a boss battle!?
That rumbling kept escalating until it made the entire floor shake. Justin scrambled down the steps as the catwalk crumpled and bent apart with a distinctly metallic screech. Shades stumbled back toward the door, while Justin and Max drew their weapons against an unknown menace.
Right before their eyes, the bizarre mass of machinery began to transform. Parts shifting and turning, resolving themselves into the body and limbs of a blocky mechanical monstrosity. It was a sight to behold as it arose from its mountings against the wall, a pair of frightful red optics phased on, glaring at them through the gloom. The thing called ‘Warder’ stood a full twenty feet tall standing upright, with a bulky body, steel pillars for legs, and battering-ram arms that were every bit as massive.
It knocked the ruined catwalk aside with a casual sweep of one of those arms, a kitten batting a twig, then began to advance.
“For the love of God, open the door!” Donaldson wailed.
Before Shades could make it there, though, an enormous steel blast door slammed down over that section of the wall. Trapping them with the monster. Just like in one of his adventure games, he thought, rather less than enthusiastically.
“Open the fucking door!” Justin screamed. His mind clawing its way uphill against an avalanche of nightmare memories of NK-525, and all of Tranz-D’s robotic legions. Knew now he had been too hasty, too careless; like most of Tranz-D, this thing was a baited trap, and he had taken that bait hook, line and sinker. Both double-barrel power pistols firing alternating barrels as he backed away.
None of his shots causing any noticeable damage, his energy bolts splashing harmlessly off its thick steel skin, as shot after shot lit up the room.
“I can’t!” Shades shouted back. “It’s sealed!”
At first, the Warder simply regarded them, optics shifting to each of them in turn, then it took a swing at Max with one titanic fist. Max barely jumped out of the way, trying to favor his injured arm. The swing was slow, but he could tell, just from the dent it put in the floor, that it packed a monolithic punch.
Just one blow could easily be fatal.
Meanwhile, Donaldson backed up against the wall, white as a sheet.
Hoping his friends could hold out a little longer, Shades whipped out his stun- sticks. Firing up the cutting blades, he tore into the layers of armor plating barring their flight, hoping to open an escape route. Just eye-balling it, he was quite certain that behemoth shouldn’t be able to fit into the corridor beyond, offering a fighting chance to make it to the elevator. His only thought of a desperate need to retreat and regroup, to form some kind of plan against this unexpected and immensely powerful foe.
Yet no matter how deep he gouged the blast doors with his energy blade, his short foot of cutting edge just couldn’t penetrate all the way.
“What the hell are you doing!?” Justin screeched.
“The armor’s too thick!” Shades shot back, trying to figure out the fasted way to scrape out an escape hatch without a deeper blade like Max’s.
Whose weapon wasn’t going to be in any position for lending to other causes for the time being. And worse, could only be gripped with his uninjured left hand, for as far as he could tell, their only option was to face the beast head-on. As Max steeled himself for the next attack, he shouted, “Justin! Cover me!”
Justin, having seen for himself that the machine’s armor was too heavy for his power pistols, changed tactics, aiming instead for its optics and sensor housing mounted on its bulky shoulders. Several blasts hit around the robot’s upper torso and head, probing for some kind of exploitable vulnerability. For its part, it moved one massive arm up to shield its largely utilitarian face.
Taking his chance, Max dashed up, laser sword at the ready. At the last moment, Justin stopped firing to give him an opening. But once the heat was off, that gave the Warder a chance to resume its own offensive, lashing out at Max again.
Who dodged at the last moment, slashing with his energy blade. The severed hand, even bigger than Max, crashed to the floor with a thunderous clang. Ignoring the fallen hand, Max continued to press his assault with a flying leap to the metal giant’s waist, slicing again. The laser blade bit deep into its thick plating, leaving a sparking gash as Max kicked off and jumped away.
