Her Punisher perched on her shoulder, rotors folded, talons clenched, sensors extended toward Victor as if waiting for him to make a fool of himself.
“Do you,” he gasped, “have a way out?”
He couldn’t see her expression, but the strike leader pointed back into the jungle in the direction the Victor had come from.
“Miércoles,” Victor cursed, lips numb. “You want us to walk home?”
Her voice crackled in his earphones. “No, you fool, now we have to run.”
Gobs darted like bats through the air, disassembling and oozing across machinery and space-suited people alike. Mantis-shrimp mechanoids sliced chunks off the harvester with burning claws. Bloated creatures like giant fleas lapped at spilled fuel. And the Leviathan, with great efficiency, ate Victor’s harvester.
Dr. Merchant was right, a thought which probably didn’t give her much comfort as she watched her people fall under diamond-serrated limbs and sun-hot mandibles. And a jet of flame in the sky signified something worse was coming.
“Dragons!” she yelled. “On the ground!”
Victor hit the mud at the same time as the landing gear of one of the giant, flying predators. The Dragon flamed as its wings tilted, jet engines blasting craters into the mud, its narrow head pointed directly at one of the strikers.
“Punisher, fetch!” Dr. Merchant commanded, and flung out an arm.
The mechanoid launched itself off her back, churning through the rain toward the stricken human. The Punisher buzzed between the Dragon and its prey, claw-harpoon jabbing like the stinger of a giant wasp. Surely that wasn’t natural behavior. How could Dr. Merchant have trained the creature so well without using a handshake gauntlet? Despite himself, despite everything, Victor was impressed.
The Dragon was not. As the Punisher wrapped its claw around the man it had been ordered to save, the Dragon spread its mouthparts and snatched the smaller mechanoid out of the air. It didn’t bother to cut apart the Punisher’s structural elements, just hacked its processes, stole its factors, and sucked dry its reserves of oil and liquid oxygen. The skeleton of metal and plastic splashed into the mud, and the Dragon turned its headlights back toward its human prey.