Miles turned and ran.
It was nearly the last thing he ever did. A flash from Kappy’s gun illuminated the switchback in front of him moments before he plunged over the edge.
He barely registered the drop as he turned and raced on, his fear propelling him.
In his mind’s eye he could see the metal surging up towards him, reaching for his feet. The crashing, grating shriek was so loud that his skin crawled and ached, waiting for the touch of scything metal.
But nothing happened.
Several switchbacks later Miles was coming back to his senses and he slowed to a stop. He bent double gasping for breath, his muscles screaming in pain. The terrifying noise was still emanating from the blackness of the canyon, but it was echoing now, bouncing off the walls as it rose up towards him. He leaned out over the path and looked down.
There was another flash of light from below and in horror Miles saw that Kappy had barely made any progress up the path. For a panicked moment Miles thought she’d gotten stuck, but then he realized she was still dragging the robot, doggedly pulling it with one hand while she fired at the writhing sea of metal.
“Leave it!” Miles shouted, but his words were engulfed in the echoing crash of metal and Kappy didn’t hear.
In his panic Miles had imagined the metal rushing up the ravine, but he could see now that it was stuck. Building-sized sections heaved and shook, straining to break loose from the tangled mass of metal. Occasionally smaller pieces would jerk free and come crashing towards Kappy, but none were able to reach high enough and they were quickly engulfed once more by the metal ocean that ground against the cliff side.
Miles had wondered why there’d be a path down into the ravine, but it made sense now. The metal couldn’t navigate the twisting switchbacks, it just charged blindly towards whatever attracted its attention, which meant either trying to claw up the sheer side of the canyon or a fall at the first turn.
So Kappy was safe for the moment at least, even if she was taking forever to get back up the path. She hadn’t even made it to the first switchback.
Despite his racing heart Miles’ breathing began to slow and he looked around for the first time. To his surprised he realized that he’d made it nearly all the way out of the ravine. He could see the faint flow of the street light and there above him was the dark outline of Kappy’s tub. He started to move up the last section of path, but just as he did he heard a sharper grating sound from down below, different from the rest of the maddening noise.
He looked back over the edge of the cliff and his heart leapt into his throat. Kappy, already recognizing the danger, was now firing back the way she’d come to where a jagged section of metal was pulling itself free. If it broke loose completely it would have a straight run up the sloping path to where Kappy stood with the robot.
Miles raced to the tub, looking for anything he might use to help, but the vehicle was hopelessly empty. Why hadn’t he grabbed his gun before he followed Kappy?
There was a screeching, tearing noise from below and Miles looked back down into the darkness. The metal had broken free and was writhing up the path. Sharp, whirling metal blades dug into the dirt, propelling the hellish mass towards Kappy. Kappy had stopped moving, knowing she wouldn’t make it to the switchback in time. She held the robot against the wall with her leg and fired steadily at the approaching monster. Chunks of metal exploded in a shower of sparks with each shot and Miles saw bits and pieces fly from the shape as the high energy beams of heat impacted, but it was like trying to stop a wave by throwing pebbles at it.
In desperation Miles squeezed himself between the tub and the cliff side. He reached his arms down the cold metal panel of the tub’s side and grasped the frame underneath with both hands. Then he braced against the Cliffside and heaved. The tub moved sideways, inching towards the edge of the path.
Miles shoved again. There was enough room now that he could get better purchase and he pulled upward, tipping the tub onto two wheels and with one final heave he managed to get the tub to overbalance and it fell sideways into the ravine.
Miles fell to his hands and knees and looked into the darkness. He heard a crash as the tub hit the lower switchback then, in another flash of light, he saw the tub spinning wildly out into the air. It missed the next two levels of the path, but came smashing down between Kappy and the approaching metal. Miles had been trying to hit the creature, but he’d mistimed the drop.
However, the tub’s impact leave a gaping hole in the path. A cloud of dirt followed the tub as it flipped into the sea of metal and Miles saw the tub illuminated for one last moment before it was pulled to pieces in the grinding crush.
Miles’ hope was short-lived however. The charging metal was too large and going too fast. It cleared the gap easily, bouncing hard on the far side, but seeming otherwise unhindered. It rushed on towards where Kappy stood.
But… had it lost its balance? As Miles watched he saw it begin to tilt out over the edge of the cliff, it’s momentum keeping it from being able to correct its course. Miles held his breath.
And then it slipped.
A whirling claw blade missed the path entirely and the metal monster fell out into empty space, helped on its way by one last shot from Kappy’s gun.
In the final flash Miles saw the thing land in the sea of metal and instantly leap again at Kappy, but it was at the wrong angle now, and it could not claw its way up the cliff side.
Darkness finally reclaimed the canyon and Miles heard Kappy scream. It was a horrible sound, made all the worse by not being able to see what had happened. Miles stood frozen on the path, looking down into the blackness. He could hear nothing now, save for the unending crash of metal.
He waited on the path for as long as he could, but after ten minutes of seeing nothing but darkness below he finally crept back to the lighted street above. The noise, that horrible noise was just too much for him. He sat in the shadow of the traffic block, his back against the gentle slope of cement and waited with his hands over his ears.
He was fairly sure Kappy was still alive, but that scream had been terrible. He hadn’t seen anything in the last flash of light, but he’d been focused on that horrible metal monster, not on Kappy. Surely there wasn’t another one of those things clawing its way up the path.
He kept telling himself it was impossible for the metal to get out of the ravine, that the city couldn’t exist here if the metal could escape, but his reassurances didn’t keep his imagination from running wild.
After what seemed like an age, a shape did emerge from the darkness on the path. Miles leapt to his feet, his heart beating furiously.
It was Kappy.
She was moved into the light, bent almost double as she dragged the protesting robot from the darkness.
“Kappy! You made it! Why on earth did you try-“
Kappy turned and punched Miles in the face.
Miles sat down hard, the shock worse than the pain. Kappy stepped up over him, one arm grabbing the robot again, the other holding her rifle.
“THAT WAS MY TUB!” She bellowed. “YOU BROKE MY TUB! I TOLD YOU NOT TO FOLLOW ME!”
She turned and dragged the robot away down the street. Miles didn’t watch her go. He pulled his legs up where he sat on the ground and held his face.
It was quite some time before the horrible noises from the ravine began to grow quiet, but they did eventually die away and Miles was left sitting alone in silence.