The Warder stepped back for a moment, apparently re-evaluating the situation. As Max backed off to do some assessments of his own, the others watched in stunned silence as the stub where the thing’s hand used to be folded back with a whirring sound, and the barrel of some unknown weapon extended in its place. With that, the machine turned its attention to Max’s friend.
“Oh shit…” Justin muttered sheepishly.
“I think you pissed him off.” Shades still found himself feeling numbed by the seeming unreality of this whole situation. Although he had felt from the start that there was something powerful sleeping down here, this was, once again, nothing like he was expecting, and he continued drawing blanks as his mind groped frantically for some kind of plan.
“Please! No!” Donaldson cried weakly, backing further against the wall, as if he could simply disappear into it.
The mystery weapon, almost as big as one of the Maximum’s quadra-barrel laser cannons, started spitting intense energy beams at Justin, who started scrambling madly to stay out of its crosshairs, racing as fast as if the Enforcer were still on his trail. Blast after blast lit up the dim chamber, tracking him through the darkness with ruthless mechanical persistence. Doing the only thing he could think of at this range, Max whipped out his power pistol and opened fire.
The only thing he succeeded in doing, though, was turning the malevolent machine’s attention back on himself.
In the midst of all this, Shades had ceased examining the blast door, at first terrified of getting hit by stray shots while chipping away at it. Now focused intently on the Warder itself, as he suspected there was no way in hell he could take out that door in time while it was still on its rampage. Selfish as he felt for even thinking such things, at least before, Max and Justin were keeping it distracted from him while he tried to crack the door, but the introduction of firepower on its side changed everything. Instead, he shifted his efforts to finding a way to fight that thing, to take it out.
He watched in rapt suspense as Max jumped over the machine’s severed hand as he scrambled madly to stay ahead of another line of shots that gouged the concrete floor.
Justin, retreating to the far side of the chamber, holstered his double-barrel power pistols and unshouldered his crossbow instead. Loading one of the few specialized bolts he had left, he just hoped it would give him a long enough window of opportunity to follow up with his next move.
Yet even as Justin prepared to make his move, he saw Max trip over a deeply gouged stretch of floor, sprawling headlong across the ground, a barrage of energy beams lancing past overhead. The shots paused as the machine re-aimed at him. Max stared up at the Warder, laser sword held before him, painfully aware that it would not be enough to block that much firepower, any more than he would be able to dodge this time.
“Max!” Shades cried, rushing to his friend’s aid.
He stopped short as something whizzed by overhead with a twang that could be only one thing.
“Cover your eyes!” Justin warned them.
Even as they did so, a blinding flash of light illuminated the room, right in the Warder’s face.
“Eat shit, motherfucker!” Justin screamed at the metal giant, having had more than enough of being hunted by machines the first time around. Letting his crossbow hang from its shoulder strap, he whipped out one of his two remaining EMP grenades and hurled it at the thing right on the heels of his last shot, then turned to run again. After all the fun he had in Tranz-D, he figured a weapon like this would surely come in handy in a fight against machines.
As Max stumbled back to his feet, the machine’s sensory systems recalibrated in the wake of that flash bolt, then turned its attention back to Justin. Who belatedly realized that, in his attempt to keep a cautious distance between himself and that mechanical monster, he had backed himself into a corner, leaving himself nowhere to run. The machine directed its aim at Justin.
And nothing happened.
Justin heaved a sigh of relief, thankful that his flash bolt and his short flight had bought him enough time for the EMP to work. Finally allowing himself to relax, now that this harrowing ordeal was over, he turned to his friends—
And the Warder shifted its stance, even as Justin’s own inner voice warned him it was too soon to celebrate, aiming to stomp on Max. Though the EMP wave seemed to have disabled its external weapon, its core systems were apparently protected by some sort of countermeasures. They all noticed its fearsome optics were still glowing all along, and Justin finally understood what he had overlooked.
As its colossal foot came crashing down, Max rolled out of the way. Seeing what might be his only opportunity at this range, Max bounded back to his feet, then rushed that massive leg, laser sword cocked back. With one clean swing, he sliced the limb off just below the knee.
