“Get back!” Myers shouted. All the hunters stared in horror as the claws kept stretching further and further out of the silver window, becoming impossibly warped and long, just as Perry’s fingers had done when prying through the golden portal. And even as the claws grew longer they also increased in number. First it was six, then ten, then twenty. It was an unclean breach, and the appendages were being diffracted into duplicate forms.
Thompson’s eyes flicked back and forth rapidly, turning from their own golden portal growing smaller and smaller to this new silver portal growing larger and larger. Suddenly she realized that they were perfectly inverted to one another.
“It’s our portal!” she exclaimed. “We have to power ours back up!”
So saying she pulled the tablet out of her bag and began mashing away at the screen.
“What are you talking about?” O’Reilly demanded.
“I don’t know how, but they’ve inverted our portal. If ours shuts down, that one opens. So if we get our own portal all the way up again that one should go back down.”
“Are you sure about that?” Swanson demanded.
“No…” she tapped her screen and the beacon planted on the other side of the golden window started warming back up. “But I think so.”
The others couldn’t think of anything else to try, so they rushed to help her. Swanson and Myers cranked the size of the golden window up and began placing their pistons inside once more. O’Reilly opened her own tablet and started to monitor the levels coming in from their beacon. Dawson kept holding Perry in his arms and the two of them stared transfixed at the claws feeling left and right, up and down, reaching for them.
“Whoa!” Myers shouted and leaped back from the golden window. “He’s right there!”
As the beacon had warmed back up the fragmented view of the other world had returned as well. And through those openings they could see glimpses of crimson and blue, the body of the other category four walker. It was standing right beside their portal, claws reaching into it.
“He’s reaching in here…” Thompson pointed to the golden window, “but it’s coming out there…” she vaguely gestured to the silver portal behind them.
“Don’t worry about it,” Swanson was jamming the pistons through the window as quickly as he could. “He can’t bite at us through the window like the last one did. His mouth would just show up behind us. Let’s set off these pistons and blast him away.”
“Okay, okay…” Myers shook his initial fright off and joined Swanson in placing the pistons.
“Hey, you guys?” Dawson said nervously. “Something weird is happening at the other portal back here.”
Strange, column-shaped distortions had begun intermingling with the creature’s claws. The columns did not have any physical appearance of their own, they were only detectable by how they seemed to bend and warp the light around them, sucking it all inwards.
Thompson turned to see the phenomenon, but all she could do was shake her head in confusion. It was just another inexplicable oddity on top of another, but at least this one didn’t seem to be an immediate threat.
“That should be enough,” Swanson slid yet another of the pistons into the window. “Let’s blast this thing!”
And then Thompson understood. Because the silver portal was an inversion of the golden one, when they had pressed physical rods into the golden end they had come out the silver end as column-shaped vacuums. They hadn’t been placing anything in the world of the category four walker, they had been lining up a row of cannons right behind their own backs!
“No wait–!” Thompson cried, but Swanson and Myers each ran the small, metal ignition balls across the backs of the pistons in one fluid motion.
Unlike before, there was no sound of explosive surges. Instead, all of the column-shaped aberrations coming out of the silver portal imploded violently! Like a dozen mini black holes they sucked violently on the hunter’s world with tremendous force.
Dawson and Perry were standing too near and they were violently lifted off of their feet and sent hurtling into the silver portal. For a horrible moment they were transfixed there, trapped between the silver and golden gates, alternately pulled in and blasted outward by the normal and inverted states of the pistons. The oscillating forces crashed back and forth over their bodies more than a thousand times a second, and their bodies broke apart and evaporated into heat and energy!
And that wasn’t all. Swanson and Myers had fired off the pistons so quickly and so close to one another that once again they took energy from one another in a continuous cycle, firing and pulling and repeating in a constant round. All the surviving hunters threw themselves to the ground and clawed at the ice-hard earth as the suck of the inverted pistons yanked at their ankles over and over and over again.
“Hold on everyone!” Thompson shouted. With one hand she held fast to a large rock protruding from the earth and with the other she slammed her tablet on the ground and tried to click the controls to shut down the beacon. “I’ll close the portal! Just hold on!”
But while she was struggling the many-repeated claws had begun moving again. Further and further the creature reached them into the hunters’ world. The claws extended foot after foot, continuing to diffract and stretch out as they went. Some of them even reached so far to pierce into the golden window of the hunters’ portal.
No sooner did those claws pierce through then they suddenly emerged a second time out of the silver portal, this time as long, featureless voids. And their stretching was compounded from having gone through the portal twice, so they almost instantly breached the gap back to the golden portal, passed through again, and came out as even more hyper-extended physical claws.
And of course those ran the gap back to the golden portal even more quickly. Over and over the claws bridged through and through again. Silver portal to golden, out the silver side again, through the golden again. Physical, then a void, then physical, then a void. And each time diffracting and dividing into hundreds and hundreds and thousands and thousands.
In an instant the multitude of claws, hyper-extended beyond recognition, ran over the banks of the river and pierced through the hunters a thousand times over. All the equipment was shattered, everything was broken except for the portals. Together they sustained each other, and through them the claws still continued to multiply.
Faster and faster, exponentially, the claws continued to divide and grow. They now appeared like a writhing gray mass, widening and deepening, expanding past the banks of the river, then covering the river itself, then filling the entire valley. And still it continued unabated. Still it grew and reached and destroyed.