Chapter 264 An Unseen Cold 3
The surprise, like any other distraction in the heat of a fight, fled from Aldrich. Or, to be more precise, he rolled it up, crushed it, and tossed it away into the same void he booted distracting thoughts during a fight into.
His mind geared into complete focus, and like a well oiled engine, ran a dozen thoughts at once.
Once more, he was in the 'zone', the world all around him slowing down to a crawl.
The ice bolt that targeted the Grave Ward had followed a linear trajectory. That meant it lead directly to whoever had fired it. He traced the travel path of the bolt back to a spot behind a four wheeler painted a dull blue powdered with dust and dirt.
With a fluid series of trained motions, Aldrich held his bolter pistol in front of him, taking aim. He felt the edges of his vision strain and darken, his psyche automatically cutting out everything except the car, everything except the target.
Aldrich pulled the trigger.
The model of the bolter was called the Red Wail, and it was obvious why. Parallel lines of red running across the pistol's extended barrel supercharged, and a high pitched rumble echoed out - the wail of a weapon meant to destroy with every single shot.
A deafening bang unleashed itself from the pistol as a bolter round, more metal spike than bullet, shot out in a shower of sparks and red crackles.
The depleted uranium round punched through the car as if it was a two bit cardboard model before making solid impact with something right behind it. The harsh crack of metal splitting apart resonated through the air accompanied by a light show of blue and orange sparks.
A chaotically flickering silhouette crashed backwards into the dirt with a dull thud, the spike-like round jutting out visibly to mark Aldrich's success.
Aldrich got out of the zone, his vision briefly blurring as he relaxed his mind. The black around his vision disappeared.
"You have him!" exclaimed Valera. "What a mighty weapon that is!"
"This isn't over yet," said Aldrich. He put his fingers to his earpiece. "Diamondback, we're dealing with either a Frame or a bot."
Aldrich could tell as much from how the round had hit based on the sparks and rending metal.
"The bolter round should give you a visual marker to follow. Prioritize capture. Now it's time to earn your pay," said Aldrich.
"I'll need a bonus at this rate," said Diamondback.
Diamondback appeared from the air, aiming a kick at the downed enemy.
The target dodged to the side, recovering respectably. Diamondback's foot smashed into sun dried earth and split it apart in a crater. But that was probably the last time the target was going to dodge anything.
The target had evaded with stiff, jerky movements, indicating damage. Sparks continued to sputter out from the embedded bolter round. The silhouette's flickering gave way to more and more of its hidden appearance.
The problem with cloaking technology was that it was finicky, prone to malfunctioning with the slightest bit of damage. Soon, it would deactivate, revealing the culprit fully.
"Shall I assist him?" said Valera.
"No, stay with me," said Aldrich. "There may be more like him nearby."
He raised his palm in the air and summoned another [Grave Ward]. This time, instead of sending it out on its own, he kept it floating beside him, where he and Valera could both protect it.
The instant Aldrich said this, he whirled around as his [Grave Ward] revealed a cloaked mass behind him. He found himself instinctively reacting, grabbing at and stopping two metallic wrists belonging to robotic hands reaching out for his throat.
Aldrich, with the [Grave Ward], got a good look at his attacker.
It was a machine, no doubt about it, a humanoid construct two meters tall made of grey and pale blue metal plates seamlessly interlocked together. At the robot's chestplate was a shining blue circle of light that likely indicated a power source of some sort.
The robot stared at Aldrich with a thin blue line of light on its faceplate. A cold, mechanical stare. Curved horns of metal jutted out from the sides of the machine's head, likely for aesthetic purposes.
To Aldrich's surprise, he could not just overpower the machine and force its hands away from him. The bot was strong enough to match Aldrich's already superhuman strength, no -
The machine started to overpower Aldrich, the whir or gears and the groaning of straining metal emanating from its arms. Its stealth function disappeared, replaced now by a white fog that poured out of vents located in various in its body.
Inexorably, driven by the endless determination of programming, the bot inched closer to Aldrich's throat with its open hands.
Aldrich's arms, directly in the emitted fog, froze over like they had been dunked into liquid nitrogen. Had he not been undead with natural cold resistance, his hands would have turned brittle and shattered already.
"Die, golem!" Valera rushed to Aldrich's side and punched the robot in the face, burying its head down into the dirt in an almost cartoonish display. With savage intent, she loomed over the bot. She slammed her shield into the machine over and over again, each blow ripping apart metal and sparking wires.
The bot was thoroughly subdued, the light in its eye line fading into black.
