SS - The Patrol (Theme - Craft)

Richter wiped the sweat from his haggard brow as he dropped the filthy oil rag onto the cold, dark grating of the hangar floor. The smell of burning ozone assailed his nostrils as he ignited his welding torch, its small, intense flame cast long shadows along his sunken, scarred features.  The sound of pressurized air pushing against steel pierced the still night. Richter’s eyes narrowed as the metal plate glowed piercing white, the concentrated fire heating the armour to near-molten consistency. As the blazing steel burned brighter, a black cloud swept out from Richter’s pupils, covering his iris. He grinned as his hollow, inhuman eyes assimilated the intense light emissions. The electrifying sensation surged through his retinas, down the optic nerve into his brain, tormenting his mind with painful, exhilarating shocks. He placed another piece of metal plating against the superheated edge and brought the torch in close to the metal edges. Soon, the bracing plate started to melt into the steel carapace of the walker. The newly fused surface radiated a delicious, new intensity. Richter’s jaw distended slightly as streams of saliva seeped through his broken, jagged teeth. He leaned closer, his tendons twitching as the electric energy coursed through his body. The gleaming light slowly danced in the glassy obsidian surface of his eyes as it started to fade.
Richter, extinguishing the welding flame and placed it on his work bench, drew his worn, burnt glove across his mouth, collecting the threads of spittle adorning his chin. He scanned the hangar as the engulfing black shroud covering his eyes dissipated, revealing unyielding, cold grey irises. A chill cut through his body as the wind swept through the open hangar door. Richter looked across the rocky plain to the mountain tribe camping atop the plateau. The Dukgar were a savage warband, intent on destroying the foundry cities of the Ithlaad. Their raids were skilful and cunning, but eventually fell to machines’ superior armour and firepower. The warring parties experienced a lull in fighting. The Dukgar seemed content to plot and test the Ithlaad defences, but never committed more than a small party to the attack. The Ithlaad sit proud within their impregnable steel, putting their faith in machines. They sent scouting mechs to deter the Dukgar savages, but see them as nothing more than aggressive primitives. Every night the Dukgar would test the Ithlaad defences, losing none of their number in the smaller, nimble groups.
Every night they were chased away by a single patrol mech. The machine, Eros, was directly under Richter’s maintenance. He had grown up working on the war machine. Though it was the smallest of the great machines, the Eros was the fastest and most versatile. It would manoeuvre quickly through the craggy valley and, on more than one occasion, returned to alert the Ithlaad forces of attackers.
The dull thud of heavy boots against the metal walkway shook Richter from his daydream. He pulled open a control panel on the Eros’ arm and brushed a matted dreadlock from his face as he leaned in closer to the tangled wiring. He reached inside, toward a fraying clump covering the machine controls. He hesitated. Richter stepped back from the machine and listened. The papers on his work bench rustled softly in the night wind. The sand washed against the hardened steel barriers outside the hangar door.
The footsteps had stopped.
The hangar fell silent and a strange chill ran through Richter’s body. He reached slowly to his tool belt, his fingers wrapping around the handle of a particularly heavy wrench. Though it had been a long time since he had seen combat, a lifetime of working on the Eros had left his body lean and muscular. He tested the weight of the wrench in his hand.
“Get ready, old man” he thought.
He exhaled slowly. The smooth, controlled breath relaxed his body.
He heard a squeak behind him. Immediately, he spun around, tearing the wrench through the air in a vicious arc. It slammed into the side of the Eros with such savage force that the recoil caused him to howl in pain, nearly dropping his weapon.
A calm, gentle voice spoke out:
“Easy, old friend.”
Richter clutched his elbow, trying to apply pressure to the joint as a tall figure stepped out from behind the machine’s cannon. The woman stood with her head tilted to the side, wearing a sheepish smile. The wind blew thin strands of her hair across her face.
“Captain! I’m sorry... you startled me, Atsura...”
Atsura pushed her hair out of her face; her green, mischievous eyes glinted in the dim light. She grinned and ran her fingers across the fresh dent in the Eros’ plate armour.
“Quite a swing you have there, Rik. What’s got you so spooked?”
“Just the wind, I’m afraid. At my age, the mind plays tricks on you.”
“Oh hush, you’re not that old.” she said playfully, “Besides, you’re clearly in good enough shape to keep the upper hand on any breezy adversaries.”
Richter smirked. Atsura was an exceptionally intelligent, mechanically gifted and held a mischievous wit. She learned to fly the Eros in her early years at the foundry, and was now its sole pilot. She was responsible for the evening’s patrols, and there would never be a more suitable candidate. While the larger war machines required various people operating specific parts, the Eros was entirely self contained. The pilot needed to be completely in tune with the machine for it to function effectively, and Atsura had grown up as Richter created it. He taught her how the machine held together, he showed her to use the machine’s momentum and how to manoeuvre the Eros as it was her own body moving.
She had grown into an attractive, strong-willed and independent woman. Though he was a slaver, she always treated Richter with respect and kindness, where other pilots made their status painfully obvious. She had stood up for him when he could not, and in return Richter ensured the Eros would bring her back safely.
Richter turned his attention back to the open control panel. He reached past the tangle of wiring and turned a short lever. The Eros began to emit a low electric thrum. The pulsing sonic wave beat through Richter's body, the vibrations he felt through his temples threatening to overwhelm his equilibrium.

