By Spinning Demon (Topman) and Gauntlet (Shadowman)
A second shot pierced my dead arm, though I didn't feel it with my circuits still shut down in that area. This was not a fight I could win in the shape I was in. Which meant I would have to outmaneuver them.
There were two of them that I could see, Needle and Magnet, though Snake was likely acting as an extra set of eyes over their communicator. Needle would be the easier to avoid - her projectiles flew straight, and if she couldn't close the gap to reach me they'd be fairly easy to dodge. Mags would be less predictable - he was a straight shot when he wanted to be, but if he decided to show off and make the bullets curve with his powers they'd be harder to anticipate. Luckily their projectiles were all light and easy to deflect - if I could get out of there before Hard or Spark showed up I'd be fine.
Needle Gal was running towards me now, and firing a steady stream from her cannon. I broke from standing and kicked off down an empty street, away from both her and Magnet's current position. But her attacks were too linear, she wasn't trying to correct for my weaving and dodging. She was using the Leading Trail gambit, wasn't she? She was going to steer me right into position for a precision shot lined up by Mags - that's why he wasn't shooting at me right now. I decided to counter with a trick Mags had taught me himself - with my good hand, I readied a Top Bomb, and then bent low to scoop a handful of dirt from a lawn. With a sharp turn, I took a split second to register where Mags was perched and did a quick guess of where he'd be aiming to make a headshot. And then I threw.
The bomb exploded, sending the dirt spraying into a wide cloud. It would hardly last a second, but Mags had sworn that it was a pain in the ass to lose sight of a target while lining up a shot, and right now I was pretty desperate to take his word for it. Sure enough, a shot rang out a moment later and missed me by inches. My little dirt bomb had done nothing to deter Needle though, and my about-face had cost me precious seconds of running. She was close enough to take out her more heavy artillery now, the kind I couldn't just deflect. The mace in her helmet jettisoned toward me, and I took a large leap back to avoid it. She grabbed the chain and pulled it back, readying its heft for another swing.
"Needle, listen!" I shouted at her as I dodged the next blow. This time, though, it was followed up by a quick barrage of projectiles, two of which pierced the side of my torso. They stung, but it would've been worse if I'd been hit by the main attack. "I found out who's been behind all these murders! You just have to let me-"
Another sweep of the mace flew at me, and then she lunged right into my dodge direction to ram me. I managed a quick spin, just in time to bounce off her harmlessly without being pierced by the small cactus-like needles that ran along the exterior of her armour. "Top, you're making this harder than it has to be," she grunted as she lifted the heavy mace again. "Stop running, surrender peacefully for a diagnostic, and we'll listen to everything you have to say."
"If that's true then why are you guys attacking me?!" Another shot rang out in the distance. I deflected with a spin, but then was met with a heavy blow to the head before I could come out of it. I fell to the ground, reached out to stop my fall, but forgot I only had one working arm. Pain surged through my good arm as it took the brunt of the fall and crumpled in on itself as I hit the ground.
"Orders are orders, Top," Needle said nonchalantly as she stood over me swinging the chain of her mace, winding it up for another blow. "Shadow wants you offline and looked at whether you want to come or not. He thinks you're dangerous."
"Not from where I'm standing," she joked. She readied the next hit. "Why the hell are you dressed like Spin Man anyways?"
Suddenly her mace swerved on its chain and hit her square in the head, sending her sprawling. Golem Man had appeared behind her and grabbed the chain, and was now pulling on it to drag her up. She screamed with fury and shot a barrage of needles at him, some of which stuck in deep, but he didn't seem fazed.
["Spin Man!"] Omni shouted over the communicator. ["Are you alright?"] He was a little ways behind us, closer to Magnet Man and keeping him occupied. The latter's temper was flaring up as his bullets glanced off Omni's superior armour and it was putting him on tilt, he'd lost track of Needle's and my battle entirely.
"Yeah, thanks for the save," I replied, and then turned back to the fight closer to me. Needle had detached the mace from her helmet and was freely moving again, mixing swift hand-to-hand strikes with short bursts of projectiles to try to keep Golem from overwhelming her with his sheer size. The damage was starting to take its toll on him, and he was sluggish and wincing as he moved to strike back. I had to do something.
Suddenly, I remembered something I'd thought of a few days ago, the first time the violent impulses had started. Her neck - it was a weak spot. "Hold her down!" I shouted to Golem, and he turned to look at me, earning a heavy punch in the jaw for doing so. Poor, dumb guy, I actually felt bad for him. He seemed to understand, at least, and reached out with both hands to clap her still. He cried out in pain as her armour poked into him, but I had to hand it to him, he didn't let go. As I skated up to them, I pulled out one of the needles that was still jutting from the side of my torso and prayed I could hit the right spot. She did say most robot masters had the same infrastructure, right?
"Sorry, Needle!" I yelped as I stuck the needle straight into the center of her neck like I'd seen her do with Gravity Man. Sure enough, she stopped struggling instantly and went limp. I didn't know how long it would last for, but I knew we didn't have much time to stick around. I told Golem to start running back to base, and skated over to help out Omni Man.
