Kaori stared at the little glowing ball amongst the worthless scrap heap. Perhaps calling it a ball was inaccurate, she knew enough to identify it as a protective force bubble of some sort. The real object of value was inside, an electronic device from what she could see. Throughout the outer part of the field countless pieces of scrap, dust and even a few bugs were suspended just below the surface. She had broken through several similar force fields and barriers in the past, and there was always good salvage on the other side. After searching five different pockets, Kaori pulled a small electronic device from her coat and plugged it into her bionic arm. Kaori’s palm touched the bubble and she began to type away at on little tool.
When she was young she thought force fields were a physical object that stopped things in the same way that something like metal would. She had been forced to reevaluate that opinion down here in the pits, and after careful study she had learned a little more. A forcefield was more like a cloud of something, she didn’t know what, that drained kinetic energy. In an odd way, it doesn’t actually stop anything from getting in, it just eliminates the ability of most things to move inside of the field. Of course, since energy can’t actually be lost completely, that means that the field absorbs the energy that it leeches and stores it somewhere. Kaori wasn’t sure exactly how that worked, but she knew how to override the storage battery. Fortunately, most force fields would deactivate when they couldn’t store the energy rather than short circuit and vent raw electricity. Kaori had only seen that happen once, but it wasn’t pretty.
After being sure she had the settings right, she activated her arm tool and sent a current of electricity into the field. She didn’t need a physical wire or a radio signal to connect to the device, the constant current flowing between her arm and the battery let her interface with the field generator directly. In mere moments she had the battery shut down and the force field disabled. Kaori had the little device in her hand before it could even hit the floor.
Unfortunately, Kaori didn’t get the chance the celebrate her victory.
“A fine day for tribute, isn’t it?” Remarked the voice of the Scrap King from somewhere behind her.
She turned and saw him. Zaia, the Scrap King stood there in his gigantic suit of makeshift armour. He had multiple suits, but it looked like he went for the big one today. Zaia must have been expecting trouble. She had seen him change suits before, and he was remarkably scrawny outside the armour, but in this suit he was over eight feet tall and bulging with bionic muscle.
He was a sleazy looking man with a greasy mullet, pimply skin and buck teeth. He wasn’t cruel per se, but he was as greedy as they came and constantly exploited the denizens of the Theta Trench. In many ways he was just like everyone else, just trying to carve out a life in a hopeless situation. Unlike the other scattered scavengers, Zaia was the king, and he liked it down here.
Kaori felt her optimism fade, but she bowed to Zaia. She was one of his subjects after all.
“King Zaia.” She acknowledged. Some of the other lost souls in the trench used fancy phrases when they spoke to him, but Kaori was too young when she fell in to have known such words, so she spoke plainly. “Why are you here?”
“Ah, young Ms. Amani,” He said in a nasally voice “you have ever been the most talented of my subjects. I thank you for retrieving this device, and I graciously accept it as a gift.”
Kaori gritted her teeth and slapped the little computer into his hand. He collected it with a hand nearly the size of her torso. She didn’t like it one bit, but there wasn’t much she could do against Zaia. He always took the best salvage from the scattered trench survivors, but there was no resistance. Even down here in the trench, scrap-worlders understood authority. It was ingrained into them at a cultural level. He was her king, and Kaori was just a scavenger. Even if she could have fought back, she would not have, for she didn’t even understand the concept of rebelling against Zaia. Obeying the Scrap King was like breathing.
Wordlessly the king lumbered away with her spoils, taking with him what little hope she had. Instinctually, she knew she wouldn’t get a chance like this again, but there was nothing she could do.
Kaori looked instead to what he had not taken, the little marble sized force field generator. Perhaps this salvage run wouldn’t be a total waste after all.
The trenches of Scappis IV were widely considered to be the worst part of the worst planet in the spur.
But now, landing in one, Ashur started to wonder why he hadn’t visited sooner. There was a treasure trove of junk down here, and he’d wager at least a few forgotten wonders. He resolved to come back another time. Well, not him personally, but he would send a few expendable scrap diggers to see what they could find.
His ship shuddered dangerously as it landed. Ashur felt that the best use of resources was to keep everything nearly broken, but not quite broken yet. It was a fine line, but one he was talented at walking. He guessed he could land two more times before he really would be forced to replace the stabilizers. He had plenty of spare stabilizers of course, but it was best to milk every part for every bit of use he could get from it before discarding it. That was the way of the Akkadar after all, and he should know.
