Reading by starlight might be something that sounds beautiful or soothing, but Nate certainly wasn’t enjoying it. He didn’t read much, he simply didn’t like it. But he wasn’t reading for fun today, he was reading to prevent his own death.
“Okay, Skykea Air Swarm 2800s model. Table of contents.” He said aloud. He waited a moment instinctively. This was usually the time when Milah would hear him attempting something difficult and help him. That wasn’t really an option right now, so he continued and turned to the page marked “rëseyt.”
Who wrote this?
He had only heard of the Skykea company in passing and knew they were from Earth. Before Earth disappeared of course, which he suspected was bad for business.
There were pictures and diagrams in the manual, but they were almost harder to understand than the actual writing. According to the manual, he should be looking for the “tërtiary” drone which should contain Milah’s “persønalitie matriks”.
He had never really looked closely at each of Milah’s individual spheres before and felt uncomfortable picking them up. It was like picking up your unconscious parent. He held the drone with the camera in his hands and did his best to read the engraved label in the dim light.
Okay, next. He retrieved the smallest one, which looked pretty tërtiary to him. This was the sphere that generally did his makeup before he performed, though he couldn’t remember what else he had seen it do.
Not that one either. He moved on to the two identical orbs that Nate had seen Milah use for most tasks.
Both were labeled the same. By process of elimination, Nate picked up the last drone. He had always felt this one was lazy, but now he understood it was just protecting Milah’s persønalitie matriks. Sure enough, the engraving confirmed it as tërtiary.
The drone itself looked fairly solid to him and he couldn’t find an actual seam to open it up to get at the electronics inside. He consulted the manual.
Tø oopen the tërtiary drön yoo müst spæk yoor securitie wørd into the mikröfon.
He was growing tired of whatever nonsense this manual was spouting, but he located the mikröfon on the back of the drön.
“Hepbern.” He said aloud. There was a satisfying click, and part of the metal shell popped off, revealing the wires and batteries inside. There were a few buttons, each marked with strange pseudo-words like in the manual, but he saw one labeled “rëseyt”. The little drone abruptly lifted into the air as he hit the button. To his dismay, the lights didn’t glow with Milah’s lavender.
“Välj ditt språk: Svenska, Kvant eller Orion-Dialekt?” it asked robotically, but incomprehensibly.
“Uh, Orion-Dialect please.”
Slowly the lights on the little drone flickered to life, glowing lavender.
“Sorry darling, just a little beauty sleep. What did I miss?”
Nate’s eyes went wide, he was saved! He had done it! Him! Nate the actor just repaired his robot! He was a genius!
“The ship is- There was a light- then there was no light- and you fell- and then they- but you- and I had to rëseyt you-” He babbled, feeling his moment of genius pass the second he opened his mouth.
“I understand completely dear, let me fetch you some lemon water while I reset the ship.” Nate nodded and sat down, exhausted from all the work he had just done.
Annie was sorting through her armoury. She was searching for a big gun. A VERY big gun to be specific. Unfortunately, she had three such guns that matched that description. The first, the Behemoth, was the absolute biggest, far too large for her to carry naturally, which is why she had paid a gunsmith to weld a small anti-gravity device to it. It was bigger than her, but no more heavy than a boot. The Behemoth was an experimental riot gun she had bought from a merchant she knew back on Phyr. It was capable of shooting a high-pressure stream of a quick-drying cement-like substance. Victims of the Behemoth would find themselves launched backwards and cemented to the ground or nearby objects.
The second very big gun was the Halberdier, the smallest of the three. It was a straightforward laser weapon. She had tuned it just right to instantly burn her targets with the worst sunburn they’ve ever had without actually killing them. The galaxy is full of tough guys, but few tough enough to try to fight with burns that painful. Annie also enjoyed the aspect that made the gun so large: a bayonet that was nearly the length of a spear. She liked a weapon that could wear a few different hats.