He brushed his wrench across the bare wiring, causing a blinding light and sudden crack of electricity to break through the wall of sound. The sparks bounced harmlessly into Richter's face and down his body.

'I forget how creepy you look when that happens' Atsura said, staring into his eyes.

Richter met her gaze. She began to look uncomfortable. She seemed different when he watched her through the onyx shroud. Her body radiated a pure, light aura. His eyes scanned her closely, watching the different heat signatures flare and fade as her body reacted to the innerving observation.

'Stop that.'

Richter blinked and shook his head, the inhuman darkness receded again to the depths of his mind.

'I apologise, Captain. It is an affliction we are yet to control.'

Atsura exhaled slowly, and appeared to relax.

'It's fine. It's just... I've never quite gotten used to it.'

Richter turned back to face the war machine. He kneeled and turned his ear toward the Eros' plasma cannon. The weapon's pulse remained constant as the machine drew more power to charge the unit.
‘Will she be ready soon?’
‘Aye, Captain, the repairs are complete. I’ve taken out the tri-gun to push more energy to the lancer, so just watch the core temperature.’
‘The right knee is fresh so make sure you burn the jump jets at 20 feet’
‘Got it’
‘Remember to change your shields to keep your...’
Atsura smiled and clapped him on the shoulder.
‘The Dukgar have been content for weeks and they don’t have a weapon in their arsenal that could pierce Ithlaad armour’
Richter closed his eyes. She was right.
‘Though... one can never be too careful...’
He smiled.
‘Good. How are you feeling?’
‘A little hungry actually’
‘I’m fiiiine... really’
‘Fine. In you go then.’
Atsura stood up straight, puffed her chest out and gave an exaggerated salute. Richter rolled his eyes as he waited for her to climb the ladder and get into the machine’s cockpit. He watched her as she strapped herself in to the Eros. She caught his gaze. He stepped back with the stepladder and winked. She winked and stuck her tongue out as the steel plate armour clamped down in front of her, sealing her in the Eros as it came online. The cannon began glowing dull blue as the plasma started to heat within the thick iron casing. The atmosphere surrounding the machine rippled and distorted as the front shields activated. Richter narrowed his eyes as he stepped backward to his work bench. His hanging tools rattled as Atsura fired the machine’s rear thrusters, shaking the floor with short, quick bursts of power. The Eros strode towards the hangar entrance. Each powerful step rang through the hangar. It stopped at the mouth of the hanger then bent over into a crouch.
Richter stood, leaning against his work bench. The jets flared again, this time the slow, controlled increase in power gave the engines a low, rumbling roar. The Eros’ torso turned, its lancer cannon moved towards the mech’s faceplate, tapping its brow. Richter returned the salute and braced his body against the work bench. The jets began to burn an intense white colour, as scent of burning fuel flooded the hangar. The Eros leapt forward, its engines screaming as the light craft hurtled through the air, long vapour trails streaming behind it.
Richter moved towards the hangar edge, his tool belt dragging heavily on his waist, the blazing jump jets from the departing machine reflected in his pure, obsidian irises. He raised his arm out to his side and began to slowly tilt his head. His eyes followed the angle of his outstretched limb. His leering, sadistic grin shone in the reflection of the hangar surveillance system. With a sudden, flash of burning green light, the unit fell to the ground. Richter slung the energy rifle across his back and unhooked his tool belt. It dropped to the floor with a loud clang. He stepped out onto the sand and watched the Eros flying gracefully through the air, its searchlights scanning the rocky valley. He watched the blue glow of the lancer glow brighter and brighter. He smiled as the mech’s rear thrusters began to splutter. The consistent, burning flame flared on and off, causing machine’s forward momentum to stagger.
Richter watched the Eros’ movement became increasingly unstable. The mech’s lancer began to glow white hot as it drew more and more power from the engines. The air crackled as the front and rear shields dissipated, leaving the war machine vulnerable. The engines flared and spluttered once more, before the fire burnt out. The Eros shuddered violently then pitched forward, the machine dropped from the sky and careened helplessly towards the jagged boulders of the valley floor.
The mech slammed into the ground with tremendous force as the steel exoskeleton met with solid stone. Even before the noise of the collision reached the hangar, the overloaded lancer exploded. The Eros was engulfed in a perfect, white sphere that burned with such concentrated incandescence that it reduced Richter to his knees. His body spasmed as the electric energy coursed through his entire being, the overwhelming power threatening to destroy him from within. He howled his exquisite pain into the night sky.
Hundreds of lit torches appeared atop the Dukgar plateau. The night returned his call.

No comments:

Post a Comment