‘Keep your head down,’ Stella whispered at Hook. ‘They haven’t seen us.’
Hook grunted his reply. They both knew that if the angels had already spotted them then they would already be fighting. Or running. ‘How many?’ he whispered.
Stella glanced away from the window to Hook. Her nose caught his smell; not rotten exactly, just off. Hook didn’t look after his flesh as well as he might. She held up three fingers and waved her hand in the air.
Hook nodded, his face grim: three angels hovering, searching. Although neither he nor Stella had been built for fighting, they had taken care of lone angels when the need arose. Three was another story. He shuffled his bulk to get his head lower behind the comfortable furniture of the lobby. He raised his eyebrows to question Stella.
She shrugged and turned back to the window; the angels were sweeping the area just outside the hotel’s entrance. Earl’s Court. Stella had been to parties in this area before the crash. Guest of honour. She smirked at the thought now, and then shook her head at Hook who questioned the gesture.
The three suddenly descended and landed just ten metres from the window. They spread themselves apart and then let their wings unfurl. Within seconds the intensity of the golden glow was almost too much.
They’re charging,’ Stella whispered.
‘No way,’ Hook replied.
‘Way!’ she said sarcastically.
‘They never charge when people are around.’
‘They never land when people are around.’ she said. Hook nodded in agreement. ‘They’re either desperate or their scanners are down,’ Stella continued, staring through squinted eyes at the blazing golden light. She squinted for the sake of her biological eye; the bionic eyeball had already compensated for the glare.
She turned to Hook and shrugged. She had no idea how the angels were even still functioning. Dead heads in metal bodies. Who was controlling what? ‘Something’s not right,’ she said.
‘Not right with them. I say we take them.’ Hook was leaning forward against the sofa, his face eager.
‘Easy, tiger,’ she said, laying a hand on his arm. ‘There are three of them.’
‘Three of them charging. Three of them offline.’
‘Do they shut down fully?’
Stella smelled his breath and grimaced.
He smiled at her and cocked his head to one side. He was a good looking man. ‘We just walk up to them and knock their blocks off. Easy.’
Stella glanced back outside, the golden shine full on the lobby’s expansive windows. ‘I don’t know. Seems too easy. Even if we take out the dead heads doesn’t mean the suits won’t kick off. There’s no way they would let their defences down.’
‘They’re fried. They don’t know where they are. Dead heads must have controlled the suits and now they’re acting on impulse. They needed recharging so they’re recharging. Dead heads don’t think. Dead head angels don’t think.' Hook looked at her, his face suddenly serious. 'And we could really use those suits.’
Stella remembered her broken night vision. ‘Okay,’ she nodded. ‘We take them. But the second it goes wrong I’m out of there. Understood?’
Hook grinned. ‘You know me, Stella. Understand is my middle name. What’s the plan?’
‘Nothing complicated. You take the one on the left, I take the one on the right. If the third wakes up we get the hell out of there. That’s it. If it doesn’t,’ she shrugged, ‘we knock its block off.’
‘Ready when you are, boss.’
‘I’m no one’s boss, Hook. Stop calling me that.’
He winked. ‘You know I like to be told what to do.’
Stella looked over the back of the couch. The three of them were still there, still standing stock still, still surrounded in that golden glow. She was jealous of the solar power. Her own augments were mostly defunct because they needed constant charging either from high energy food or an external power supply. Neither were readily available anymore, which had led to a reliance on less subtle means to keep her operating at anything close to full capacity. For a moment she wondered whether it would be possible to use the angels’ solar panelling. Gregor was good but she didn’t think even he could handle a full mod and rebuild, not with the tools available.
‘Hey?’ said Hook, clicking his fingers and stirring her from her thoughts. ‘We ready?’
‘Don’t do that,’ said Stella, jerking her head back away from his fingers. ‘It’s rude.’
‘Manners were burned in the crash, boss. Now it’s just do or don’t and we’re ready to do. C’mon, let’s go.’
