While Holly was settling up (in the eternal sense) with Atriya, Peter, Eun, and Kora were running through the hole that Dissona had left in the Ritz Carlton ballroom. They caught a fleeting glimpse of her as she clacked down Stockton. She speared a bystander and walked up a Tesla, crumpling its top with her spiny-haired limbs.
Peter tried to take off after her, but Eun grabbed him by the shoulder. He threw a pissed-off glance at her. “What the hell are you—”
“Look.” The Bite Mobile was speeding down Pine, flashing its lights at them. It spun into a series of furious 360s, filling the air with loud screeches, then slid to a stop in front of the teens, acrid smoke wafting up from its tires.
Gull-wing doors rose open. The speakers boomed with an unmistakable timbre: the voice of Optimus Prime.
“LET’S GO.” Cool blue light flooded out from inside.
Peter took front, Eun got shotgun, and Kora slid in back. Flexi-sectioned belts telescoped from their shoulders to their opposite-side hips.
The gull-wing doors folded down. “HANG ON TO SOMETHING.”
“Oh SHI—” That was all Peter managed before they streaked down the steep, hilly road. The three tensed and gasped as they hit a level patch of street. The car gained air, and—
—landed with a bone-jarring THUMP. The wheel spun all on its own; they swerved around a quartet of pedestrians who went from chatting loudly to shrieking uncontrollably. One of them shot both arms out—LOOK OUT!—and prevented his friends from getting clipped.
“Oh fuck oh fuck oh fuck.” Peter chanted this over and over, unable to stop. Crisp overlays lit the windshield, displaying rotating targeting reticles filled with symbols and tic marks. They formed around everyone in their field of view, zooming center mass and displaying glaring red Xs. A small caption underneath each person read: “NO TARGET.”
Dissona halted on Sutter and hunched over. She was squirming and grimacing.
Peter shouted, “WHAT THE FUCK IS SHE—”
A pair of giant, wasp-like wings blew out from her back. She clutched the air like a cartoon villain, letting loose with howling laughter, then took to the air. Her translucent wings hummed and blurred, blowing pedestrians’ hair into a fluttering mess. She zipped toward a highway exit.
“The 101!” Peter yelled. “We need to—”
The Bite Mobile slalomed through crowded streets, weaving sharply in and out of Friday night 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 right, the Bite Mobile’s rear erupted with clanks. Peter looked back and saw a sleek, compact jet engine emerge from the car, swinging out on a motorized swivel. Its ball-jointed thrusters burned and flared, countering the force of their whirlwind turn.
This time, Peter’s exclamation was filled with joy: “Oh SHIT!” Eun and Kora let out matching whoops as they screamed onto the 101, chasing Dee’s shadow across the asphalt. The digital speedometer kept climbing. 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 eye-catching sapphire. Nearby cars were crawling along—everyone else was doing sixty or seventy.
Suddenly, high-tech munitions zipped down from above, erupting into gigantic plumes of skin-prickling fire. The Bite Mobile swerved from side to side.
“PULL OVER!” a voice blared through a megaphone. “DRIVER, YOU ARE IN POSSESSION OF CLASSIFIED TECHNOLOGY! PULL OVER NOW!”
“Illegal tech?” Kora poked her head between the seats and looked quizzically from Peter to Eun.
“Beats me.” Peter shrugged. “I’m not sure if—”
Bitefighter’s hologram materialized on the luminescent grid mounted below the windshield. The extradimensional rapscallion dropped to a knee and scribbled on his whiteboard. He held it up so all could see:
Stable version of element 115.
Eun’s brow crinkled. “The hell is that?”
Peter shot her a sideways glance. “Bob Lazar was the first person who ever went public with it. He used to work at Area 51, trying to reverse-engineer Gray technology so the government could—”
“Enough with the history lesson, Peter!” Eun snapped. “What does it do?”
“It allows consciousness to manipulate gravity. UFOS have a long history of defying physics; element 115 is what they use to—”
The Bite Mobile interrupted: “NONBALLISTIC PROPULSION HAS BEEN PRIMED AND ACTIVATED.”
Their 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 lifted off the ground.
Peter started screaming all over again. The other two joined in.
“You have a choice.” Atriya looked Holly in the eye.
“Do I?” She sounded glib and cocky, but in actuality, she was fucking terrified.
“You always did. Personally, I hope you pick the same route I did.”
“Doubt it,” Holly sneered. “I pave my own way, dipshit.”
Atriya 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 boring me.” She propped her elbow onto her armrest and leaned her cheek into her hand.
“Then I’ll get to the point.”
Atriya leaned forward, propping both forearms atop his thighs. “The Eye of Scylish is 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.”
“Very well.” Atriya rose from his chair. “Don’t look,” he warned. “Unless you want to be unraveled.” He began to breathe. In…out. In…then out.
A deep MMMMMM poured through the room, filling her body with a bone-thrumming hum. As crazy as it seemed, she could feel her cells being shaken and rattled. Her DNA was being pushed and pulled, nagged and twisted. She closed her eyes and looked away, but the light spilling off him was too intense; her vision was flooded with dazzling sunspots.
“Stop,” she hissed. She covered her eyes 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 stopped. The unbearable light dimmed and vanished. So did the hum.
“Fucking…what the fuck.” She blinked dazedly. Everything was limned in a buzzy white aura.
Atriya was still on his feet, hands folded behind his back. On the wall behind him was a circular portal, ringed with vivid chains of spectral information. Within that border of multicolored data lay a singularity—a pulsing blue circle that drew ceaselessly from its edges. Radiant lines slowly crawled toward the portal’s center: a throbbing dot of purest white.
“That’s your way home.” Atriya nodded at it. “Once you enter, try and remember who you are. Contrary to what you’ve led yourself to believe, you’re not a—”
“I know who I am.” She strode toward the rip between worlds. “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 still—she could feel it.
He was disappointed—deeply disappointed.