"This plan was a mistake," Robbie whispered to himself, hands scrabbling for purchase on the underside of his staircase. The robot, senseless hunk of metal that it was, kept looking around and under things; Robbie hadn't seen it look up even once. Hopefully, it couldn't look up.
He clawed his way under the catwalk behind his disguise cases and wrapped himself around the frame of the structure. The edge of a beam cut into his hand, but like hell was that a worse fate than what awaited him if he were caught by that thing down there.
Roboticus was audible in motion; Robbie could track the machine's every heavy step. He heard it rummaging through drawers and hammering on cabinets. A painful crash and clatter told Robbie that the robot had targeted his various inventions – not that this was much of an incentive to get down, just – those were his own handiwork….
A particularly loud bang caused Robbie to startle, and his shin slammed hard into the catwalk. He bit back a yelp. The danger of the situation was growing on him; if he fell, he'd be helpless and at the mercy of the machine below, which would set upon him like a mad dog, like a….
Robbie hissed when he heard the robot topple his chair, but it evidently wasn't enough to attract Roboticus's attention. Heaving a silent, relieved sigh, Robbie let a fraction of the tension escape his clenched jaw.
He'd let his guard down too soon, he realized as the most obscene, horrific crash rattled the catwalk, nearly sending him tumbling. He couldn't hold back a whimper of fear – he recognized the sound. He craned his neck to see that awful, terrible beast of a machine standing in a field of broken glass. Roboticus met his gaze. It stepped forward through the remains of the first of Robbie's disguise chambers and lifted the unshielded mannequin from its pedestal, staring Robbie dead in the eyes from the wreckage it had created.
"ROBBIE ROTTEN," it buzzed coldly.
Robbie choked, flinching so hard he nearly fell. As it was, his fingers were losing their grip and his legs shook as they strained against the catwalk beams. His fear was a tangible entity entirely separate from the metal goliath below him, something vivid and cruel. It was heavy, and hot in the belly and cold in the limbs; tight in the chest, impossibly tight, so tight he couldn't breathe, and he clutched and scrambled frantically at the catwalk's underside even as he felt his breath quickening and his vision blurring and his heart beating like it was trying to escape his chest.
Sportacus was glad to be back as the official LazyTown hero, no question, but the race had tired him out – well, as much as someone of his caliber could tire. He was considering whether to head to bed a half-hour early when his crystal went off. He felt it jolt violently against his chest and frowned.
"Someone's in trouble…!"
He called for the airship door and leapt out, glider unfurling as he plummeted towards LazyTown proper. More detail about the imminent danger came to him as he flew – who and where, namely – and he changed course accordingly. Robbie's backfiring plans often called for his attention, but he didn't mind; even if he was tired. He'd missed the chance earlier to compliment Robbie on yet another clever plan, anyway, and was glad of a distraction from his typical inactive boredom besides. Even if that distraction happened to be Robbie being in trouble.
What was that robot – Roboticus? – doing, anyway? Sportacus could imagine it smashing Robbie's machines, or stealing Robbie's chair and depriving him of sleep.
He alighted briefly atop the cow billboard, front-flipping down to the platform supporting Robbie's silo, fumigation pipes, and access hatch. Wasting no time, he vaulted into the pipe to Robbie's underground lair, barely remembering to shout a warning cry just in case: "I'm here to help!"
Somersaulting to gain his footing as he shot out of the tube, Sportacus turned to see Roboticus crunching with heavy footfalls through what must've once been a disguise chamber. The machine was moving towards a figure Sportacus couldn't see, but could clearly sense, clutching the underside of the metal catwalk that framed the disguise platform. Robbie.
Sportacus pivoted over the railing of the disguise platform, landing three feet back from the robot. It paid no mind, to Sportacus's surprise. Was it just that focused on its target? Or was it confident in its ability to stop Sportacus from interrupting? He could see Robbie now, about five or six feet above him and ahead, shaking so hard the catwalk was rattling. Robbie's feet were slipping off the beam they were planting against, forcing him into a frenzied kicking motion to prevent his lower body from swinging down and leaving him hanging by his hands alone. Roboticus's fists were clenched.
Sportacus quickly took in his surroundings. The machine hooked up to the disguise chambers looked sturdy, but he wanted to avoid damaging it if at all possible; those disguises were Robbie's livelihood. He needed to be below or above Robbie to either catch him or pull him up to safety. And he needed to deactivate or disable the robot, which at this moment was preparing to leap up and drag Robbie down from his hiding place.
Sportacus waited until the exact moment before the robot left the ground. He leapt for the disguise machine and propelled himself off of the sturdiest-looking area of its side, turning in midair to let his feet meet Roboticus's back. With a satisfying push, Sportacus kicked off of the robot, stopping his own forward momentum and sending the 'bot skidding across the floor of the lair.
"Robbie!" he called, holding out his arms and taking the few steps directly under the man's perch. Robbie didn't hesitate to let himself fall into Sportacus's arms. Slinging Robbie over one shoulder, Sportacus made a majestic leap up to the catwalk, hoisting himself and Robbie over the railing with his free arm. He set Robbie down, kneeling, supporting Robbie's back with one hand and his chest with the other. Robbie was still shaking, and looked fearful beyond reason. One trembling hand found its way to Sportacus's shoulder.
"Robbie, how do you turn it off?"
Robbie shook his head, eyes glassy. "I-I don't. Know," he managed, voice strained thin.
"I didn't read that far." Robbie's gaze turned vaguely indignant; he sounded more like himself.
"What else can we do?"
Robbie shook his head again, drawing his knees to his chest. "Destroy it?"