After all, the Akkadar had discarded him.
He put the past out f his mind and stepped out onto the surface of the planet. He had changed out of his makeshift space suit, which he thought he could get four more uses out of, and into what used to be the robes of the Akkadar Order. The robes had been patched so many times that it was doubtful any part of the original garment remained.
He had set down near where the artifact fell, but he couldn’t be sure of exactly where it was.
“Little children.” He said, curling his lip impatiently.
Nearly two dozen little scrap bots in various shapes and sizes scurried off of him and stood at a messy and careless attention stance.
“Spread out, find the artifact. Don’t get distracted.” He ordered but was aware that the hopeless little creatures would be inattentive regardless of what he told them.
They scurried off in every direction, leaving Ashur to wait impatiently, alone with his disbelief at what he was seeking. A clue to the whereabouts of the elder crown. The Akkadar had been here for eight years searching for signs of the elders, but none had expected something this incredible might be hiding in this underdeveloped region of the galaxy.
They would surely want to take him back once he retrieved the device.
Only, Ashur wasn’t so sure he wanted to go back.
Thousands of lightyears away from the Orion Spur, on the desert world Ashur was born to, there was a small scurrying creature called a nepth. Nepths, like most life on that world, had a reflective black shell which was effective at both reflecting the intense sun and also blending in with the plant life, which unlike other worlds, were also largely black in colour. Little tufts of short snow white fur poked out through the gaps in the shell. They were a unique creature in that they were one of the few on that world, or any world, in fact, to possess three legs. The legs formed a tripod around the nepth’s torso and were remarkable for their ability to quickly change direction. A nepth generally walked with two of its legs acting as rear legs while the remaining leg acted as a front leg. Rather than turning, the nepth generally just switched which legs it was using as its front or back, allowing it a surprising amount of maneuverability. Its three armed torso was similarly triangular, while its head was capable of turning completely around to keep up with the body. In contrast with its bizarre torso, nepths had a tiny little nose that seemed to sneeze endlessly, two eyes that constantly appeared helpless and large furry white ears.
Ashur found them adorable.
It was little wonder that he commissioned a little robotic nepth to be made, with course wire fur and a metal shell that was spray painted black. It was made of junk of course, like all his other bots and so the shell was mostly discarded washers and little fragments of steel. The paint had mostly faded and was covered in scratches in the few places where it did remain.
The metal nepth scurried through the scrap heaps on Scrappis IV. She was the pride of the children, the greatest of them all.
She was sure of it.
She knew it would be her that found the device, none of the other scrapbots were so well built or as elegant of form. However, she was stumped. She had looked under a small sheet of metal, inside a bucket and even on top of a ruined car. Those were her three ideas, and while she was sure they were flawless, they hadn’t succeeded at finding the device. This troubled her greatly.
She resolved that her idea was sound, and she simply hadn’t looked under the right metal, inside the right bucket or on top of the right car. The second and third bucket yielded no results, but she was undeterred. On her way to the next ruined car, she began to wonder if her sensors were off, as she seemed to be getting farther from the vehicle, not closer to it. After nearly two minutes of thinking and assessing the situation, she came to the conclusion that she had been taken hostage by some form of a predatory bird. It certainly explained the talons digging into her shoulder. And the bird over top of her.
The trashgull, like all trashgulls, seemed to be dripping with oil. The nepth bot was aware that oil was flammable, and in absence of any other idea decided she would light the trashgull on fire and then try to think of a way to get down from here.
Kaori had barely moved from where she found the force bubble and was eagerly integrating the little force generator into her arm. It was clearly designed to only work once, but Kaori wasn’t one to let something as simple as hardware limitations stop her. A little tinkering with the tools she traveled with, and a few old parts from around the area and she was ready for testing.
She held out her palm, facing up, and turned on the little device. She felt some of her hair stand on end as her body became charged with static. A little circular sheet of blue energy formed on the palm of her hand. It was about two inches thick and as wide as a dinner plate. It was small but likely useful for something. She didn’t know what yet, but a scavenger could never have enough gadgets.