"That's enough," said Aldrich. ꜰʀᴇᴇ ᴡᴇʙ ɴᴏᴠᴇʟ. ᴄᴏᴍ
Immediately, Valera paused, stopping her shield from once more tearing into the machine.
"Let me see." Aldrich looked down at the bot. Its chest had been thoroughly torn apart, revealing a complex array of moving metal parts and patterns of circuits and wires.
The thing that grabbed his attention the most was a spherical blue orb at the center that must have been the power source. As far as bot power sources went, it looked fairly standard.
Quite a few battle bots used engine cores like this.
But that was about all Aldrich knew. The parts, the circuitry, the wiring - he had no idea about. "I don't recognize this tech from anywhere, but that makes sense.
A bot strong enough to beat me in physicals on top of powers like stealth and ice generation - this has to be beyond tech, and if it's beyond tech, it makes sense why I wouldn't know anything about it."
"Beyond what?" asked Valera.
"It's a little difficult to explain fully. Just know that this thing is special. As far as golems go, it's on the stronger end," said Aldrich.
Beyond tech was the term coined for technology that escaped 'beyond' the realm of current human possibility. Only the highest end of technos could create beyond tech, and any one that could make functioning battle bots this strong should have been world famous.
Aldrich could scratch off any heroes or public figures, then, that could have been behind this.
That left the criminal underworld.
And even there, Aldrich could count the entities that could hire or house a techno capable of this on his own two hands.
Specifically, six fingers - the Dark Six.
"V, you're seeing this, aren't you?" said Aldrich. He did not check up on Diamondback. He trusted the man to take down the damaged bot and to say anything if something was wrong.
"Yeah," said V. "That thing's a bot I've never seen the likes of. Beyond tech, I guess.
But the security measures that made it invisible to me are gone now. Even if it's beyond tech, it's still connected to the same cyberverse everyone else uses.
I'm going to dive in and take as much info as I can out of this scrap bastard, make sure it never blindsides me again."
A faint purple light flickered in the bot's eye line, indicating that V had infiltrated it.
"Where's this thing from?" said Aldrich.
"…Damn it, and here I was thinking I'd get a freebie. The thing's insides are secured. Any info I can access in its memory's locked up.
It's strange. This thing's like a weird mash of known and unknown. It's as if an alien saw our tech and decided to try and make their own version of it, getting the basic design right while everything inside is wildly different."
"Can you break into it given time? I'm planning on taking this thing with me."
"Yeah, I can totes do it. Give me a few days. Once I crack this thing once, I'll be able to crack any other bot operating on similar systems," said V.
"Got it." Aldrich took his hand from his earpiece and talked to Valera. "Let's carry this thing out of here. I wanted to stay in this city a little while longer, show you and Chrysa an arcade and a nice dinner and maybe even a movie, but it doesn't look like we have time."
Valeral balled her fist and gnashed her teeth. "Accursed golems! Daring to take a date with my master away from me! Whoever the golemancer is that shaped these foul abominations, I will wring his head from his pitiful neck."
"A date, huh?" said Aldrich. He had not been thinking of it as a date, more just a way to increase Chrysa's bond to boost her soul synchronization. What it would have meant to Valera did not even register to him.
But he had to stop thinking like that.
He had to start thinking more about Valera's feelings as well. He was too used to thinking of her as a unit to move around like a game piece. He needed to start training himself to think of her as much more - he had promised to give her love a chance, after all.
In lieu of this decision, making up the date became an important objective as well.
Aldrich sighed. "Then it looks like I've screwed up our date and a fun time for Chrysa. I'll have to make up for this somehow."
"No need," said Valera, bowing her head. "Duty comes first-,"
"You don't want to go on a date?" said Aldrich.
"…" Valera kept her head bowed, hiding an obvious blush. She whispered softly, shyly. "I do."
"Then let me make it up to you," said Aldrich. He did not know whether training himself to think of her was a good thing, whether it should have all come to him naturally, but maybe this was just how he was.
He had always solved his problems with training and preparation. Made sense he would approach dating the same as well.
Valera squealed in delight, finally unable to control herself. She hugged her shield and swayed from side to side. "A date? Our first real date? Truly? What will we do? Where will we go?"
"Slow down, I don't think that fast," said Aldrich. "I-,"
"Critical systems failure detected." The robot interrupted Aldrich. "Attempted intrusion of memory storage detected. Initiating purge protocol…"
The robot's blue core started to glow brightly, swelling with energy that made it very clear that it was getting ready to blow.