The leg toppled over with a reverberating bong that echoed through the entire chamber, and the Warder fell to its one remaining knee. Max ran around behind it, looking to take out its other leg while it was still off-balance, but the machine swung at him with its remaining arm, forcing him to fall back. He could feel the frightening rush of displaced air as he evaded that mighty sweep.
The machine had completely ignored Shades up to this point, much as it had Donaldson, and even now it continued to focus on Max as Shades made his move. There was something he had noticed about their mechanized adversary he wasn’t so sure his friends had, and that nagging little voice in the back of his head was telling him it might well be their only chance. Taking a running start across the remainder of the chamber, he ran straight for it brandishing both stun-sticks.
Taking advantage of the machine’s missed back-swing, with a mad rush of adrenaline he leapt up to the armored brute’s bent knee, then reversed the grips on both stun-sticks, jumping again and plunging them into its enormous chest. Solidifying the blades for purchase and hanging on for dear life. Of course, the foot-long blades were no more able to fully penetrate its thick steel hide than they were those blast doors, but using them as pegs, Shades was able to scale the thing’s torso in this fashion.
At least until the thing finally noticed him. At which point it reached up with its one good arm, clearly meaning to pry this meddlesome human loose. Having finally seen what Shades was up to, Justin aimed carefully at the machine’s head, forcing it to again raise its arm to ward off his shots. Max, at first seeing his chance with its remaining arm occupied, was about to take out the other leg, then hesitated as he realized that if the machine fell over right now, it would squash Shades like a bug.
Shades, meanwhile, struggling desperately to make it in time to avoid his automated adversary’s crushing grasp, dangled by one arm, reaching frantically for the exposed panel on its chest. Clearly visible to him now, he could see it was exactly what he instinctively expected it would be, and he swung one last time. Reaching out and clutching the red key in his hand, he twisted it and gave it a hard yank.
“Got it!” he called out triumphantly.
Much as he suspected, the Warder came to a grinding, shuddering halt. Feeling the whole thing tipping forward, he stuffed the key into his pocket, taking up his other stun-stick again and kicking off its broad torso. Swinging as far to the side as he could, Shades hit the ground tumbling away as the massive machine came crashing to the ground with an earth-shaking impact that knocked everyone— even Donaldson huddled in the far corner— flat on their asses.
As he hauled himself to his feet, noting scrapes and bruises he would definitely feel in the morning, Shades looked back at the machine. Afraid that it might come back to life or something, but those dead, dormant optics only served to confirm his intuition. Reaching into his pocket, he fished out the other key he had managed to turn, the one Justin hadn’t removed.
“Don’t know if that was the right order,” he muttered, “but I guess it got the job done…”
“That was nuts!” Justin remarked.
“Are you okay?” Max asked as he got back up.
“Yeah,” Shades muttered, “though my arms and shoulders feel like stretched-out rubber bands…” Still, he had to admit that even though he had taken a terrible risk, it had totally paid off. “Let’s get out of here. I don’t know about you guys, but I don’t trust that thing.”
“Yes, I agree,” Donaldson put in weakly as he stumbled out of his corner, “but how? The door is still—”
No sooner did he say this, than the alarms— which had gone silent at some point lost on them in the midst of all that chaos earlier— started back up again. The rumbling, too, they noted with growing apprehension as they looked about anxiously for some as-yet unseen threat. All three of them drew their guns and reflexively started shooting at the still-inert Warder, but Justin’s was the only one still firing, as much to their chagrin, they belatedly remembered Justin’s EMP grenade.
It was only after the rumbling, and the accompanying alarms, stopped that any of them glanced back at the entrance to see that it was the blast doors raising back up into place all along.
“Well, I’ll be damned…” Shades remarked in quiet astonishment, knees buckling, remembering another, almost comically quirky, point about video game boss battles that nearly made him laugh. “It just opened.”