She barely noticed when the small scrap bot landed in her force field and found itself stuck head first in the movement-inhibiting field. She felt no impact as the little robot landed, but truth be told, that wasn’t what stopped her from noticing the robot. No, the thing that caught her attention was the fact that a large flaming trashgull had landed next to her. It squawked in pain and desperation. Trashgulls weren’t the nicest creatures, but she wasn’t unsympathetic. Burning seemed like a bad way to go, at least in Kaori’s opinion.
She released the field, ignoring the little robot as it crashed to the ground and searched through several pockets. She pulled out a trio of small cartridges and read them:
Class A- Ordinary Combustibles
Class B- Flammable Liquids
Class C- Electrical Fires
She slotted the ‘B’ cartridge into a slot in her arm and stuffed the others in another pocket at random.
A small hose poked out from the tip of her thumb. She pointed it to the burning gull and sprayed it with a short blast of chalky foam, smothering the flames. The foamy and ungrateful gull got to its feet and glared at her, as if blaming her for the fact it had been set on fire, before flying clumsily away to nurse its wounds. She unplugged the empty cartridge from her arm and discarded it somewhere in the scrap pile.
Free of distraction, only then did Kaori really take notice the little robot tugging at the side of her boot. Kaori had seen the occasional scrap bot, some salvagers liked to make them, but Kaori had never seen the point. She didn’t see much of a difference between building a scrapbot and having an imaginary friend. Weren’t most scrapbots shaped like animals? She had never seen anything shaped like this weird little robot. The strangely shaped thing was desperately pointing at her arm and bouncing up and down.
“My arm? You want my arm?”
The scrapbot shook its head. It searched around itself and found a small metal plate. It held out one of its palms and placed the metal on top. It pointed at it and then back at Kaori’s arm.
“The force field?”
She held out her palm and activated the blue field. The robot nodded enthusiastically. It grabbed hold of one of her bootstrings and attempted to drag her somewhere. She could tell it was putting in all of its efforts to move her but simply didn’t have the mechanical muscle required to do so.
Where had this little scrapbot come from?
It likely belonged to another scavver, or it could have been discarded and thrown into the pits. Perhaps it found something?
Kaori stared at the tireless and determined little bot for several minutes before deciding that she might as well see what it wanted. It might be leading her to something useful after all. She picked up the little bot, lowered her goggles and ran towards where the little robot wanted to go.
Ashur saw the girl stand on a nearby ridge with his nepth on her shoulder. She could clearly see him, and it was obvious that he could see her. She stood perfectly still, yet to Ashur, her stance was too relaxed to indicate that she was afraid. No, she was thinking. Ashur waved at her, but she remained still.
The least she could do was acknowledge him, right?
In a flash, the girl seemed to have made up her mind and she sprinted towards Ashur in a flurry of movement. He blinked. This human was fast. He found intimidation to be the best approach in most negotiations, but he doubted it would work on a girl who could easily escape. He tried a different technique.
“Nice day isn’t it?” Being friendly wasn’t his strong suit.
The girl didn’t answer.
“I’m Ashur, I see my nepth bot found you.”
There was no reply, the girl just stared blankly at him. Why had his scrapbot brought her here? Did she have the device? Her coat had a lot of pockets, it could easily swallow the little computer and he’d be none the wiser. If he was quick he could grab her. She may be fast, but she didn’t look strong. Although if she didn’t have the device, but instead simply knew where it was, then she’d be unlikely to cooperate if he kidnapped her.
Before he could even register what was happening the girl was pointing at his ship.
“Not that nice of a day, I’m Kaori, you have a ship, can you get me out of this trench?”
She was still pointing at the ship and looking expectantly at him. She was as still as a statue.
She was one of the stranger scavengers he had ever met. Still, she had just given him the negotiation power he needed. He smiled like a wolf spotting a rabbit.
“Good to meet you, Ms. Kaori. I can indeed get you out of this trench. How long have you been down here?” He asked, uncaring for the answer. She just stayed, frozen in place asides from her breathing. Staring at him. He decided to continue. “But fuel is expensive, isn’t it? Do you have anything to offer me in trade?” He knew he had her now. But she just stayed completely still without answering. “Hello?” her silence was beginning to bother him.
She lowered her arm to her side and simply stared up at him.
“Nice to meet you, I’ve been stuck here for six years, I didn’t know fuel was expensive, I can trade a dozen heating coils, right now or my entire scrap collection if we go to my hut, hello.”
Ashur was aware that he had the leverage in this negotiation, but somehow this scavenger was creeping him out.