Mags had given up on 'fighting fair', as he calls it, and had resorted to using his powers to repel Omni's advances. The two were in a stalemate - Mags couldn't breach Omni's armour, and Omni couldn't reach Magnet to hurt him. But just as I arrived, the stalemate was about to turn in Mags' favour, as a swarm of Search Snakes started to converge on Omni, crawling up his legs and impeding his movement. He was swatting them off, but they started to adapt, latching onto his armour, and siphoning energy off of him. Mags had abandoned his guns entirely and was working in tandem with Snake Man, using his powers to fling the ones Omni had shaken free right back onto him.
Omni didn't have any projectiles to deal with the Snakes, but I did. I threw a cluster of Top Bombs at him, knowing they would do nothing to hurt him but hoping the explosions would knock the parasites loose. It worked, and Omni was free again, but a second wave was coming, and I was running low on bombs. They were spreading out this time to mitigate the damage from my explosives, and they were too small and too numerous to attack one by one. And with Snake Man controlling them from a distance, there was nobody to hit back to get them to stop.
But maybe we could get them to stop being controlled. I turned to Omni. "Go after Magnet, and don't stop attacking! No matter what, don't stop attacking!" He nodded, and we ran to flank the Sherriff on both sides, each of us a far superior melee fighter to the usually gun-toting Mech. I sent a flurry of kicks his way, and Omni threw claw and spear at Mags, who was doing his best to repel our momentum with his magnetic fields, but was quickly becoming overwhelmed by the rapidity of our attacks. The Snakes were starting to reattach to us, but as I'd instructed, Omni didn't relent in his attacks, and neither did I. Despite his best efforts, Mags caught a blow to the chest, then another in the small of his back. Enough was enough.
With a surging shout, he emitted a huge pulse that sent Omni and I both flying backwards. We landed hard, but Omni got up unharmed. It took me a little longer, after all the damage I'd sustained, my dead arm still dangling uselessly by my side as I pushed myself up.
It had worked, though. The electromagnetic interference from Mags' pulse had disrupted the communication relay between Snake Man and his drones. The Snakes were inert, and shook off easily. Magnet, on the other hand, was lying still since the pulse ended. Maybe he had used up all his remaining energy to set it off.
But it was a window to escape, and that's all we needed. Omni and I took off, jumping back down into the sewers as soon as we were sure the coast was clear. I told him to go on ahead to make sure Golem had gotten back safely - he would need repairs more than I would, and it takes me twice as long to wade through the sewers than it does him anyways.
"Oh, and Omni? Thanks for saving me back there."
"Sure thing, Spin. Anything for a teammate."
It was only a few minutes after Omni and I had split up when I heard some movement ahead of me heading my way.
"Omni?" I called out. "I told you I'm fine, you should-"
An unseen force threw me against the wall and held me there. I could see the faint outline of someone ahead of me in the tunnel, and the outline had a cowboy hat.
"Mags?! How did you-"
"That first bullet I stuck ya in yer arm with was a tracker," he said as he stepped into full view. He was grinning, no doubt happy he'd managed to outsmart us after all. "You really led us for a goose chase there Top, yer as slippery as a hole in a whorehouse. What're you doing hanging out with those lowlifes for anyhow?"
"Those lowlifes saved me from you guys. Since when has it been standard procedure for the RPD to shoot at a nonviolent suspect?"
"Aw, hell," Mags chuckled, "you saw the Boss last time. He's gone off his rocker about you, dunno why. Upgraded the orders this mornin' to 'apprehend by any means necessary'. Your antics musta really pissed him off this time!"
I scowled. "My antics might have found the killer. For both murders, actually."
Mags whistled. "You don't say?"
"He calls himself 'the Harbinger'... he's some nutjob who was hiding out in a church bought out by the emerGEnesis CEO."
"What's the connection there?"
"I don't know yet. But he tried to infect me with something in my right arm, I think it might be the KADE virus. I've left it isolated... If we can get a sample of it to the scientists, maybe they can engineer a cure from it."
"That's smart thinking, Top! So what're you waiting for? Let's go."
I gave him a hurt look. "You don't know what's gonna happen if I go back, Mags. At the mercy of the RPD? Of Crorq?! What if he decides a diagnostic's not enough? I could be scrapped, I could be wiped... it happens to Robot Master models all the time!"
Mags eyed me up and down. Despite how short a time he'd been on the team, he was my best friend. If he didn't listen to me, nobody would.
"I'm so close to catching this guy, Mags. But Shadow's not gonna listen to me! He'll probably just say I was having a hallucination or something! Please... I just need a little more time..."
He narrowed his eyes and pursed his lips. Then he turned his head to the side and spit. "Sorry, Top, but I ain't going back empty handed..."
He raised up his gun, and instinctively I closed my eyes. A shot rang out. I opened my eyes - had he missed?
At my feet, Mags was picking something up. It was my infected arm, shot clean off at the shoulder. "It's me," he was saying, and I realized he was talking into his communicator. "I couldn't get a clear shot at him... got his arm though. Maybe we can bring him back piece by piece..." He let out a bellowing laugh. "Tell Spark to get the scientists ready. I'm bringing 'em something I think they'll wanna see..."
I touched his shoulder to stop him as he walked past me, my arm slung over his shoulder like killed game. "Thanks," I said.
He turned and winked. "Better solve it soon and figure out a way to come back, okay Top? It wouldn't be the same without ya."