Last, and certainly not least, was the Fuerza Imponible, which was an ancient rifle, the last model of heavy weapon from an ancient earth culture before they joined the Orion Pact. It was a beautiful looking gun, covered in polished mahogany and golden trim. Collectors liked them for their connections to history. Annie liked it because of its ability to fire gigantic cannonballs that could crack through armoured vehicles. She didn’t take it out much these days though for two reasons. First, the cannon balls were impractically heavy, meaning she could only bring about three shots with her, which was prohibitive if she was going to be shooting a lot of targets. Secondly, she had to be very careful with it if she didn’t want to seriously hurt her target, Annie didn’t mind knocking her enemies in a medical bay for a while, but she tried to avoid anything worse than that. She wasn’t a monster after all.
Annie was a decisive person in general, but her armoury was the exception to that rule. She tapped her foot, annoyed that she couldn’t decide.
The metal footsteps of her Navigator entering the room interrupted her thoughts.
“Ms. Constantine. We are approaching the location of the device. ETA five minutes.”
She nodded in acknowledgment.
“Which is the best gun for today, Mister Nav?”
“Any would do Captain.”
That was the wrong answer, but the navigator had been with the captain long enough to know that there was no right answer in this situation, the little girl was far too stubborn to take advice when it came to her armaments.
The droid stared at her with his bright green light.
“I advise choosing quickly ma’am, we should suit up and prepare to land, Mr. Ashur already has a head start on us.”
If the droid could have blinked, he would have.
“I’m not choosing a gun before I know what we’re getting into. Get the ship’s cameras focused on what’s going on.”
“But if we delay and Ashur takes the device-”
“Then I’ll choose the best gun for dealing with Ashur.”
The droid stared at the Star Captain, his light flickering slightly, unknowable thoughts running through his mechanical mind.
The Navigator’s light dimmed slightly as he controlled the ship cameras. A small screen by the doorway flickered to life. Annie stared stone-faced at the image of a young woman, (though Annie was of the opinion she was more grime than she was woman,) leading a crowd of civilians in a clash with what appeared to be a crude police force.
The charge of the revolutionaries stopped dead on the shock pikes. Kaori heard her fellows cry out in pain as the tasers sent loud cracks of electricity through their bodies. Kaori ejected the knife she kept in her bionic arm and quickly cut the shocking device off of the spear in front of her. She looked into the eyes of the fearful guard who was now fully aware of the reality that his spear had just been demoted to being a staff. Kaori didn’t really want to hurt the poor man, so she let her knife slide back into its socket and charged him with her bare fists instead. A trio of spears from nearby guards thrust dangerously in her direction and forced her to reconsider. The guards weren’t advancing so Kaori decided to withdraw with the other revolutionaries.
“This crowd will disperse immediately!” Shouted the guard captain.
The protesters ignored him and helped the taser victims to their feet. Since the guards seemed to be content staying in one place for now.
“Frontal charge isn’t going to work.” Stated a mustachioed cook that Kaori recognized. She suspected his name was Liang, but wasn’t completely sure.
“I have a few explosives-” offered a salvager, but the man who was probably named Liang shook his head.
“Keep them away for now, I don’t know that we want to escalate this.”
“I need time to think.” stated Kaori plainly. Liang nodded and with a few others began hurling blunt objects and insults at the guards. They were kind enough to miss most of the time with their bricks and scraps of junk metal, but not with their insults.
Kaori watched and thought about what it was she was viewing.
She had fought before, there was no shortage of nearly feral scavengers and violently malfunctioning droids in scrapyard theta, but fighting in a mob was certainly different. In a normal fight, she didn’t need to hold back and could just attack until her foe had been defeated or had fled. Or sometimes Kaori fled. That happened a lot actually.
But the objective wasn’t so clear right now. She could fight the guards, and maybe she could defeat them, but that might alienate them and eliminate any chance that they would join the revolution. On the other hand, they couldn’t back down and let their revolution be squashed. She wasn’t the only one who had come to that conclusion; it was obvious that the rioters were holding back while fighting the guards. Anything they threw intentionally missed or hit the guards in their armoured chest piece, the salvager threatened to throw his bombs, but never actually did it, and a few burly individuals contented themselves with trying to yank the spears from the guard’s grips – often being shocked repeatedly as they did so.
