(continued from Part 2)
Late at night, the Inquest base got quiet. Most workstations were abandoned, most consoles shut off. Little geniuses yawned and drifted off to the barracks. A few night-owls tinkered, oblivious to the hour, oblivious to the watchful eyes of the prisoners.
Trynden laid on his side, pretending to sleep, the gyro tucked inside his coat. Soffi affected a believable snore; he hoped she hadn’t actually fallen asleep. He nudged her with his boot.
“Quit it!” she whispered sharply. “He’s coming.”
The dogged pace of Mr. Monocle the Creepy Guard brought the soft pad of asura feet close again. Regular as a Norn’s drinking habit. As soon as the guard rounded the corner, Tryn opened his coat. The blue gyro floated free. Tryn ticked a switch. The gyro, Soffi, and himself vanished.
On time, Mr. Monocle turned his three-eyed glare into the cell. He froze, rushed the sizzling bars, slapped a code into a nearby panel, and the bars dissipated. “No, no, no,” he said. “Brix’ll dock my pension!” As if doubting his enhanced eye, he ran into the cell to search every bare corner, short rifle aiming at nothing. He entered the diameter of the stealth effect and disappeared, just as Trynden’s arm seized him around the neck.
Tryn squeezed until the guard’s struggles grew woozy. A cork popped. The shimmering image of a small hand pried open the guard’s mouth and poured something down his throat. In short order, Mr. Monocle slept as soundly as a sylvari in a seed pod.
“Hurry!” Tryn hissed.
The prisoners stripped the guard naked. Soffi threw on the red-and-black uniform and fixed the monocle over her eye, just as the gyro ran out of juice. Nothing would give them away like a worker glancing up and finding the cell wide open. So Soffi dealt the sleeping guard a kick in the buttocks and shouted, “Take that, cheeky bastard! Teach you to insult my ears.” She pointed the rifle in Trynden’s face and backed from the cell. She smashed a key on the keypad, and up sprang the glowing bars again.
If the gyro’s charge lasted longer they wouldn’t need the charade. But the capacitor was too small to maintain power for more than a couple minutes. While it recharged, Soffi had her work cut out for her.
Casually, she made her way to a workstation, tinkered with whatever experiment had been left behind. All the while, she marked her targets. The ectoplasm had been divided and siphoned into small jars and arrayed on a shelf. The transigolem had been escorted from the base, likely to secure another haul of supplies. But the M-One-Six-Two Thousand stood silent and empty against one wall. A red stasis light blinked dully on its chest.
While Trynden shoved Mr. Monocle into Soffi’s coat and trousers like some oversized, grotesque baby doll, he watched Soffi fire up one of the consoles. She punched buttons and swiped screens. When she found the keycodes they needed, she turned and gave Tryn a subtle nod.
Then came the risky part.
She picked up the earpiece of an intercom. After a moment of “listening” she pushed a button and said, “Are you sure, Doctor? No, sir, I would never question your genius. Yes, sir. I’ll get right on it.”
A couple of workers glanced up at the apparent scolding and smirked, then ducked their eyes over their machines again and paid Soffi no further mind.
She went to the shelf, lifted off handfuls of pink-glowing jars at a time and carried them past the workstations, past the cell, past a guard, to the M-One-Six-Two Thousand. A punch of a button, and the golem stirred. Pistons in its legs hissed as they crimped, lowering the torso toward the ground. Another button opened the top hatch. Soffi deposited the ectoplasm inside. Then went back for more.
She cleared two full shelves before the guard grew suspicious and waddled into her path.
Inside the cell, Trynden swore under his breath.
“Brix conferred orders to transfer the ectoplasm?” the guard asked.
“Of course,” Soffi declared, hands clutching jars to her chest. “You think I’d risk his wrath? He said it would be safer inside the golem.” She lowered her voice. “You know how he gets.”
The guard nodded, even tsked. “Paranoid.”
The guard waved her on. She tucked the jars into the golem, and this time she must’ve decided not to press her luck. She returned to the console instead of the shelf, crawled under it and popped open the panel to expose the wiring. A tug here, a tug there, then she hurried to one of the workstations and tried to look busy.
The console began to belch sparks, then gouts of black smoke, then open flame. The night-owls and guards came running. Water jetted from the ceiling. An alarm began to whine.
“I’ll get the extinguisher!” Soffi shouted, but ran to the cell instead. She entered one of the codes she’d gleaned from the security system and the bars dissipated.
Tryn let the gyro fly. “One minute. That’s all the power we’ve got.”
As invisible as breath, he and Soffi hurried for the M-One-Six-Two Thousand. As the gyro neared, the golem vanished. Soffi scrambled up its side and into the hatch. Trynden heard the pistons raise the torso and the feet stomp off. He followed, and the gyro followed him, honing in on the beacon he wore around his wrist.
Behind them, the base had dissolved into chaos as the fire leapt through the wiring and spread to the next console and breathed in noxious fumes rising off a workstation and leapt into a beaker and exploded. Asura screamed and cursed.
Ahead, the corridor ran long and dark to the ancient stone door. The golem clomped too slowly at Soffi’s command. “C’mon…,” Trynden urged. He counted silently. “Forty-one, forty-two.” The gyro bobbed happily, eating its stored power greedily.
Just as they reached the outer door, Doctor Brix shouted in a tinny, maniacal shriek: “My ectoplasm! Where is my ectoplasm? … The prisoners! Find the prisoners.”
Soffi’s voice boomed from inside the golem: “Four, nine, zero, three.”
Tryn scrambled for the keypad beside the door and punched in the code. The massive door rumbled aside. Soffi pressed the golem through before the opening was wide enough. Steel scraped stone. The wide shoulders dislodged, and the machine surged into the open.
The gyro popped and exploded, crashing at Trynden’s feet in a shower of sparks.
“Aaa-ooo-gah!” groaned the alarm. The red light flashed. Asura aiming rifles sped down the corridor.
Trynden peered into the lighted hole that hid the outer control panel. The big red button looked promising. He pressed it. The stone door lurched and began to close. “Fry it!” he shouted.
Bullets whizzed past, scoring the golem’s carapace, ricocheting in all directions. Trynden curled into a ball. Gods, what a way to die. Survive Zhaitan and airship crashes and flesh-eating plant wolves, only to be struck down by a stray bullet shat off the side of a stolen golem.
All too slowly the golem’s torso turned. The little hatch in its chest opened and a muzzle extended. The door rumbled shut. The spray of bullets stopped.
With a brilliant flash from the muzzle, a jolt of electricity struck the outer control panel. Sparks sizzled. Try as they might, the asura on the other side would have to pry the door open with crowbars or exit a different way.
Soffi and Tryn didn’t wait around to see which the asura would choose. The M-One-Six-Two Thousand plodded off into the tangled trees of Maguuma.
“If we’re not hailed heroes after this,” Tryn grumbled, “Ravenyth can fetch her own damn ectoplasm.”
“Let’s not tell our guildmates all the details,” Soffi suggested.
“Agreed. And next time, can we just raid the centaur camp?”
“I’ll take that as a compliment, thank you. You clearly appreciate the superiority of asuran technology.”
“Dream on. It was my gyro that got us out of there.”
“As if! Where would you be if I hadn’t…”
And so they debated the issue over the long miles back to the guild hall.