No time left.
No time left to run. No time left to fight. No time left to do anything.
Aloy watched a small army of machines turn on HH. A stampede of corruption charging down one man, who just stood there, in an over-sized coat and ridiculous hat.
No time left.
And then, there was no time at all.
Aloy watched everything, each impossible second that followed from HH raising his right hand, and as she watched she knew three things in the same instant.
She would never understand what she saw, nor did she want to.
She would never be able to explain to anyone what she saw, nor did she want to.
She would never travel with HH. Any doubt or hesitation about that died in her mind, snuffed out fast, like a small flame in a hurricane, or – more aptly – like the machines brought down bywhatever HH did.
Aloy watched HH rise slowly into the air. Supported by nothing, he was not lifted like someone being hauled up, but pushed away, as though the planet wanted nothing to do with him. His motions mirrored someone caught in an explosion’s shock-wave, but he stopped, at least twenty feet up and almost – Aloy couldn’t help but notice – in a perfect line with a Thunderjaw’s open mouth.
And every single machine stopped. Not in their tracks, and not willingly – each of them came to an abject halt; some had a foot in the air, some were midstride and off the ground entirely. She wondered if this was his pausing ability again but she, having checked, could move herself. There was nothing else to suggest HH had done anything, besides his new lack of gravity, until she saw a faint shimmering. It disturbed the air between the machines and HH. It rippled and spiralled inwards to him like a translucent funnel, wide enough to envelop all machines, tapering to perfectly fit his right hand. Draining them all of…something.
Aloy was about to take the first step towards an understanding, until the third thing happened.
The machines died. The Thunderjaws, the Snapmaws, the Glinthawks and the Stalkers. All of them died, inside the “funnel” HH had made.
And their deaths were something new. All the machines Aloy had killed so far, and that number stretched into distant thousands, would meet their end in a similar way. They might have lost some panelling, suffered the odd explosion or six, but eventually they would crumple to the ground in a heap of metal, their motors whining out their death throes, and spluttering sparks.
None of HH’s targets did this. None of them made a single sound. Aloy watched their corrupted shells become infected with some kind of virus. Their shells rusted, spreading outwards fast like oil leaking into water. Their surfaces tarnished, buckled in places, broke off into flakes. Circuit boards shattered, wiring burned to nothing, various limbs broke free from their joints and disintegrated.
It occurred in silence, and in seconds.
Aloy didn’t know a lot about HH’s world, but had spent/wasted enough time with him to make a more-than-educated guess. This new virus HH gave them wasn’t some form of kill code, or master data, or any virus at all. In fact, going by the way the “funnel” moved towards him, HH wasn’t giving them anything. He was taking it. Stealing it.
The Timelord was stealing their time.
Aloy observed, in equally aghast but fascinated interest, as more than twenty machines aged more than a thousand years, in the space of ten seconds. More than just rust and decay took them, towards the end. Their recognisable shapes wasted away as atrophy ate its feast, melting them, leaving behind nothing but ashes. Several tonnes of metal alloys and painstaking design, reduced to dust, and Aloy had hardly blinked.
When all targets were diminished, and their way to HH’s ship “Odyssey” was clear, the “funnel” snapped off. It had grown brighter with each passing second, but once the machines had been depleted, the shimmer disappeared. HH went limp, and dropped. Aloy winced to the sound his body made when it landed. It didn’t sound hopeful.
She need not have worried. Moments after hitting the ground, HH started to scream.