Stella nodded. ‘We need to be quick. Make a way through for us, then go left. Meet you in the middle.’
Hook grinned as they leapt over the sofa and dashed to the lobby doors, Stella right behind him. She was faster than Hook but he was better than her at making holes.
Hook grabbed a thick cushion on the way past and raised his arms in front of his face, cushion to the front, and ran with firm, heavy-footed strides at the doors, crashing through the toughened safety glass, lacerating the cushion and drawing some blood on the bare skin of his forearms.
Glass showered onto the path outside, raining on Stella as she followed Hook’s bulk through the shattered doorway.
She headed right, quickly outpacing Hook. The three angels, golden wings spread and arched over their heads, stood still as if waiting for the assault. She leapt at the angel on the right, bowling it over and wrapping her legs around its torso, crushing the fragile solar panels. Half a second later she was on the ground with the inert machine-thing held securely in place, its wings spilling out either side like ragged golden sheets. She grabbed its head, pulling and twisting, ignoring its one dead eye, which was even yellower in its golden glow and skilfully keeping her fingers under its chin, away from the biting teeth. The head was loose and flaccid but its neck, half flesh, half wires and cables, held firm at first. Grunting, she twisted sharply and heaved at the head, breaking its neck with a loud crack. Her thin, sharp fingers pushed and forced their way through the rotten flesh around its chin. Ignoring the feeling of putrescence under her nails she pulled as hard as she could, her knees forcing the torso away from the head. She saw the blue bionic eye flash red and redoubled her efforts, straining against the sinew and metal holding the head in place. Finally she felt the first snapping of cords and cables, quickly followed by the tear of skin and rush of rotten gore as its head was pulled from its shoulders.
She rolled away, detangling her legs from the angel in an instant, and looked over to see Hook already heading for the middle angel. She leapt to her feet to rush to meet him, the hair of the angel’s head wrapped in her fingers.
But they were too slow.
The remaining angel faced Hook. Its wings were gone and its arm was up and pointing directly at him.
The big man fell to the floor in the instant that the red beam swept the air where his chest had been a split second before.
‘We run!’ Stella shouted as she turned away from the angel and sprinted back to the hotel lobby. The lift shaft would provide effective cover from an angel with broken scanners.
Crunching through the doorway, she leapt over the first sofa, using its bulk to shield her as she risked a glance backwards. The angel was not following her.
Pausing, she crouched low to keep the sofa between her and the outside world. With the golden glow gone, the summer sunshine seemed weak, washed out. But she could see the angel. It was stalking its prey, walking slowly away from her.
She scanned the area for Hook but she couldn’t see him; her view was restricted and she didn’t dare to reveal herself to get a better look. ‘Damn,’ she whispered to herself. ‘Where the hell are you?’
The angel was about to move out of her sight. ‘Do or don’t,’ she said quietly and stood up to look.
Hook was charging the angel.
‘What the hell?’ said Stella and then repeated herself more loudly. ‘What the hell!’
The angel raised its arm. Stella waited for the flash of red, for Hook to be sliced neatly in two. It didn’t happen and the big man slammed into the angel, sending it and him sprawling into the dust.
Stella made her decision. She tapped her foot against the leg of the sofa, sending the blade out of the end of her right boot, and sprinted for the melee. She covered the ground in under two seconds. ‘Up and push!’ she shouted to Hook.
His face straining, Hook grabbed the angel and hauled it upright, pushing it into the air and holding it as high as he could.
Stella hit the kerb, leapt, spun in the air and brought her right boot around and into the side of the creature’s head, breaking its neck and stabbing the life from its brain.
Hook threw the angel to the floor and stamped on the mechanical half of its head. He looked to Stella. His face was shining and he was breathing hard. ‘Nice kick, boss.’
‘Understand is your middle name?’
He grinned. ‘I understood.’ He tapped the side of his head and gently kicked the angel’s arm. ‘Only enough recharge for one shot.’
‘And how did you find that out?’
Hook laughed. ‘I didn’t die when it tried to shoot me again.’