My life had transitioned into a sudden blur of ground, sky, ground, sky, gnashing metal teeth, followed by some more sky, and a swipe of landscape; all caused by the robotic thing barrelling into me, then throwing me about – too like an animal toying with its prey.
I put some distance between us and turned to face it, and in what was perhaps not the safest decision, I took a few more moments to look. I might have even stared a bit.
“You are gorgeous.”
A humped quadruped robot, animal in behaviours; akin to a wild dog or large cat – Hyena, my thoughts threw at me – but one that had been re-imagined in cutting edge technology and white panelling. Beneath its armoured exterior, the manufacturing put into it seemed almost biological, yearning for “real life” in a delusion of grandeur that would make Isaac Asimov shudder. The way it moved and flowed, it was a symphony in robotic design, not some humanity-grade unimaginative production of mathematics. I would have been willing to bet that a human did not design it.
Because, in my most basic of terms, it just looked cool.
And, with two glowing red eyes, it also looked murderous. Two piercing lamps were set in place in its metal skull, above a crusher-like mouth of two rotary blades covered in spikes, held in a close formation. These looked capable of grinding up metal. My bones would stand even less of a chance.
This realisation is what stopped my ‘fan-girling’ over the machine that appeared destined to kill me.
It stalked about in front of me, padding this way and back again. It never took its eyes off me, its saw-jaw clicking as if preparing for its chance to devour me. My brain was on mass-download, trying its best to remember everything it knew about hyenas, beyond what I’d seen in The Lion King. ‘Pack animal’ emerged to the surface, so if I wanted to survive this thing, time was of the essence. A longer wait could mean a bigger group.
I moved my hand, drifting it towards my coat to equip the sonic screwdriver, entirely forgetting the No Sudden Moves rule. It was cue enough. A metallic roar, a flurry of front legs and lunging back ones, and the robot tore towards me. I turned to run, back into Odyssey.
That’s when I saw her.
She was running on the upturned base of my ship – though sprinting seemed more accurate. Ginger hair tied in dreadlocks flew backwards in her wake. I couldn’t see her face yet; my attention was drawn to the large staff she was bringing around to strike. Her legs bent beneath her. She leapt as though weightless, soared over my head, towards whatever was chasing me. I followed her arc, watching her fall and, upon turning, I saw the monster within a metre of reaching me.
Her spear reached it first, buried deep into the middle of its neck joint. She landed a moment later and managed to stay upright as the robot slumped to defeat beneath her, releasing death throes of blue sparks and the whines of dying machinery. A rendering metallic scrape, as she extracted the spear with the ease of someone plucking a blade of grass.
Kill made, she knelt next to the fallen machine and proceeded to loot it, removing from the exoskeleton various components and small shards of metal.
The section of my brain dedicated to manners and politeness, one usually left to fend for itself, calmly cleared its throat and pointed out that once again, someone else had saved my life.
Trouble is, when someone has just saved your life, showing gratitude feels like it should include something more than the two words ‘thank’ and ‘you’.
Other trouble is, I can be horrendously awkward when I least expect it.
“Nice stabbing skills.” Oh-so-smooth, HH.
She turned to face me, at least giving me the chance to commit my saviour’s face to memory: young, brown-eyed, freckled, alert. A lot of wisdom and attentiveness in the face, and equipped with a staff, bow, and quiver. Handmade armour, which seemed to involve similar white panels to the robotic beside her. Explorer. Hunter. Scavenger. Survivor.
And thus, the robot was no longer the coolest thing in the vicinity.
“Let me try that again. Hello. Thank you. I mean you no harm,” I said, ticking them off my fingers. Fingers four and five are usually ‘what planet is this?’ and ‘where is the nearest restaurant?’
My saviour walked straight past me, and fixated her entire attention on my smashed, upside-down ship. Looking over her shoulder, I couldn’t help but feel a little embarrassed, yet amused, at how much he resembled a flipped and helpless tortoise.
“And you came here in that thing.”
I stood to the right of her. “That I did.”
“I tracked your arrival, after I heard you hit the mountain” she said, pointing her staff over the landscape. I followed her line of sight and peered towards the top of the snow-covered peaks, picking out one peak in particular that wasn’t quite as snow-covered as the others. Not coincidentally, an avalanche was falling below it. “Not that it was too difficult, for me or that Scrapper. You made more noise dropping out of the sky than a broken Stormbird.”
Scrapper. Stormbird. My immature mind latches onto these kind of terms like a five-year old being handed a chocolate bar. I’d have to save questions for later, much like the one regarding the small triangle-shaped device I’d noticed was clipped to her right ear.
“Nobody else flies around here, I gather?”
“No-one dresses like you, either.” Too like a master archer, she wasted no time getting straight to the point. I waited for her next word to either be Who, or Where.
“What-” is as far as she got. The cry of a new machine, overhead, drew both our attentions skywards. It sounded like the perfect blend of an avian shriek and an alarm klaxon. I saw a robotic bird with the wingspan of a small plane, and a chainsaw in place of a beak. It hovered in the sky, with more skill and grace than Odyssey should have had.
“Is that one of the Stormbirds?” For someone facing danger for the second time in five minutes, I might have sounded a little too fascinated. This new arrival was equally gorgeous, like the smashed hyena-machine nearby; another phenomenal development in robotic design.
“Glinthawks,” she informed me, taking her bow in hand. “They’re attracted to scrap metal, and they never hunt alone.”
Sure enough, two more ‘Glinthawks’ were approaching from behind us, gliding over the lake. I could almost feel it as she tensed beside me, like detecting a sudden change in wind direction. I watched her in my peripheral vision, saw her draw back an arrow with a flaming tip. The sort of weapon that promotes short, swift business.
I didn’t want to miss another opportunity. In the brief time before the nearest ‘Glinthawk’ lowered to within an attacking distance, I had my chance to take out the sonic screwdriver. Her arrow came back further, ready to fire, making the bow-string creak. My hand rose and I activated the sonic before she could fire. The bulb at its tip glowed orange, it released its trademark buzzing sound.
And the Glinthawk dropped like a dead-weight. I had just enough time to register that its eyes had switched off, before gravity served its departure.
I would have assumed that any flight-based robot would have shock-absorbing counter-measures, although perhaps not capable of surviving a dead-drop from over fifty feet, and onto the robot’s head. It (crash)landed and shattered in a flameless explosion of metal. I whirled on the spot and executed the advancing pair in the same manner. They had the lake to land in but, gauging by the two soaking explosions that followed, water didn’t help much.
She lowered her arrow, her bow, and lastly her defences, suddenly too fascinated by the sonic in my hand. Her gaze marked it with intrigue and maybe even greed in her eyes. After all, I had brought her a device capable of switching off the native machines. The advantageous equivalent of showing up to the battle of Hastings with a missile launcher.
“How did you do that? What is that thing*?”
“The answer to both of those questions is a sonic screwdriver.” She opened her mouth to respond, no doubt to ask “what is a sonic screwdriver”, but I got in first. “Now, seeing as we’re both asking questions, shall we start with your name?”
“Pleasure to meet you Aloy, my name is HH. You see? An answer for an answer, if that works for you?”
“It does, and that counts as your next question.”
I couldn’t help but smile. This looked extremely promising.
* There is only one way anyone ever has questioned my multi-tool sonic screwdriver, and they always include the words “what”, “is” and “that”. “Thing” is an added bonus.