Still though, her offer was a good one, a dozen heating coils for a quick trip up the cliff was a great deal. And her entire scrap collection? Judging by her homemade arm, she likely had quite the assortment. But Ashur was only greedy for one thing today.
“A poor offer, none of that could pay for the flight up the ledge.” He lied, baring his sharp teeth. “But I’m looking for something that fell here in a blue ball. It’s mine, I lost it and I’d like it back. If you could get it for me, I’d happily rescue you.” To his surprise, Kaori responded immediately this time.
“Can’t get it, Scrap King Zaia has it.” She shook her head.
“Well,” said Ashur, smiling wider, “If you’ll bring me to him, I’ll get you out of this trench.” He waited patiently when the girl didn’t answer. He began to simply take it as fact that the girl would take between five to ten seconds to respond to anything he said.
“Okay.” She answered with a smile.
Kaori hadn’t known many people, but she knew she didn’t like Ashur. He refused to run with her and insisted they walk, even though that meant it would take an hour to get to Zaia’s palace. Yet her instincts told her to trust Ashur. He was certainly the sort to try to take advantage of a deal and to try to take her for everything she had, but the truth was that there was nothing she wouldn’t gladly give to get out of the trench. She trusted Ashur enough to honor his end of the bargain and didn’t mind that she would get ripped off.
But how did he talk so fast? Did he not have to think about what to say? Did he not think of the ramifications of every response?
“How much further is it?” He asked.
There were a number of possible responses and outcomes.
She could say ten minutes and be optimistic. It might make him move faster, in which case her estimate would be true. On the other hand, if he didn’t speed up then it was going to be much longer, and he might be annoyed. The reverse was true if she said twenty minutes. He would likely slow down, thus making them take the full twenty minutes, but he’d be happy if they arrived early. Or she could give the accurate estimate of fifteen minutes, but there weren’t any pros or cons to that.
After five minutes of thinking she needed to reevaluate her estimates, and just gave him the optimistic answer, which had now turned realistic.
“What?” He asked, no longer remembering that he had asked a question.
Should she clarify? What were the pros and cons?
“Forget it.” He mumbled a minute later while she was still thinking.
She took this as evidence that he spoke recklessly. Why would he ask a question he didn’t want the answer to? Clearly he hadn’t thought about it enough before he spoke. Reckless.
They arrived exactly ten minutes later near Zaia’s palace. It was one of the more impressive structures that any scavenger had built. The keep was built from the top half of a cruise ship flipped on its end. It was surrounded by small tents and shacks that were inhabited by the king’s servants and any scavengers who had business with him. An ugly statue of the king loomed over the tents. The statue presented him in his winged armor, and he cut an intimidating figure. The entire complex was ringed by a three-meter tall scrap wall, scattered makeshift towers made from tilted shipping containers held guards armed with crude taser-staffs.
“What will you say to him?” She asked the tall alien.
“Say? You have the wrong idea little scrap girl. I’m just going to take my device. It’s mine.”
Kaori’s jaw fell slack, and for once she spoke without thinking.
“But- he’s… the king?”
“No, he’s not. He’s a scavenger stuck in a trench. He’s just like you.”
This was the first time Kaori had even encountered the notion of not respecting authority. Her mind was reeling.
Ashur can’t disobey the king!
But he said that the king isn’t a king?
But the king says he’s a king?
How did he get to be king?
Who are you to question a king?
A free woman!
She took a moment to consider that last one. She was stuck in a trench. She mostly ate mold and trashgull. She suspected she smelled horrific. But she was free.
She must have been twitching, because Ashur smiled devilishly and leaned close, speaking directly in her ear.
“The words you are looking for are ‘Viva la revolućion.’” She stared questioningly at him, her eyes wide. “Long live the revolution.” He clarified.
“Viva la revolućion.” Kaori said quietly to herself, considering the words. A full minute passed as she stood still, zeal building inside of her. “Viva la revolućion!” She repeated forcefully.
“Any good idea is worth sharing, isn’t it? So why not spread the word?” Ashur pointed to the servants and guards in the palace. More new ideas flashed in Kaori’s mind.
I should run. I should take my freedom while I have the chance!
But the other scavengers still toil under the monarchist boots!
Zaia is too strong! Lowly scavengers have no chance!
Tear down the palace! Free the scavenging class! Seize the means of salvage!
