We are really excited to share the following short story with you, which is a taster of things to come. The story is currently undergoing changes to a graphic novel that will be released through our website. Stay tuned for more exciting releases in the days and weeks ahead….
Mektropolis was quiet tonight. Not that normal end of night quiet. The calm before the storm kind of quiet. Suggestive and prescient of evil tidings ahead.
He’d been up here too long. It was enough to give anyone dark thoughts. The eerie shadowlands to the north just screamed danger. To the east, the Blues dominion, verdant and hidden. You never knew where they were. Or when they were coming for you. And to the west, the Sents. Mainly the west anyway. They seemed to be encroaching ever further into the centre. Hell, the damn Sents could go pretty much anywhere they pleased. Easy when casualties are merely stocks. South was still sanctuary, but that slice of the pie was getting nibbled at day by day.
‘What’s up Avery? You got a face like you just seen a Shadow.’
‘Nothing. I don’t see nothing. Or hear nothing. Gives me a bad feeling.’
‘Avery, you gone had that bad feeling every day we been up here.’
Up here was 20 meters high in the console of Iron 5, the fifth iteration of Mech since the Sents had become self-aware. When was that? Avery could barely remember now. He should feel safe enough. Sitting in a suit of armor that weighed over 100 metric tons, chock full of heavy artillery and the best engineering of the four houses combined. But safe never quite described his state of being up here. Rather than being a hunter, he often felt like he was being hunted. And let’s face it.
The Sent’s mechs were obviously around too, waiting to act on whatever code masquerading as a plan they came up with next. Though the models on their fleet were smaller, even Iron 20 could not compete on its best day. They had an arsenal that could not even be comprehended. Ever since the first EMP, the houses had been working on analogue specs to build behemoths like this. Light on electronics but heavy on ammunition. It took one hell of an effort to move the limbs, but once in motion, even the Sents knew better than to pick a needless fight.
He gazed across at his co-pilot. Maddy. Or to give her fuller title, Maddison. Or fuller yet, Maddison Beaumont, 33rd in line to the throne of the House of Beaumont. She preferred Maddy.
And Maddy was tough. You wouldn’t know she had duke’s blood in her veins. Never had he piloted with a tougher cookie. Yet he still couldn’t smooth out that uncomfortable chip on his shoulder. He was just a simple pleb, loyal to the Welf house. He had no choice to be up here, as had his father, and as would his sons. But Maddison was moonlighting. Playing truant from her ultimate destiny as one of the elites. But Avery forgave her for something that was outside of her control. Nobody wants the life they are born in, right? Even if she did joke that one little misstep with Iron 5 through the Beaumont district, and she could shoot right up that succession list.
‘True,’ he said, snapping back to his former misgivings. ‘This aint the world for good feelings.’
‘You just one big lump of fun tonight, Avery.’
But behind her mischief she shared his fears. Something was off tonight. The uneasy standoff with the Sents had lasted weeks now. Some unspoken accord that fighting for a world that was completely annihilated was essentially futile. But for once, the Sents were not top of her worry list. Was it the Blues? They had gone to ground as well. Sticking to their domain as much as they could. But woe betide anyone who came across their path.
She need not have deducted. It was obviously the Shadows. The lands across the lakes had been stirring for a while now. Dark figures stalking the night, always just glimpsed in the corner of the eye. Abductions, and more than one gruesome murder in the backstreets of Mek. Not enough to know for sure that it was visitors from the Shadowlands. But enough to know.
She needed a distraction.
‘I’m gonna tap the pit,’ she told Avery.
‘Sure,’ he replied, lost in his own thoughts.
The ‘pit’ was the operators’ name for central command, which was manned by various members of the houses. For some reason the name had stuck. Rumour had it that even the viscounts now used it. She opened her book and tapped a message to Sen. See if she had any info. If not, at least she could have a laugh. Or a flirt. Avery was good people, but he was not exactly one for shooting the breeze.
The books were on private networks. Still hackable of course, but they did not worry about that anymore. The Sents could look at whatever they wanted; the houses were not dumb enough to plan electronically anymore. The books were just for general messages, unless the radios went down, and they had to get a ‘GO NOW’ command out. All mechs had a crude Faraday shield built in to minimalize further EMPs, still using the quaint technology from the old world of hundreds of years ago. How important that knowledge had been to their survival.
‘Hey Sen. What’s going down?’
‘Nothing or nobody, alas.’
She always had a way to make Maddison smile. Sen was from the de Clare House, daughter of a baron, but an asset in Coms. These days, precious daddies did not have much choice in what their kids did. Gaps needed filling. An unfortunate side-effect of Armageddon.
‘What’s up in Iron 5. Avery gotcha in stitches again.’
‘Oh, you know, it’s one zinger after another.’
Avery was eying her suspiciously, and she felt a pang of guilt at using him as the butt of their fun. She continued typing but changed tact.
‘You getting any chatter in the pit Sen?’
‘No girl. Why u c something?’
‘Negative. Things are quiet. 2 quiet if u know what I mean?’
‘No I have no idea honey. But stay with me, I’ll ask around.’
Maddison looked down and realized she had put an extra ‘x’ in the message. Hopefully Sen would just pass it off as a typo. Or would she? Maddison was not sure exactly which she would prefer. She looked down and saw that Sen was typing.
‘Hey girl. Marnix is just on the radio with central re-con. Gimme 5.’
Marnix. Sen’s superior. From the noble house of Plantagenet. She tried not to hold that against him. His personality, however, that was all on him.
Huh. Okay, she did not see that coming. A warm glow flowed through her.
‘You okay over there Maddy.’
‘All good Aves. All good. Why?’
‘You look like you just been crowned Duchess of Beaumont or something.’
