The moment right after Arthur's last sentence seemed to stretch on to eternity. Aldrich's senses flared like flame fueled by gasoline, entering into his hyper focused 'zone' again. It was in this state of super sensitivity that he managed to take everything in.
Arthur's head opened up at the top of the skull now conveniently aimed at Aldrich with his low bow. It did not split apart with the fleshy rippling of blood and bone, but the clean disassembly of nanotechnology.
When the crown parted, it bared not a brain but a rotating sphere of charged blue metal, crackling with intense energy.
The entire process occurred nigh instantly, speaking volumes to how seamlessly Arthur could change from friendly butler to warbot.
But though it was a quick switch that could have given Aldrich a run for his money, it was not enough for Valera.
Before the buildup of energy in the brain sphere could unleash, Valera's fist, still pale, bared skin because she did not have the time to materialize her armor, smashed into Arthur's face. Valera's instincts, sharpened by the modern knowledge she assimilated from Aldrich, was wary enough to stop her from punching the exposed sphere-skull and causing a potential explosion.
Instead, Valera's fist crashed into Arthur's cheek. The grey synth-skin rippled in the slow motion of Aldrich's heightened senses, and in the waves of undulating nanite flesh, small waves of glowing orange radiated outwards from Valera's fist, traveling rapidly throughout Arthur's body.
Arthur's skin, no, likely his entire body, was composed of reactive nanostructures that could easily adapt to different types of damage and force to mitigate it as much as possible. The shockwave of Valera's punch did not meet resistance against stiff, breakable skin, but instead traveled near harmlessly through soft, jello-like flesh.
But remarkable as the reactive technology was, it had limits. Arthur's face remained unbroken, but the power of the punch still sent him flying across the storage room, smashing straight through a hovering drone, destroying it in a shower of sparks and falling metal parts.
The beam charging up in Arthur's head fired in a line of bright blue that crossed across the impressive length of the storage room instantly, boring a molten hole through the wall before Arthur himself plugged it up by slamming into it.
"Betrayal!?" said Valera, her fangs extending as her crimson eyes moved swiftly from side to side, alert to the maximum. Her black nails grew into deadly curves. Her armor materialized now, plating over her elegant black dress in fierce, spiked power.
"Possible, but doubtful," said Aldrich. He had read into Bart. Bart was a genuine man as far as it came to saving his daughter, and Aldrich would not have come here if he did not believe it. "More likely that Bart's been compromised."
'Shit!' said V. 'And before you ask, no, nothing's wrong! Mansion's operating normally. Arthur's nuts, but I couldn't breach his mind anyway. This is on Caliburn's encryption – you should definitely sue for compensation!'
'I see,' replied Aldrich. There was only so much V could do here. Without being able to directly jack into Arthur with her hair, she had no way of assessing Arthur's condition accurately.
'But I'd get the hell out of there. If Arthur's been hacked, then all of the info he showed me, the house layout, the security –'
'It could all be fake?'
'No, I'd have noticed something if it was big. But he could have changed something small.'
'Got it.' Aldrich prepared to leave. In unknown territory, even a small threat could snowball out of control. 'Volantis, can you sense anything?'
'Not presently,' said Volantis. His energy sensing vision did not track any notable energy signatures nearby. None that he could sense, anyway. It was entirely possible that something could be hiding itself.
"Chrysa, get me out of here," said Aldrich, sending a strong mental signal to Chrysa. She was sleeping in his boundary, but the urgency imparted by the signal woke her up in an instant.
'On it!' said Chrysa, tiny hints of grogginess still lazily clinging at her voice.
White crackles of energy surged around Aldrich and Valera but before they could fully form into a proper warp, they died down.
'W-what?' Chrysa spoke out, confused. 'There's something there, father, something…dark, something cold, something scary – it's stopping me!'
