The eyes stopped tracking Strin. The neck slumped. The tentacles drooped and laid their tips on the ground. The revolutions of the upper body slowed; the pivoting abdomen spun lazily to a stop.
Strin hopped off the slowing main body and landed easily on the ground beside a tangle of limp tentacles. He surveyed the mechform; it was dead and lifeless again, like the corpse of a spirit-deserted zombie.
“Great work, Fred!” Strin greeted his apprentice as he cautiously pushed through the tangled tentacles as through a heavy curtain. “Whatever you did worked.”
“Of course it worked.” Fred turned from contemptuously eyeing the machine to assert his claim. He dusted his hands off, though there was not a speck of dust in the place. He was sweating. “I fooled those things into thinking I was done for, then I faked them out”—he jerked his head to the right, dodging some invisible attacker—”forcing one of them to ram into the main body and pierce its own power supply. Pretty clever, huh?”
“Fred, do you even know what powers Eomite mechforms?”
“Didn’t need to know. It was pure heroic instinct.”
“All Eomite mechanisms are powered by an energy conduit,” Strin explained. Fred, ignoring him, jumped onto the mechform and poked at the dull eyes. “An energy conduit is a device that transfers energy from another dimension to this one. If you would’ve pierced that—which you didn’t because it’s heavily protected—the energy from one of those tentacles would have interfered in the transfer process. You wouldn’t be here. This cave wouldn’t be here. I don’t know how far below ground we are, but it would probably put a hole in the roof.”(1)»
“Fine, then.” Fred strained to twist the mechform’s neck along its swiveling sections, but it wouldn’t move. “What did I hit then, Sir I-spent-my-childhood-reading-books?”
“My guess is that you hit the brain tank.”
“Uh-huh,” Fred said dully.
“I doubt that’s the official name. Leo used to call it that.” The famed Leo Deniril was Strin’s old master. Fred had heard more stories about the “great and incomparably wonderful” Leo Deniril than he had ever wanted or asked to hear, but Strin always said he had learned everything he knew from Leo. He had died before Fred could meet him.(2)»
“He’d stolen and dissected an Eomite crawler once,” said Strin. “Inside, he found a spherical tank filled with water. Everything connected to that tank. It was the only thing that could be the control mechanism. And, after much search, he located organisms in the water.”
Fred gave up on the mechform and leaned against the slumping neck. “Machines?” Fred guessed.
“Maybe. Leo could never determine if they were organic or not.”
“Well, heroic instinct led me to take it out, even if I didn’t know what it was.”
“Why were you down there, anyway? Trip again?”(3)»
“No! That was a freak accident! It’ll never happen again!” Fred jumped down. “You could thank me, you know.”
“Thank you, Fred.” Strin managed to keep most of the smile from his face. “Shall we proceed into whatever adventure the Eomites have planned for us?” Fred nodded and headed toward the door. “I must say, Fred, you’re a remarkably lucky person.”
Fred turned suddenly. “Luck? Skill. It was all skill.” He turned back to the door, now open, and passed through it confidently—if a skip indicated confidence.