But Kaori began to notice that the opposite was true as well. The guards stood shoulder to shoulder in their pike line but didn’t advance. They skirmished with any rioter that got close but allowed the protesters to retreat and collect themselves after being tased. Kaori reasoned that the guards likely had friends and family in the crowd. Even the Captain seemed reluctant to actually do anything, he had shouted around three last warnings to the protesters.
Unfortunately, it seemed like he was out of options.
“Advance! Push the traitors back!” he yelled firmly, but with a hint of regret.
Kaori needed a plan, and she needed it now. Fortunately, she thought she had found the guards weakness. Although it was mostly the young who had been clashing with the guards, Kaori had seen a far greater diversity of people in the initial crowd. As she looked about, Kaori noticed they hadn’t left. Children and the elderly were scattered about, cheering for the protesters, deriding the guards and taking care of anyone who was hurt. She made up her mind and began to put her plan into action.
Annie wasn’t the only one watching the events as they unfolded. Zaiah looked out over the trench from the highest balcony in his castle. He, like the other scrap worlders, didn’t have any notion of rebellion, so he didn’t fully understand what was happening down there. But he didn’t like it one bit.
His guards began to advance, finally. He had been moments away from radioing down and giving that order personally, but at least Captain Benadìvez was finally making the smart decision.
His guards took two steps towards the protesters and paused.
“Urra!” the men and women in the guard shouted as one.
Two more steps.
One of the rioters found herself standing too close to the pike line and fell to the ground, spasming as the electricity coursed through her. She was trampled under foot by the advancing guards.
“Urra!” They shouted victoriously.
Zaiah’s confusion grew as a line of protesters formed opposite to his guards, made up of the weak, the old and the young. They linked arms and glared at the approaching soldiers.
They’d need more than the dregs of society to halt a pike charge.
And yet his pikes had halted. There was no advance, no ‘Urra’ no throng of fleeing peasants. Everyone stopped.
Was there something he wasn’t seeing? He clutched his radio from the railing of his balcony.
“Captain Benadìvez, why did you stop? Now is the time to crush them.”
“Your majesty, the children and our elders have formed a line. We can’t-”
“I don’t care. Take them down. Now.”
There was a pause before the little radio crackled to life again.
“King Zaiah, my nephew is out there. There are children out there-”
“Charge Benadìvez, that’s a direct order.” Zaiah switched his radio off and watched eagerly. What he saw instead was an old woman step forward towards the soldiers.
“We need no king. We are the workers and salvagers. We are united.” She said, loudly enough that even Zaiah could hear, even way up in his palace.
He couldn’t believe his ears.
You don’t NEED kings, you just HAVE kings, and you need to obey them!
He was overcome with the horrific realization that he needed the salvagers far more than they needed him.
The line of children and elders broke and walked towards the pikes. One by one the guards dropped their spears and let the revolutionaries pass. The guards and revolutionaries merged together, united once more.
United against him.
A call shouted out from the crowd. Kaori held her mechanical fist defiantly in the air. She stared directly at Zaiah, high up in his palace. Even from here he could see the fury in her eyes.
“Viva la Revolućion!” She shouted.
“Viva la Revolućion!” Cried both rioters and guards alike.
Zaiah felt his blood turn cold. His head pounded with fear. He was terrified.
But he was not defenseless.
Nate was polishing off his third glass of lemon water by the time Milah was finished with repairs. Several of her drones still busied themselves across the ship, but the largest one briefed Nate.
“Now listen Nathan darling, that ugly craft landed in one of the scrap yards while the gorgeous one is hovering nearby.” A little metal claw emerged from the drone’s outer casing and retrieved his mask “So you’ll need to be a big scary man so they’ll hand us whatever wonderful baubles they’ve decided to hide from us!” Nate took the fake skull mask in hand but hesitated before putting it on.
“But didn’t they already call us out on their bluff once?”
