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The spinning blades slowed... then stopped. They shifted backward with a loud CLANK, and the machine swung one of its massive arms in Dee's direction as it approached. There was a tiny squeak as one of the hinged fingers extended.
"WHAT DO YOU HAVE!"
Dee did a double-take.
The thing... spoke. It had spoken before, but this was different. Before, it had merely bellowed what Dee had assumed was an automated warning. But now... now it was pointing at her. It was speaking TO HER!
And what had it said?
Not "who are you?" or "what are you doing here"-
"WHAT. DO. YOU. HAVE!"
The scarecrow pulled Dee to her feet, and this time Dee stayed up. But she didn't run. She turned toward the approaching figure, watching it as it came. It hadn't attacked her. Yet.
"Who are you?" She asked.
The 'woodsman' took another ground-shaking step, then stopped with a squeak.
It looked at her.
The ring of rectangular ports in the machine's head didn't look like eyes or cameras, but Dee couldn't resist the sensation that something was watching her through them. Watching... examining.... searching?
"H-Hello?" she said. "My name is Dee-"
"WHAT DO YOU HAVE!" The machine's voice boomed.
"Uhh... nothing? I, uhhh..." Dee self-consciously shifted the backpack on her shoulder.
"THERE!" The machine's finger squeaked again as its aim adjusted. "IN THE BAG!"
"This?" Dee un-shouldered her backpack and held it up. Her grip was tight. Dee was unaware of the possessive frown that flickered briefly across her face. The bag was hers. What was inside it was hers, too! What did this thing want with it? "This is just emergency supplies."
"I SENSE..." The machine, or whoever was speaking through it, paused. It was a very human pause. Tentative and unsure. "SOMETHING. SOMETHING YOU SHOULD NOT HAVE!"
"Are you IN there?" said Dee "Is somebody inside-"
"GIVE ME THE BAG!" There was no hesitation now. It stepped forward suddenly, the huge hand reaching toward Dee.
"NO!" Dee scurried back. Somewhere behind the monster, Treach started barking. The scarecrow... was gone. Hidden somewhere in the shadows. "It's MINE!"
The stationary blades slid forward, extending the thing's lethal reach.
"STAND CLEAR!" The machine bellowed the rest of its warning as the blades spun. Dee ran. She sprinted for the campfire, weaving around the trees and stumps that dotted the clearing. The machine thundered behind her. The mechanical buzz of its blades swallowed every sound except the beating of Dee's heart. She didn't know if she was out-running it or not. She didn't care.
"HELP!" Dee screamed.
She darted past the campfire.
Seconds later, wood and fire exploded as the woodsman crashed through the blaze. Something heavy whizzed past Dee's left ear. What was-
A flaming tree branch... debris from the campfire... tumbled past her right side. Dee swerved-
Another shape, this one not wooden and not on fire, zipped through her field of vision.
The scarecrow skidded to a halt, knife in hand.
"A KNIFE!?" Dee shouted at him. "This isn't a KNIFE kind of problem!" She saw him draw his arm back... pause... an instant later a tiny blur shot between the scarecrow and the lumbering woodsman.
The blade tumbled end over end as it few-
-straight into the gap between the woodsman's arm and its torso plate.
There was a loud metal CLANG, followed by the scream of metal as the gears tried to chew through the blade. A brief shower of green and orange sparks spat out of the shoulder-joint. The woodsman lurched forward... stumbling, with one arm frozen. But it was only temporary. The machine righted itself in two steps, and was after them again.
"WARNING!" The machine boomed. "DO NOT INTRODUCE FOREIGN OBJECTS INTO INTERNAL MECHANISMS. STAND CLEAR!"
Dee was already running. She spotted the scarecrow circling around the thundering machine... which was completely ignoring him. He reached into his coat for another knife, but Dee had a better idea. The scarecrow was trying to get lucky, but she'd actually seen what was inside.
She left the clearing, weaving between the trees and circling around. Behind her, the woodsman deployed its blades, cutting through trees of all sizes as if they were paper cut-outs. It didn't slow him down.
Dee reached the area where they'd first spotted the motionless woodsman. Trees, branches, vines, and debris littered the clearing. She snatched up a long branch with one hand and slid her backpack to the ground. Her hand darted in and back out before she zipped the backpack closed and threw it into the clearing.
The woodsman faltered. It was moving too fast to stop quickly, but when it saw the Dee and the bag separate, it veered after the backpack. It was off balance for a moment as it skidded to a halt.
It hesitated... unsure, again.
The machine hadn't heard the ripping sound when Dee tore off a strip of duct tape and used it to secure her knife to the end of the branch, making a spear. When the machine extended its arm, it revealed the gap in its armored side, where the front and back of the torso met just below the shoulder. She'd looked into that gap before, when pulling out the vines and branches that held the machine motionless. When she looked again, the dozens of gears and strange mechanisms she'd seen earlier were in motion. Parts buzzed around, through, and past one another in a maddening whirr, all bathed in a deep green glow that seemed to come from deeper within the machine. She couldn't tell the purpose of any particular component, so she picked a spot where the most components came together, and jammed the knife-tipped spear into it as hard as she could.
Metal scraped against metal. A large cone-shaped gear with spiraling teeth bit into the blade and seized. Everything around it stopped moving. A shrieking sound rose from deeper in the machine.
"WARNING!" The mechanical voice began.
"SHUT UP!" Dee jammed the spear in deeper.
"DO NOT INTRrrrd-....-rrrrrEEEEEEE"
The robot sounded like it was screaming. Suddenly the branch was yanked out of Dee's hand and sucked deeper into the machine's torso. Something bounced around inside the armored chassis, slamming into the interior like a loosed piston, or a giant fist trying to punch its way out of the metal beast's chest. Dee didn't know what it was or how much damage it was causing, but it sounded glorious! Dee leapt away just as a blast of green light exploded from the gap where she'd thrust the spear. Light blazed out of the eye-holes. A loud BOOM rang sounded somewhere deep... the eye-lights faded to a flicker as a twin clouds of smoke billowed from both shoulder joints. The smoke reeked of burning metal.
Dee stepped around the motionless figure and snatched up her backpack. She spun and jabbed a finger at the flickering eyes of the machine.
"MINE!" She snapped.