Diamondback put a crystal encased hand forward against Ace. "Stand down. We have what we need. Mission's over."
"Not over. Never. Over." Ace floated forward, not sparing a glance at Diamondback. He only looked ahead, towards the enemy he knew he had to destroy. The enemy that had taken everything from him once.
Machine Mind's army of gold eyed, gold circuited mechanoids stared at Ace with cold, unfeeling gazes.
"I knew it! The ace did not fail!" The scientist's voice boomed with very human energy, echoing from each and every machine in a cacophony of joyous shrieks. "Behold, you philistines - the peak of my research! The next stage of Alterhuman evolution! Heir of the Stars to lead us into the new age!"
"Stop. Talking." Ace kept forwards, but Diamondback stopped him with his arm.
"Mission's over. I understand you have a personal grudge, but so does Alan here. So does Clint. You don't take priority over any of us," said Diamondback.
"..." Ace did not stare at Diamondback's crystal helm face with anything resembling animosity. It was an oddly blank stare, one that registered Diamondback as less than nothing.
Ace put his hand on Diamondback's forearm.
Diamondback instantly pulled his arm back. Not just that, but he took a dashing step back too, his crystalline heel digging into the rock.
"What's wrong!?" asked Falco.
Diamondback had felt it. The moment Ace had touched his arm. His instincts bringing into the forefront of his mind a very, very primal feeling: the fear of death.
"What the hell?" Kris tapped his goggles. The purple lenses clicked and whirred as they picked up on Diamondback's arm. "The diamond's gone. Unraveled like old cloth."
It was true. The incredibly durable cyrstalline metamaterial that encased Diamondback's arm had, like Kris pointed out, frayed apart in strands that should have been impossible to make with such a durable, hard material.
Blue tinges of energy outlined the green diamond strands.
"All of you, go." Ace pointed back while looking forwards. "And stay out."
There was no hint of threat in Ace's voice, but perhaps the lack of it was even more ominous. It was too neutral, as if he considered everyone there to simply be nothing.
Ace flew by, and this time, nobody stood in his way, very much for their own good.
"We DO already have the Kryptic," said Stella, briefcase in hand. "And what's a little ol' double crossing to a criminal org like this, huh?"
"Take the Kryptic, you fools," said Machine Mind. "All I need is my Ace."
"Something's wrong about this whole situation," said Tox, biting her lip. Her gaze lingered at Ace's back. "Machine Mind's just seen that Ace is way, WAY stronger than before. I mean, just look at him, he's got glowing blue energy flowing all through his veins, in his heart - that's totally a big powerup, right?
But the geriatric tinkerer still wants to duke it out with Ace? He must have a plan."
"Of course I have a plan. I have plans atop of plans atop of plans. Plans are all that I am, all that I have been. Plans have been the product of all the research and blood I have shed," said Machine Mind. "I cannot say I predicted this moment, but I certainly welcome it nonetheless.
As for the rest of you, well, none of you are worth my time."
Machine Mind punctuated the end of his sentence by getting all of his bots into combat mode. There was still a sizable army of them. At least five Cyclops and a veritable horde of smaller flying drones and humanoid droids supporting them.
A maelstrom of missile fire, lead, fire, and lasers blast out from all the bots.
"Barrier going up!" shouted Alexis. She raised her hands up, and everyone huddled near her. But in the next moment, she raised a brow, witnessing with everyone else as all of the projectiles were stopped seemingly in midair.
Ace had his hands thrust out, like he was pushing against a wall. He remembered the sensation of resisting gravity, of pushing against force weighing down on every inch of his body.
"Brother..." Ace whispered under his breath, memories welling up from deep within, from his heart, pumping sentiment fueled power through all his veins.
Every single projectile - bullets, missiles, even less tangible things like lasers - hovered in the air, outlined in blue energy.
Ace was holding everything back with seemingly utter ease. His tactile telekinesis had evolved beyond compare. Beforehand, he was essentially just a flying brick type Alter. He was strong and could fly but that was about it. His tactile telekinesis was just a slight cherry on the top that let him carry things better or leverage his force efficiently.
Now, it was basically on the level of advanced telekinesis.>
"I see now," said Kris, his goggles whirring as he analyzed the situation. "When he touched DB and broke apart the diamond - he literally unraveled it using telekinesis. Not just that, he basically changed the metamaterial's atomic structure from hard as hell to soft and clothy in an instant."