“Well certainly, but they weren’t looking at you at the time! Your performance is so terribly enthralling they’d never be able to think while you’re there stomping your feet and growling.”
There was no arguing with Milah once she had her mind set on something, so Nate put on the mask like he was told.
“Vocal practice dear, vocal practice! I’ll have us there by the time you’re done. Red Leather, yellow leather.” she enunciated.
“Red leather yellow leather.” He repeated.
The king had only his armour and a pair of large scrap bots he called his royal guard. They resembled a human covered in scrap metal armour, a perfect match with Zaia’s own armour. Each carried a gigantic riot shield and a mallet capable of bludgeoning the senses out of any revolutionary. Still, it was just three of them against dozens of rioters. Would it be enough? As if answering his question there was a knock on the palace’s front door.
Zaia hesitated. Every person who was in the compound was with the rioters, and the rioters were all busy celebrating in the market. So who was at his palace door?
A royal guard looked to him expectantly and Zaia nodded, giving permission to investigate.
The door cracked open and in came an eerily tall alien. Zaia had never seen anything like this black shelled jackal creature before. Behind him was a small team of droids, humanoid, except for the head. The heads seemed to be glass balls where smaller animal-like scrapbots fiddled with the controls as they piloted the metallic bodies.
“Seems like you could use a mercenary.” The alien grinned, his eyes flashing with malevolence. “I take cash or any particular valuable scrap you might have.”
Zaia knew instinctively that they could do business.
The celebration was over as suddenly as the doors to the palace crashed open, releasing a swarm of scrapbots in riot busting gear, a pair of royal guard bots, and of course, the gigantic king Zaiah himself. They formed ranks in front of the palace but waited patiently for the protesters to form up as well. Kaori stepped out of the crowd, her fists clenched tight and her face defiant. She couldn’t feel fear, not right now, for the rage burned too hot.
“You can’t stop us Zaiah.”
The king’s thin lips curled into a smile.
“You’re wrong. I’m a king, I can do anything I want.” He turned his head to the crowd and shouted in his nasally voice “You trash-drunk fools decided that I’m only the king because I say so. You’re right. I do say I’m the king. I say it proudly, and it is true because none of you plebeians can stop me. I am king because I am the strongest.”
His words made some sense to the scrap worlders, but they were far too drunk on freedom and rage to submit now.
“Prove it!” yelled a voice from the crowd.
An improvised explosive flew through the air, a long burning trail of fire from the fuse arced over the silent crowd. It was a moment that could last forever. The moment before war.
The bomb crashed into the shield of a royal guard, fragments of metal and screws from the explosive flew in all directions but didn’t harm the robotic forces.
“F-zz-or the k-i-i-i-i-ing!” cried a royal guard through a glitchy voice box.
Zaiah rushed forwards, and the crowd surged forward to meet him. Several ex-guards attempted to fend him off with their pikes, but Kaori was simply too busy to see if it worked.
Her arm blade ripped its way through the center of one of the robots. The robot was not bound by human anatomy and so a stomach wound did remarkably little to slow it down. The world spun as a mallet connected with her head, but she didn’t fall, instead grabbing onto the bot with both hands to steady herself. There was blood in her eye’s, so she opted to do the one thing she could do without her vision. She activated her arm’s electrical current, sending a violent jolt of disruptive energy through the bot. It crashed to the floor, taking her with it. She saw only red, so she slammed her arm blade into the robot repeatedly until she was certain it wasn’t moving. Her organic arm wiped the sticky blood from her eyes. The glass ball the robot had instead of a head and shattered. A small squirrel-shaped scrap bot scurried out, stopping to make an angry chirping noise at Kaori before scurrying off. She forced herself to her feet, struggling against humans and robots alike who stumbled over her. She took a moment to collect herself and survey the situation.
The battle had only been raging for a few moments, but already it was going poorly. Shock pikes had nearly no effect whatsoever on the robots and the other improvised revolutionary weapons were similarly ineffectual. The scrap soldiers were the least of their worries, however. Zaiah’s powerful arms knocked swathes of people into the air with every swing, and no one seemed to have an answer to him yet. One thing at a time. She saw the man who might have been named Liang break through the glass orb of a scrap bot with a pipe wrench though. A little spider droid crawled out and beat a hasty retreat as its body fell limp.