Her jaw was clenched as she vibrated with revolutionary fervor. The normally silent and collected girl could barely contain her rage.
“Viva la Revolućion!” She roared, lowering her goggles and running recklessly towards the palace.
“Liberté, égalité, fraternité!” Ashur shouted after her.
There’s one born every minute. Ashur had lived on Scrappis IV long enough to be aware of the complete lack of knowledge the locals had about freedom, but he honestly didn’t think that would work as well as it did.
Ashur still didn’t have a plan yet, but any good plan begins with a distraction. He had no clue how mighty this king actually was, but he suspected that Zaia’s security would defeat the little revolution, but that didn’t bother him, so long as he could get the relic before the fledgling revolutionary republic was quashed.
He had left his scrap bots back about his ship, the Pale Rider. He activated a small radio device on his sleeve.
“Bring the ship, prepare the droids.” He was feeling good about today.
The guards were innately trusting of other scavengers in the Theta trench. No one had even conceived of rebelling against the king or even stealing from him, so they let Kaori in without a second thought. She had so many ideas but wasn’t entirely sure how to express them. She let her fury cool and her natural tendencies take over. She stared blankly at the dozen or so occupants of the fort and took a moment to think.
There are two groups of people here. Guards and servants. She changed her assessment as she spotted a pair of scavengers preparing a tribute for the king. Three groups, but the scavvers could likely be lumped in with the servants. Who to approach first?
The guards could be useful in a fight if it came down to it. That’s a pro.
Zaia treated the guards better than most servants and scavvers, so they’d be much less receptive to the revolution. That’s a con.
The scavengers and servants were like her, oppressed and desperate. Her words would spread like wildfire.
The downside was that they might not be enough to defeat Zaia and his guards. Still, some revolutionaries were better than none.
She made her move, jogging up to the base of the statue of Zaia. The fire returned and she channeled the fury into her words.
“People of the trench, scavengers, Comrades!” She shouted, waiting until the majority of the people were looking at her. “He’s not a king! He’s not our king!” She pointed to the statue.
The confusion was evident in the people, but they were intrigued and began to form a crowd.
“You mean like, he’s an imposter?” One voice yelled.
“The statue that isn’t our king?” another laughed.
She chose her words carefully.
“No, we are the free people of Scrapyard Theta!” She paused for emphasis “We don’t have to do what Zaia says!”
The crowd looked stunned.
“Yeah, we do! He’s the king!” said an old woman in the back.
“Well who made him king? How did he get to be a king? What would happen if we stopped obeying?” It wasn’t a great speech, but it didn’t need to be, she simply needed to get the new idea in their heads. It was working. The crowd looked flabbergasted. She gave them the words they needed.
“Viva la Revolućion!” Kaori raised a mechanical fist into the air. “Long live the revolution!”
The crowd was silent, in awe. The old woman spoke out, croaking over the crowd.
“He’s only a king because he says he is! Viva la Revolućion! Down with the monarchy!”
The crowd erupted in roars of fury and cries of “Viva la Revolućion!” and “Down with Zaia!”
Kaori was lost in the same rage that filled the crowd. Years of exploitation suddenly being realized. In the red haze she didn’t know where she got the rope, but before she knew it she had climbed to the top of the statue and tied a loop around Zaia’s head. She found her way to the base of the statue and looked to the crowd. They were desperate for something to lash out against.
“Rise up! The salvagers have nothing to lose but their chains!” She threw the loose end of the rope into the crowd. As one, they counted to three and pulled. Kaori didn’t feel better as the statue shifted, but somehow she felt energized. On three they pulled again, the statue shook dangerously but didn’t fall. Her muscles strained, but somehow she felt better than she had in years.
The last time they reached three, the scrap statue came crashing to the ground.
“Not so mighty now!” She yelled as the crowd cheered.
But another cry sounded that silenced the crowd.
“What are you doing?!!” Yelled a guard captain, he was honestly asking and didn’t seem upset. He was incapable of even understanding what he was seeing.
Kaori hoped she chose the right initial audience.
A tense silence followed as neither group moved.
Eventually, the captain made his decision.
“Stop them!” The captain ordered. The guards pointed their spears at the revolutionaries and moved to disperse the crowd with their tasers.
“Long live the revolution!” Shouted a voice, and Kaori found herself charging at the guards with her fellow revolutionaries.