The monster's open maw was filled with razorblade teeth the size of men. The air before it hissed and crackled as it spat forth something more than ectoplasm—a lance of white energy so brilliant that the night sky appeared to blacken in comparison.
Four Raven drop ships disappeared in the scintillating heat. There was no cataclysmic explosion from the munitions they carried, no shower of debris, not even a static-garbled scream through the radio.
The dragon turned its pillar of light to the other drop ships, and Unit 03 and the soldiers dove to the ground as it slashed night into day above them. The beam flashed half a kilometer overhead, but the stone buildings around them still exploded in the heat.
Unit 03 rose a moment later, her scalded retinas rapidly healing. In the sky, heat convection currents sucked colder oxygen from the ground and wrapped it around the bright beam.
She blinked, her eyes now adapted. Only four Ravens remained. The dragon's wicked talons ran through a pair like white-hot swords through butter. The surviving balance vanished in twin flashes of brilliant energy. The dragon then thundered over Agra, overshadowed the jaundiced moon.
Unit 03 watched the monster bank into its turn five kilometers away. She had seen this kind of destruction before. Starships and orbital platforms around an ill-fated colony world, firing their plasma charges at hordes of Locrix bioships in space—heat so bright that it looked like a solar flare.
Finch and Locklear rose when richer oxygen found its way to their brains. She looked out in the distance. Despite its size, the monster finished its turn quickly, and in thirty seconds she knew it will be all over them.
A dragon, belching firepower designed for capital starship engagements…how does anyone defeat that? Not even a drop ship could outrun it. No, she was thinking about this the wrong way. She had to focus.
At range she studied the way the dragon moved through the sky, saw the overconfidence in its dive. Flames appeared to kindle behind its large eyes, and despite its broad line of sight, she knew it had only her squarely in mind. This thing behaved like a Lotas. Was it, she wondered, an evolved form?
"Locklear!" She yelled, "Move!"
Locklear grabbed Finch and dragged him into the alley on the left. The dragon was a kilometer away now, but instead of running she did the last thing the creature expected: she remained and held her ground.
"Do you mind telling me what you're doing?" Captain Wilkes' shockingly calm, curious voice sounded in her helmet. "Your armor can and will melt above three-thousand degrees Fahrenheit."
"I'm pissing it off."
A smile in Wilkes' voice as she caught on. "Alright."
When the dragon opened its maw, what came out wasn't a beam but instead something viscid, molten. A liquid sun spilled from its maw in a blinding cascade and crashed into the street as a surging river of heat.
She jumped into the alley an instant before the torrent flushed past her. Down the length of the street, steel and stone fused into a glowing plateau of liquid glass.
The dragon flew past their position, so close that the ground shook with its passing. She glanced into the alley on her left and saw Finch and Locklear lying on the ground. There simply wasn't enough oxygen left in the blistering hot air for them to remain conscious.
Kilometers out, the dragon turned once more, bearing down at her. Infuriated, the creature now shrieked piercing howls into the night. The thing thought and acted like a Lotas. She was betting that instead of simply vaporizing her, it was going to try and ram her with a talon.
"The Class 8 threat is recognized," Captain Wilkes told her. "I'm releasing activation restriction to thirty-eight percent. Access to the JAW-1221 restraint's hydrogen fuel cells is allowed until the threat is neutralized."
As she braced for impact, her combat armor became as light as air. Energy flowed from the suit's hydrogen fuel cells into her hands as she interlaced her fingers together in a firm hold.
Unit 03 then drew her hands apart, and lightning arced between her fingers. Blue sparks danced across her forearms as the current tangled before her and formed a second powerful force shield.
Talon poised, the dragon was fifty meters away now—closing fast. It smashed through both her force shields like an earthquake. It drove her backwards, a great distance, but she caught the rugged claw. It was like trying to stop a speeding freight train.
Screeching in fury, the dragon suddenly angled skyward and both combatants stole away into the night. The dusty clouds fell beneath them a heartbeat later, followed by a stretch of eerie silence as it dove back down.
It took most of her strength to reach the scale above her and climb. There was a deafening explosion of supersonic air. She reached the next scale and climbed the diving dragon, up and over.
For every scale she climbed the creature flew faster, perhaps hoping she will fall if it flew fast enough, but she held. Wings swept back, it now spun like an arrow in flight, but her boots were already dug deeply into its scales.
The clouds before them drew apart like curtains, and below, the burning city trembled to its very stones. Farther ahead was a bridge that spanned an icy gulf between Agra and a snow capped mountain range.
Unit 03 reached the dragon's neck, at the carotid, and felt the scales shake beneath her. The air through which throaty growls were heard was simply too thin at fourteen hundred kilometers an hour.
She punched a hammering blow. Crushed scales exploded outwards and disintegrated in their supersonic wake. A terrific gash sheared the dragon's neck wide, drenching her in a torrent of plasma so hot it left a shimmering afterglow in the night sky.
The blow threw the dragon from its streamlined flight and both combatants crashed into a wall of turbulence. Thunder ran through her from head to toe, tore her from the dragon, and sung icy chills through her bones.
Drowned in liquid plasma, she had no means to breathe. There was temporary blindness, and she tasted hot blood in her mouth. Beneath the armor, her skin peeled from the heat. Pained as she was, she had a bigger problem.
She fell toward the bridge well beyond terminal velocity. While her body functioned like a powerful computer system, she was still living flesh and blood. Even if her armor survived the impact, inside she'd turn to paste.
Unit 03 focused, forced out her limbs into a spread eagle formation and controlled her fall. This was just like an aerial insertion, except there was no parachute.
She interlaced her fingers together, drew them apart. This time the electricity formed twin magnetic fields on her boots. The liquid plasma clothing her form cooled from white blue to dull red as she absorbed its heat energy.
She impacted the asphalt, and the bridge ...flexed.
The intense magnetic energy manipulated a hundred-thousand tons of steel at the molecular level. The span bent as though it were made of rubber—twisting to the side as the impact's force ran its length in waves. From either side of the twisting bridge, steel cables snapped from their mounts and lashed out at the night sky. Unit 03 had to balance against the waves to stay afoot, side to side, then the span became solid again.
Across the city, Locklear and Finch watched the bridge sway and become solid once more. All around them was a sea of flame. Toward the east, the massive dragon’s remains smoldered near a small forest that was set ablaze when the carcass made landfall. Locklear muttered his only thought to Finch:
"God help us if we ever lose control of that monster."