Right, so the glass was the weak point, that seemed easy enough.
She noticed that the royal guards hadn’t begun fighting yet and she put them out of her mind for now.
Kaori didn’t have a plan yet, it was more like a strategy. It seemed like the other revolutionaries had no chance against Zaiah or the other robots, so she expected to see them all knocked out sooner rather than later. For now, they were doing a reasonable enough job at keeping the enemies busy, so she resolved to take out all the scrapbots while there were still revolutionaries left to distract them. She still needed time to decide how to crack the King’s mechanical suit, so she resigned herself to the lesser task of breaking the glass heads of the robots.
Her fist crashed through the fourth such robotic head before Zaia finally found her. He looked up from the trio of ex-guards he had just pummelled and saw her. She gulped as the king rushed forwards, arcing a gigantic fist at her. She hit the floor as quickly as she could, avoiding the fist, but winding up lying prone on the floor. This wasn’t how she wanted to do this. She knew plans didn’t work when going into a fight, but she always made a strategy, she always thought of tactics she could use. But that’s only when she had a moment or two to think. Kaori might have had quick reactions, but she certainly wasn’t a quick thinker. If she only had a moment- she had to roll to avoid Zaia’s fist. It sent up a shower of dust and trash where it impacted. Normally she would just flee until she could come up with ideas, but with his suit, the king was much much faster than her.
Perhaps she would be able to- She somersaulted backward as Zaia’s boot crashed next to her. She quickly scrambled to her feet.
No, she really couldn’t think and act at the same time. She just wasn’t any good at it.
Fortunately for her, the revolutionaries gave her the moment she needed to think. The scavenger with the bombs apparently had a trick up his sleeve. As Zaiah prepared to launch himself at the outmatched Kaori, a small sticky blue device was thrown at Zaiah. Blue electricity pulsed through the mechanical suit and Zaiah spasmed. Only for a few seconds, five at most, but it gave Kaori the time she needed to think.
And just like that, she had her tactic.
She threw herself at the newly recovered King, dodging and weaving around his gigantic attacks, waiting for exactly the moment she could see an opening. Finally, Zaiah tried a simple jab at her, which she sidestepped to the left. It was time. Her mechanical arm grasped the Kings greasy face – and activated the force field.
Zaiah perked up, shocked by the sudden development. He said nothing. His mouth couldn’t move. He also wasn’t getting any air. The king tried to pull his face from the field, but movement was impossible inside the barrier. Kaori had worried that Zaia’s movements would drag her about like a rag doll, but, no matter how much Zaiah pulled, Kaori didn’t feel the slightest bit of movement. That seemed odd to her, but she wasn’t in a place to argue with the fundamental nature of the universe.
She couldn’t really tell if he was turning blue. His head was stuck in a barrier of blue light, so it was hard to tell. Kaori was reasonably sure that it took a while to go from unconscious from lack of air to being dead from it. She decided to wait until he stopped struggling and then count to three. That should mean he’s alive, but very thoroughly knocked out.
It was taking longer than she thought. Kaori wanted to check her clock, but of course, it was on the arm that was currently holding Zaiah’s head. There was a metallic flash in the air in front of her and her force field dissipated. She couldn’t understand why until she put together the clues.
Clue #1 A royal guard was standing nearby her with a large makeshift ax.
Clue #2 An arm was currently on the ground in front of her.
Clue #3 She seemed to have misplaced her arm from the elbow down.
It didn’t take a genius to solve the mystery of why she only had a tangle of sparking wires from her wrist down.
She felt weak again. Without that arm, she was just four-fifths of a girl on a pile of trash.
Zaiah roared with fury as the air returned to his lungs. His fist connected with her face, but she barely felt it. The world was ringing as she dragged herself towards her severed metal arm. She held it tight against her chest and didn’t fight as the royal guard picked her up and carried her towards the palace.