the light inside never diminished and never dimmed.
“There’s your way home.” Atriya nodded at it. “When you enter the portal, try and remember who you truly are. Contrary to what you’ve led yourself to believe, you’re not a—”
“I know who I am,” she sneered, striding toward the opening. “Put a cork in your Mr. Miyagi bullshit.”
Shame and regret surged through her, growing stronger with each step. She kept her gaze fixed on the portal; she didn’t want to look Atriya in the eye. She couldn’t see his expression, but she could still feel it.
He was disappointed in her—deeply disappointed.