Aldrich felt an odd chill creeping in his feet. He looked down to see that the metal floor had been shrouded in a layer of shadowy dark. The darkness was shaped in countless shaking rings that distorted the space around them, all linking together in a haphazard chainmail of spatial flux.
The flickering darkness did not hurt Aldrich, nor did it have any physical pull against him, but he still felt immediate danger from it.
Aldrich did not waste any time. He stretched out his draconic wings through Volantis. Valera stayed close to his side, burnmaw shield raised, the flame spewing visage angry in its flaming ferocity. She could hitch a ride with Aldrich or just air jump her way out if needed.
It was not going to be hard to smash through the ceiling, even if it was fortified to withstand a missile strike. Especially with Valera assisting with a punch or two.
But before Aldrich jumped, he stopped, the energy vision from Volantis picking up a covering of concentrated power that spanned across the entirety of the ceiling. In fact, he did not need to use the energy vision at all.
The energy was clearly visible to just the naked eye, showing as a solid screen of grey. It was a shade of grey that Aldrich recognized. A type of energy he had seen before. Back in the Judicata. It was –
"This should have been done more efficiently. Arthur should have kept you distracted for longer. But now, I must intervene directly. I am sorry." An echoing female voice radiated from further down the storage room, and soon, the owner showed itself.
A woman, far taller than the average man, appeared dressed in a skintight bodysuit of black and grey. Her head was helmeted by a dome of glassy black like an astronaut's helmet. She seemed to 'stride' into existence, materializing from seemingly thin air with the completion of a full step. It was almost like reality was a theater curtain behind which she hid, and it was just now she decided to step out.
With her and the grey energy's appearance, Aldrich felt his technolink disable, the link between him and V cutting off.
"Kinesis. Attack dog of the United States," said Aldrich. "Has the government finally gotten tired of me?"
He wondered how Kinesis had hid herself so perfectly. If she used any tech related cloaking, V would have very likely picked it out. Volantis's Truesight could pick out most Alter based stealthing. But what they could not cover was alien technology.
Alien technology that the United States had the largest share of, if Mel and Beta's information was correct.
"The government and the Irregulars department work together," said Kinesis, her voice calm, unbroken. "But they are not one and the same."
"Does it matter at this stage?" said Aldrich. "The details are inconsequential. What you've started here is a direct attack against a sovereign Sentinel. A declaration of war."
"There will be no such conflict. That is why I am here." Kinesis raised her hand against Aldrich. It was open, likely ready to direct her construct ability against him.
This was no doubt an extremely dangerous situation.
Kinesis was a solid, all rounder S-ranker with powerful defensive and offensive abilities. Her construct ability included a powerful, permanently active defensive shield and incredibly versatile offensive powers in the form of her constructs.
In a flat out one versus one, Kinesis was superior to Aldrich. But right now, with Valera and Volantis, Aldrich could put up one hell of a fight. Beat her, too, if Kinesis's public data was all there was to go by, but Aldrich sorely doubted that.
"You seek to end his life, is it?" said Valera, venom thick in her voice. She stood in front of Aldrich with firm determination. "Then you will have to go through me. Unless I rip you apart first."
"If you've come here to assassinate me, then you've already failed," said Aldrich. "If you've come to fight me, then we'll fight. But you and I both know this won't be an easy fight. You can try to box us all in here with your construct ability, but we aren't small fry.
This box will break. The fight will get taken outside. It'll be noticed. And once it does, the government will have a storm of problems coming its way."
"There will be no fight," replied Kinesis. Her face, hidden as it was under her uniquely shaped helm, did not betray any emotion, nor did her voice. Though Aldrich could not read her voice right now, that unreadability was a hint of its own.
Kinesis's voice was always calm, but it felt calm in a controlled, human way. Right now, her voice was calm in a distinctly inhuman manner. Devoid of emotion and tone not due to training and willful control, but a lack of humanity to begin with.
"I do not like conflict. It depletes me. And I have used up much in ignoble service already."