Kora cut down the last abomination and craned her head back from atop her raptor. The sky was flaring with vibrant hues, but that wasn’t what drew her gaze. Her psyche felt tugged, like it had been hooked by an invisible lure and was being pulled upward with increasing intensity.
She’s coming, she realized, eyes widening. Holly’s coming. I’m going back in my original body.
A whip-like crack sounded from the east. Kora swiveled toward it and saw a glimmering point of light approaching her and her troop.
As it drew closer, she saw it resolve into the Bite Mobile.
A chuckle slipped out without her consciously intending it.
Holly screamed. In the blink of an eye, she’d been transported back to EArth, spinning through the air at several hundred miles per hour.
“There she is!” Peter yelled, pointing at Holly’s tiny outline.
She’d emerged in a wisp of light, several miles above ANOS’s parking lot. She was blinking in and out of view as she fell through layer after layer of moonlit cloud. “Bites, can you zoom in on her?”
A holographic pane formed and resolved into a crystal-clear picture of an unconscious barbarian warrior, descending at the speed of terminal velocity. Eun and Peter’s sight was still Slideways; they were able to see an ethereal tangle shoot down from her forehead to the ground below. It looked like a loosely woven braid of light, gleaming with incandescent pulses that flowed down its length.
“The fuck is that?” Peter muttered.
“AN ASTRAL UMBILICAL—A PANDIMENSIONAL LINK WHICH WILL REALIGN HOLLY AND KOR’THANK INTO THEIR RIGHTFUL BODIES.” There was a brief pause, then: “CORPOREAL TRANSFER IS NOW COMPLETE.”
At that moment, having performed its body-switching function, the ethereal weave brightened and vanished. Kor’Thank wasn’t falling, now it was Holly. The cheerleader was still unconscious, her hair flying up due to the cold, crisp slipstream.
“Peter!” Eun shouted. Holographic reticles expanded and shrunk around her panicked eyes. “Less than a minute before she impacts!”
Peter, still on his feet, gripped a pair of ceiling-mounted handles as Eun hit the afterburners. “Bitefighter, I need options!”
“I AM EQUIPPED WITH AN EMERGENCY HARNESS, FITTED WITH A DECELERANT TETHER. IF I AM MANEUVERED CORRECTLY AND SLOWED TO THE APPROPRIATE DEGREE, YOU COULD CATCH HOLLY PROVIDED YOU WEAR THE HARNESS.”
“Get it out!” Peter yelled. “Now!”
The ceiling opened up. A mechanic whirring filled the cockpit as the decelerant harness descended from above. Peter glanced over his shoulder, making sure his torso was aligned with the shiny-fibered vest, then stepped back into it. Servos whirred and latches snapped, strapping him in and lifting him up.
Eun managed to blurt, “Peter, be caref—” before he declared, “Launch me!” The back of the craft sectioned open, filling the cabin with a cold rush of gale-force wind.
He gritted his teeth as the temperature dropped dozens of degrees, then he was flying through the sky, enveloped in a cold wash of moonlit sky.
Holly’s memory was a fragmented jumble. Her mind registered the frigid chill of rushing air, and the dazzling bursts of interdimensional light that heralded her arrival; all around her for dozens of yards, gorgeous curls of graduated brilliance were painting the night with a soft, warm halo, then wisping away, leaving behind a faint, muted glow.
How had she gotten here? What the hell was that…that thing speeding toward her? It looked like some kind of mushroom-shaped spacecraft …
Then she saw it was trailing something behind it on a long-ass line. No, not some thing, some one. A man-shaped figure was dangling behind it, backlit by the white glow of the full moon.
Her eyes widened. Peter.
Eun had taken them into a steep dive, causing Peter to fly high above the Bite Mobile, pulled downward by its breakneck descent. Holly had regained consciousness; her model-perfect eyes were locked onto his, silently begging him to come save her. Uncertainty and fear wracked his mind; his palms were lathered in clammy sweat.
Then he remembered Kora’s advice from before, when they’d been preparing to face off against Dissona. How every hero forgot to enjoy the moment and revel in their respective journeys. Certainty flowed through his mind, and his shaking hands became steady and sure. The wind rushing by seemed to fade and vanish. All he saw was Holly.
He reached out with both arms and grabbed her tightly around the waist. The decelerant line slowed him down as the Bite Mobile cut its speed and pulled them both into a steep climb. He experienced a moment of jarring panic just before his rate of ascent synced with Holly’s, then they were both soaring, surrounded by bursts of extradimensional light, the scented spring wind whipping their hair into a frenzy.
Peter Lee, rocketing through the night at three hundred miles per hour, acted on pure instinct. He leaned forward and kissed Holly Dent.
Holly placed her palms on both his cheeks and gave as good as she got.