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, spearing random bystanders or walking up cars and crumpling their tops with her spiny-haired limbs.
Peter tried to take off, but Eun grabbed him by the shoulder. He threw a pissed-off glance at her. “What the hell are you—”
“Look.” The Bite Mobile’s headlights appeared on their left. It spun into a series of furious 360s, filling the air with loud screeches, and slid to a stop in front of the teens, acrid smoke wafting up from its tires.
Its gull-wing doors rose open. The speakers boomed with an unmistakable timbre: the voice of Optimus Prime.
“GET IN.” Cool blue light flooded out from the dashboard.
The three teens piled in. Peter took front, Eun got the passenger seat, and Kora was in 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 streaked down the steep, downtown road. The three tensed and gasped as they hit a level patch of street. When it angled back down they gained some air, and—
—landed 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 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 the two-word mantra under his breath. Crisp overlays lit up 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.”
Up ahead, in front of a Sutter Street bodega, Dissona was hunched over, squirming and grimacing.
Peter pointed at her and shouted, “WHAT THE FUCK IS SHE—”
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 took to the air. People screamed and pointed. Her translucent wings hummed and blurred, blowing pedestrians’ hair back before she zipped toward a highway exit.
“The 101!” Peter yelled. “We need to—”
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 right, the Bite Mobile’s rear erupted with clanks. Peter looked back 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 ball-jointed thrusters burned with eye-catching blue.
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 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 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. “THIS IS ANOS’S SPECIAL RESPONSE UNIT! YOU ARE IN POSSESSION OF ILLEGAL 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 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 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!” 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—”
Optimus Prime said, “NONBALLISTIC PROPULSION HAS BEEN PRIMED AND ACTIVATED.”
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 again. The other two joined in.
“You have a choice,” Atriya said, looking 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.” He gave her a weary look.
“You’re boring me.” She propped her elbow onto her armrest and leaned her cheek into her hand, squishing her face against her palm.
“Then I’ll get to the point.”
Atriya leaned forward, resting 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 at me,” he warned. “Not unless you want to be completely 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. Her goddamn cells were shaking and rattling, like her DNA was being pushed and pulled, nagged and twisted. She closed her eyes and looked away, but the light spilling off Atriya 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 ceased. 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 heavenly singularity that pulsed and throbbed—a blue circle that drew ceaselessly from its edges. Radiant lines slowly crawled toward the portal’s center: a singular dot of purest white.
“There’s your way home.” Atriya nodded at it. “Once you enter, 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 strode confidently 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.