Disclaimer: Still....... nothing.
AN: Yes, we've reached it. The final chapter of Colossus. And I apologize for the confusion. The Sequel will take a while to come out (expect the first chapter within a week or two). It will be called Pandemonium, and you can find it on my profile page if you're having trouble.
"7, please," he begged, starting after her. She didn't need to run to outpace him. She didn't even have to speed up. He was obviously struggling with his bad leg.
She didn't humor him with a reply. Within minutes he was far behind her, but still limping doggedly after her.
"7—" Maybe he skidded on some unseen scrap of debris. Maybe his leg just gave out underneath him. Whatever the reason, he went down. Hard. She spun when she heard him hit the floor—his face was contorted with pain. Angry or not, she wasn't about to leave him.
"Hold on, 9," she said, bounding to his side, but another creature beat her to it. The Machine's arms lashed out with serpentine speed and scooped him up. It pulled him past her, up to its gargantuan eye, still low enough for her to see.
It held him gently, almost cradled him in its claws as two delicate phalanges crept to the zipper on his front. It peered inside him for a long moment, and then scuttled away, back into the broad chamber where it had slept an hour before. With something akin to tenderness it laid him on the cushion while 7 raced to catch up. She'd barely crossed the room's threshold when the colossal orbit turned to her, barely inches away from her face. She felt like she was drowning in the fiery light, but she could hear a light scraping sound… somewhere.
At her feet.
She might have argued, or questioned it, or something, had the Machine given her a chance. But before she could imagine a reply it scuttled away, leaving her alone with 9. Without another thought she rushed to his side.
He seemed pale in the moonlight—deathly pale. His eyes were squeezed shut and his mouth was set into a grimace, his hands clutching at his leg. The appendage stuck out at a sick angle.
"9?" she asked softly, creeping up beside him, careful not to disturb the cushion that made his bed.
"You didn't leave." A faint smile brushed his face.
"Are you all right?" she asked, knowing what a stupid question it was to ask. She couldn't think of anything else to say.
"Fine." She couldn't tell if he was being sarcastic.
Gently she nudged his hand away from his thigh, letting grip her own hand instead. "Let me… let me look at it."
"Okay." He nodded dizzily and his hands flew to hers. If his vice grip on her fingers was any indication, the pain was unbearable. Swallowing, she peeked past his open zipper.
If she could have thrown up, she would have. Of the rods that made up his leg, the largest was now in two jagged pieces and several others were badly cracked. An ugly question entered her mind: had it snapped because he fell, or had he fallen because it snapped?
"How did this happen?" she asked, swallowing back her revulsion.
"I fell." It came out as a hoarse whisper. "Didn't think it'd take me seriously when I told it to drop me." A dry laugh escaped his lips.
"That… that thing did this to you?" she demanded.
"It was an accident." He tried to shake his head, but the motion sent him into a convulsion of pain. "The Scientist said… he said he made it. Like he made us."
"That doesn't matter," she said, squeezing his hands in hers.
"He said it was… corrupted," he went on. "By the Chancellor…he made it kill people, so that's what it did..." He cringed as another spasm washed over him. "But that's not what it was supposed to do…"
"Hush," she whispered. "It's all right. You can tell me when you're feeling better. It's going to be okay, 9. Everything's going to be okay."
A shallow thunder announced the Machine's return. Instinctively 7 crouched and reached for her spear… but it was gone, discarded at the Machine's feet when she'd run to 9's aid. The creature descended over him, its smallest appendages gathering around her friend, the larger ones carrying an assortment of rods and screws and bolts. One phalange struck at the inside of his leg—probably trying to unscrew the damaged pieces—but he howled in pain, and it withdrew as though it had been burned.
"It's all right, 9," she whispered, crouching over him. She couldn't believe she was doing this. In a single motion she seized his shoulders and put all her weight into holding him down. "Do what you have to do," she said to the Machine.
For half a second it hesitated before diving back inside him, its murderous claws moving as swiftly as they could to replace the broken rod while 7 fought his agonized convulsions.
"It's all right," she promised him over and over again. "It'll be all right. Just hold on. I've got you, 9."
All at once his eyes widened in a terrible gasp, and he lost consciousness altogether. She squeezed him tight, and tried not to cringe at the searing heat that ignited behind her. A glance told her all that she needed to know: that the Machine was welding the remaining cracks together, making sure they wouldn't break again. It didn't matter that she knew it would help him. It still looked horrible, and it sickened her to hear the pieces of his frame liquefy under the heat. At last it finished its work and withdrew, its arms hovering apprehensively around the two stitchpunks.
9 didn't move. 7 held him close, gently stroking his cheek, whispering words even she didn't understand anymore.
The Machine twitched restlessly around them, wanting to help but frightened of doing more harm.
Funny how much sense she could make of it now.
It started to scratch into the walls, its claws almost silent as it dug into plaster.
The red iris shook violently and it scratched out the word.
NOT DEAD, it wrote. Over and over again. NOT DEAD NOT DEAD NOT DEAD NOT DEAD NOT DEAD
"No," she said quietly, stilling the desperate scrawls. She should have been angry—the Machine had hurt him, after all—but she couldn't quite muster the fury anymore. "He's just resting. He'll be fine."
She stood, taking a deep breath. 9 had made his choice. And she… she was going to trust him, even if she didn't understand why.
"Come on," she told the Machine. "Help me take him home."
It scooped him up in its arms again, careful not to disturb his rest, and followed obediently at her heels.
She could live with this, she decided. She'd get over it eventually. For now she had other matters to focus on.
How was she going to explain this to the twins?
Fun Fact: I have a habit of predicting films as I watch them. Often I'm right, but just as often I'm wrong. I was (obviously) wrong with 9, but I'm going to tell you my prediction anyway, circa about halfway through the movie.
The Machine had intellect, but no conscience. The Scientist had both, but couldn't get close enough to the Machine to dissuade it from killing people, so he split himself into smaller, tastier morsels for it to consume. My thought was that they were all supposed to be absorbed into the Machine, one by one, and with each gaining elements of that Stitchpunk's personality (2's ingenuity, 8's toughness and power, etc. It made sense at the time). By the time all nine of them had been absorbed, the Machine would be housing a single, unified soul, which would somehow imbue the Machine with conscience and compassion, and it would spend the rest of its existence rebuilding the world and nurturing the last remnants of life. Naturally, if this had happened I would have bawled my eyes out, because I was more than attached to most of the Stitchpunks. I can write grizzly deaths of beloved characters, I just can't watch them.
Basically what I'm writing incorporates the essence of that theory: that the Machine is a part of the set, whether they like it or not, and is an inexorable part of their destiny.