‘You think that would make me look happy?’
Avery smiled and went back to checking some readings. He was just as bored as she was. It was strange how you could still get bored when in constant fear.
‘Maddison, are you there?’
The switch to full name startled her.
‘Yes Sen, what is it?’
‘A Sent mech is heading your way, be prepared.’
Maddison took a long sigh. Be prepared did not just mean be on alert. It meant, be prepared to fight. Be prepared to die.
‘K. Thx Sen.’
‘Take care honey.x’
Avery was looking at her, bearing a countenance of resigned inevitability.
‘Bad news huh?’
‘Sent heading our way.’
‘Well, not that it makes a goddamn bit of difference. Get prepped, let’s get the arms up in advance.’
Now that they were in action, they both felt better somehow. Waiting for something was much worse than doing something about it. They moved their crude joysticks into position and released the locks on the joints. And now for the painful part. They ratcheted the arms into position, the first pull always the hardest, followed by another dozen which built enough lactic acid to make their arms feel like they would never know normal again. Damn Sents, thought Avery, knowing their enemies would have their fighting limbs in place without anything more than a thought command. The mech fought them at every turn, clanking, and making ominous noises as though metal was moving around freely below, but finally, the arms were fully extended.
They saw movement in the trees by the lake and no sooner were the arms up than the mech was there. Startling blue eyes atop of 60 tons of burnished chrome, unblemished. It was a beautiful thing really, and replete with just about anything that could kill a man. Or woman. Or child.
As expected, its arms were raised, and it stood in battle position. Avery and Maddison maintain their stance but did not attempt to move into full battle position.
‘Keep it steady kid,’ said Avery, sweat pouring from his forehead.
‘You too,’ replied Maddison, desperate not to make any sudden movement that could spook the Sentinel.
The two mechs stood as though they were looking at each other. In fact, Avery and Maddison were just staring at the Sent’s console which, like theirs, was behind the glass windows that represented the eyes. It seemed the appropriate place to stare, although the windows were too blue tinted to see anything beyond.
‘What’s it doing?’ asked Maddison.
‘Probably wondering the same about us,’ replied Avery.
The Mech took two massive strides forward. It was now but forty feet from Iron 5.
‘If we gonna do something we gotta do it now,’ shouted Maddison, ‘it gets any further from the lake they’ll be casualties in Mek.’
‘Hold steady,’ said Avery, ‘lemme think.’
Avery had a feeling about something, but could not articulate it to Maddy. Yet despite his apprehension of earlier, he was sure that this mech was not here for a showdown.
‘Lower your arm,’ commanded Avery.
‘Just do it,’ he shouted, ‘trust me.’
Maddison was a long way from sure about this. A long, long way. But trust Avery she did. And that won out in the end.
‘On three?’ she said.
‘Sure,’ he replied, a warmth in his eyes that she would always remember.
‘One, two, THREE.’
They both released the arms, firmly and steadily to keep the noise to a minimum. Iron 5 stood there, huge, but vulnerable. The seconds passed by terribly. They said not a word. Finally, there was a brief alteration in the purring coming from the Sent’s core, and in a fluid movement its arms dropped, and it strode away gracefully through the trees. Avery and Maddison looked at the place where it had been, finding it hard to believe the mech was standing there just five seconds earlier.
‘I think we scared it,’ said Avery.
They both laughed, hysterically, noisily and in complete disproportion to the quality of the joke. But the relief was almost tangible. The console felt like a haven once more. The tension was broken, and they both relaxed back into their stations.
‘It’s almost time to get 5 back to the shelter,’ said Avery. ‘Let’s run through the checks and then get Southside. I’ll need a nip or two at the speakeasy after that.’
Prohibition was still technically in force across Mektropolis, where everyone needed to keep a clear head. But the further back you got from the pit, the less likely the duke’s watchmen were to mete out their, sometimes severe, punishment. If you were careful.
‘I’ll be joining you. May need more than the two though.’
‘Why don’t you see if Sen’s around?’
Avery gave Maddison a cheeky smirk.
‘Eyes on the prize, Avery,’ she replied, blushing but not offended.
A drink would be nice. She’d tap Sen and then finish her final diagnostics. And then she was outta here. It had been a long night.
She tapped off a quick message then set about her duties, paying particular attention to the fuel gage. She did not want to run out of diesel while in transit, especially not tonight. As she was finishing up, she checked for a reply from Sen. Still nothing. Avery, meanwhile, was getting some static on his radio. She finally heard a muffled voice on the other end of the line. He had obviously asked Avery a question, as a got a gruff ‘nothing’ in response.
‘What is it, Avery?’
Avery cut her short with a raised hand. Unusually curt for him.
‘What are you saying exactly?’ he asked the other voice tersely.
Just then her own radio buzzed.
“Iron 5. Who is this?’
‘Maddy it’s Sen, listen to me’
‘Sen, what is it?’ A cold feeling had settled into the pit of Maddison’s stomach.
‘We picked up some chatter from the Sents. Some backchannel stuff they either don’t know we are into or don’t care. But forget that, they were describing your meeting with their mech.’
‘Yeah, that was a close one. But we’re fine.’
‘No Maddy, listen to me. They were talking about your heat sigs.’
‘So what? Their mech with no heat sigs, ours with two.’
‘No Maddy. They said there were three signatures.’
A grinding of metal from below them, the scrape of sharp objects being dragged across steel. Maddison and Avery both dropped their radios as something heavy smashed into the console door.
Sen was sat in her booth at the pit. She heard the smash, and then the shouts, and then . . . What was that. A scream?
‘Maddy,’ she shouted, ‘Maddy talk to me.’
All that greeted her in reply was static….