"Go." Ace did not look back. He kept forwards, his each and every single step making the wall of projectiles fall back in synch.
"Ace-," began Tox.
"Go." Ace's voice was cold. Emotionless.
Tox heard it with pain. It was not a voice she would have ever expected from her old, old friend. At the very least, she had thought she would never have to hear that tone from him again. He had it before, way back when they first met, when he knew nothing about friends or happiness.
"I'm making a judgment call here as team leader," said Stella. She patted Tox's shoulder gently. "We should go. Ace is strong. Stronger than ever before. He won't lose here. At the very least, not until we regroup with Clint up top.
Anything Machine Mind is planning - we'll stop it once we get Clint back."
Tox nodded slowly, hesitantly. Her gaze lingered on Ace's back. She closed her eyes and nodded, this time with more confidence. "OK. Let's go."
"Let's scram!" shouted Stella.
"Keep in the barrier," said Diamondback. "Falco, Alan, near me."
The group made an escape formation around Alexis's barrier, and within its teal green fold, they rapidly disappeared from the cavern, Kryptic in tow.
It took only a few seconds for them to be out of sight, and a few more seconds after that to be out of hearing, their footsteps dulling away.
During these seconds, an atmosphere intensified between Ace and Machine Mind. One of silence, but in that silence, there was much said. A tale of mad desire and the pain it wrought. And the vengeance that flowered from it like blood lilies sprouting atop decayed skulls.
"It appears a little more destructive capability is required here." Machine's Mind's voice resonated throughout the bots, and as it did, the golden circuit patterns shining through their bodies glowed even brighter.
With mechanical clicks and the crunching of disassembling metal, the bots unraveled into floating pieces. Every one of them broke apart, not just the small flying drones, but also the tank sized Cyclops. They formed into a whirling storm of machine parts that quickly locked back together, reforming into a droid design.
Humanoid - two arms, two legs, and a bucket helm shaped head with a single glowing golden dot for an eye. The droid stood a full head over Ace with a body made bulky through metal plating like a man shaped war machine.
The segments and seams within the droid's metal plate and body glowed with bright gold, enveloping it in a scintillating aura that lit up the dark depths of the cavern.
"Now, we can begin-," said Machine Mind.
"..." Ace's expression did not change. He clapped his hands together. The enormous volley of projectiles he held in midair hurtled back towards Machine Mind, collapsing in on the reformed droid and causing a cataclysmic, earth shaking nova of an explosion.
A huge cloud of dust and smoke and upturned debris geysered up into the air, destroying all visibility. Ace looked at this cloud unperturbed, waiting to see if Machine Mind was dead.
From the cloud, a flash of gold alerted Ace.
A beam slammed into Ace's heart, where a ring of blue shone through his black bodysuit.
Ace slid back several meters in instant impact before he resisted, halting. The beam of energy was intensely hot, so hot that the air around Ace warped and the solid bedrock beneath his feet began to melt.
"Not dead," commented Ace as he put his hand against the beam and started to walk through it. "Good."
Ace rapidly sped up, flying through the beam to crash his open hand against the droid's throat. He flew the droid back dozens of meters until they smashed into the heavily armored vault door.
With a sharp, splitting sound - the telltale sign of reactive neosteel being overloaded beyond its reactive atomic structure's capability to handle kinetic force - Ace drove the droid straight through the vault as well.
The end result of Ace's flying rampage was that the droid was flat on the ground, in the midst of a crater with Ace's hand still wrapped around its throat. Black light shone from the vault's innards, indicating the presence of a Null field.
"Im...pressive." Machine Mind's voice cracked from the droid as it looked up at Ace. The droid's body had suffered catastrophic damage with severe dents wreathed across its chest and back. Sparks sputtered from every broken part of it.
The Null field was disrupting Machine Mind's connection to the droid. While type A Null fields - the strongest of them all - disabled both technology and Alter powers, type B - the more commercially desirable variant - only dampened Alter powers, allowing technos to find a loophole and operate machinery within them.
"Null does not affect you," said Machine Mind, even now curiously analytical. "But this was already proven long...ago...your power comes from the Ring, and the Ring is from beyond this planet. Within...the...Outer."