"I—" Roboticus, having righted itself, began walking with booming steps. Robbie jumped violently, half-throwing himself at Sportacus. "Try to think of something, Robbie. Do you still have the instructions?" Sportacus scooped Robbie into his arms and raced for the far end of the catwalk, bounding down the stairs. They were now partially shielded from Roboticus by the disguise platform and about thirty-odd feet of floor space. They heard the robot land on the catwalk with a crash, and Sportacus very quietly moved under the structure, crouching in the shadow of the staircase.
"What else can we do?" he whispered, trying not to sound panicked.
Robbie, looking close to tears, just shook his head.
"Come on, Robbie. There's always a way."
Robbie, as expected, glared at him fervently. Sportacus hoped this would clear his head. "How do you deactivate a robot?" Sportacus pulled Robbie with him to the other end of the catwalk as Roboticus's slow, heavy steps reached the stairs they were under.
"I don't – water? A powerful electric shock? A – No, wait, electric…"
Sportacus grinned in spite of the situation. Robbie always came up with ingenious plans. "Quickly!"
"If I can open a disguise chamber and lure the robot onto the pedestal, then trap it in the tube and register it as a new disguise, the currents involved could—" Roboticus had flipped onto the disguise platform and was staring them down. Sportacus felt Robbie shrink back, placing Sportacus between himself and the robot.
"Okay. How do I operate the machine?"
"You?!" Robbie hissed before remembering that the robot targeted him exclusively. He groaned. "I'll distract that… thing and tell you how to work the disguise machine. Help me get this panel off—!" He gestured to a sheet of metal on the side of the disguise platform, which Sportacus pried off with ease. Robbie ducked into the no-more-than-two-foot-high crawlspace beneath the platform.
"First go to the machine. Tell me when you're in position." He slithered into the dark space out of Sportacus's view. "And put the panel back!" Sportacus did, then flipped and twisted to the disguise machine, meeting no opposition from Roboticus, which was staring at the floor of the disguise chamber intently.
"Okay, Robbie!" he called. "I'm there!"
Robbie's voice was muffled, but Sportacus's superior hearing gave him no trouble. "There are three panels on the left: top, center, and bottom." Sportacus found them.
"There are five columns of buttons on each. In the middle panel—" he was briefly interrupted as Roboticus's metal foot slammed into the disguise platform floor, denting but not breaking. "I-in the middle panel, h-hit the button marked 'X' in the fourth column!"
Sportacus did so. Immediately, the disguise in the fourth tube, a red ballgown of some kind, seemed to shrink into the floor. Robbie yelped as Roboticus once again brought its foot down, this time forming a larger dent.
"Top panel, four—fourth column, button with a—with an up arrow!" Robbie cried, twice cut off by the collision of Roboticus's limbs and the disguise platform floor. The glass pedestal rose into the air and Sportacus shouted the affirmative.
Roboticus knelt with a thud and drove its fist straight through the platform floor, resulting in a painful shriek from the man beneath.
"Robbie!" Sportacus started towards the robot.
"I-I'm fine! When I say now, you need to—" Roboticus's fist tore through the metal. "You need to hit the top panel, fourth column, button with—" another impossible punch "—with a down arrow! Then the—" Punch, punch, punch…. "The—lower—panel—fourth column—blue—button!" This last set of instructions was punctuated after nearly every syllable with another brutal crunch of metal through metal.
"Got it!" Sportacus held his breath.
Robbie clutched his bleeding nose, pushing himself to the rear of the disguise platform on three limbs. Crouching horizontally, he put all his strength into a shoddy kick that nonetheless sent the wall panel form earlier scraping across the floor. Robbie sprang to his feet behind disguise chamber No. 4 and grinned maliciously as Roboticus turned and stalked towards him. He waited until he could see his own blood on the robot's gleaming knuckles.
The glass tube fell, encapsulating the robot. Then, a beam of blueish light enveloped the tube, and Roboticus seemed to falter. It raised one calm, stoic hand to the glass in front of Robbie's face before jolting once, twice, and falling limp.
Sportacus was immediately trying to fuss over him, but Robbie paid him no mind. Nearly tripping over the fist-shaped holes in the floor, getting blood everywhere, Robbie stumbled to the disguise machine as if in a daze. He lifted the tube on disguise chamber No. 4 and staggered back to it, shaking Roboticus by the shoulders. He waved his hands in front of the robot's face, slapped it, pulled at the rubbery synthetic skin of its mouth before falling back, certain it couldn't wake.
Sportacus was using some cloth he must've had with him to try to staunch the blood flowing from Robbie's nose. Shakily, Robbie wrapped his hand around the towel and pressed it to his face. "It's not broken," he heard himself saying. He felt a hand reclaim the towel, felt himself being lowered into a sitting position on the floor of the disguise platform. He was sitting in… someone's lap, but he wasn't uncomfortable – in fact, he felt… safe. There was something familiar about it – something that reminded him of being a very young child….
"Robbie? Are you—you're… crying?"
Robbie blinked. "'M gonna bleed on your shirt," he mumbled. His hands balled up in the stranger's vest. He continued reciting a conversation that he'd thought to be long, long forgotten. "It's okay, Robbie. I have other shirts."
"Sorry." He took the towel back from the stranger, burying his face in it. "Robbie, it's not your fault. I'm sorry I wasn't sooner. –I'm glad you got here when you did. –Me, too. –Could 'a' been a lot worse. –Has it been?" Robbie paused, trying and failing to hold back tears.
"It's okay. –I'm sorry. –It's okay."
He felt whoever was holding him pull him to their chest. It was warm and he could feel a strong heartbeat steadying him. The blood from his nose had stopped, or at least slowed to manageable. His limbs ached and his face felt hot and bruised.
The person holding him rubbed one hand up and down his back, soothing him. His head drooped, resting in the crook of his guardian's shoulder as he sank into a hazy, gentle sleep.