Short Story – Release

I’ve returned to the series of very short super-robot themed stories I worked on previously with the conclusion of the battle begun in the previous entry.

It took a while to think of the right way to approach this; actual action isn’t really the focus here because I find the bits around it – the human side, and the way in which this new kind of fighting changes people – far more interesting and suited to written fiction. Particularly, here, the continuation of the idea of whether doing the “heroic” if inadvisable thing is enough to make you a hero, and whether or not it’s worth it.

Edited 4/12/13

Scar Needle is in my grip, trapped in my hands. It resists, it twists and tries to bring a broken rifle up to fire one last shot. Cannon-fire is exploding against its shell as I fire the last of my ammunition into it, but it is not afraid. It is quite un-animalistic, unliving, alien. I have it trapped, it should be trying to escape but instead it is just trying to kill. Last time I fought it, it spoke to me. Used enough cruel reason to know that humanity will let no-one die if there is a chance. Today it is silent.

A giant hand, brushed brass in the dim, strange light of space, clamps segmented fingers over a domed head. Lenses spin uselessly, a moving thing I am uncertain of the purpose of slides along and then jams, stuttering, against my thumb. I squeeze. My vision is a cloud of graphs now, all reaching the red as alien materials resist inexorable pressure. It yields first. The dome cracks, the cracks expand into a spiderweb of fractures, and then there is release and my hand becomes a balled fist grasping at shards of black plate and cables. The rifle, still pinned by my thigh, continues to struggle. Its barrel drifts at the corner of my vision.

I have crushed Scar Needle’s head. It is a ruin of cables and unknown components open to the elements, orbited by scraps of armour. Yet it still moves. I adjust my stance slightly, keeping sure its arm cannot swing around to shoot, and that fist still trailing bits of machine-brain slams into a smooth torso, deflects off and risks unbalancing me. I will not let it escape. It will die. Another punch, this one better-aimed to catch a recessed part of its frame, and I feel it buckle and implode. The fist doesn’t stop this time. I can’t feel anything, I have to imagine what it feels like from the graphs, and it is unnerving. Something is licking, pulling, sucking at the hand, some kind of circulation within the literal heart of the machine, and I can even now see bubbles of whatever the fluid is spraying out and then forming comically bobbing balloons of liquid in space that burst against my armour. Had I my sword, had my other arm been able to do more than just grip and restrain, this would have been over by now.

The spray of black stuff from within sputters and dies and the rifle is suddenly released to drift. I recover it as ordered and place a locator on the remains.

Home is still distant; there is still some kind of battle being fought, for I can see lasers. Before I return, I will probably have to win that for them.

My first kill. I saved my comrade, I saved the colony, and I destroyed one of their fighting-machines in minutes, crushing its bones and letting its blood spray over me like I were some feral berzerker. If this is not penance for yesterday’s failure, there is no justice.

“Report.” A voice breaks the silence I have lived in since leaving the hangar seemingly hours ago.

“Kill.” I can’t find the pride I want to feel because there is none in that voice. It was easy, a moment of beautiful catharsis and vengeance for Miracle, but who cares about that?

“Return and rest.” They can’t find it in themselves to appreciate me. They have known me only two days, seen me save lives, and that is not enough. I will have to work double duty in the absence of Miracle, and for nothing but withering looks and a pall of awkward silence. Last night was difficult, endurable only by imagining that the solitude I felt was a sign of tacit approval rather than restrained fury.

My body is moving on its own artificial intelligence, because I cannot properly parse my returning home. Maybe I killed another two dozen of the enemy, maybe I did not. If you asked me even five minutes after I would not remember. Two flavours of pride mingle in an unhealthy cocktail inside me – satisfaction that Scar Needle will not trouble Crocus again, and the belief that saving Miracle rather than doing this a day earlier was the right thing to do.

“I smiled at my first kill.” Miracle is waiting outside my cabin. “I was unable to contain my happiness at having destroyed one of them.” I don’t want to talk to her. “It would have been nice to share that with you.”

“You weren’t in any position to fight.” She’s blocking the door. This is a conversation that will happen whatever I do.

“You’re right, I wasn’t. And you weren’t in any position to decide if I deserved saving.” There is some scrap of some past era in me angered by this. “Did you sleep well last night?”

“Did you?” I can’t face replying, I have to do something else.

“It was hot, dry and stale in my cabin like every other night. You didn’t miss any dinner worth talking about, because we hadn’t begun repairs yet. In fact it was worse than normal, I’d say. I was disturbed by engineering teams working on the deck below me, trying to find a new way to fix the problems to keep us alive another day.” Some people would have made that sting with their tone, spat the words in anger. She makes it sound like a friend complaining about bad traffic after work.

“That will change now. That day was all we needed for us both to live.”

“I’m sure it will. And thankfully, it was.” Conversation over.

She leaves. No thank you for her life. No thank you from the colony, even though now it can live. No thank you for that time to rebuild.

Scar Needle was easy to find today; unmoved from its past location. Its shots were lazy, predictable stuff. I fell upon it, hiding among a group of mining-ships bought at great cost from their owners, and crushed it.

Maybe they are getting as tired of this as we are. Maybe whatever Scar Needle was just wanted to die.

On my own, in my mind, I am a hero. I saved Miracle. I saved Crocus. I killed Scar Needle. A few formulaic days to make sure the repairs are well underway, to let Miracle recover, and then I am on to my next mission and another moment of release as another enemy dies.

I hope this time, I am working alone.

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8 comments

  1. runoverpebble

    Glad to see you’re still alive and writing.

    So… this is a bit of a nitpick, but the way the paragraphs are ordered in that last dialogue between miracle and our POV character made me think all of Miracle’s lines were the Takuya’s and vice versa.

    The relationship between Miracle and Takuya has gone in pretty much the opposite direction from what I expected from the last short, which I like, since it characterises Miracle as actually having a spine and a personality, which in this case, is a bit of a martyr complex. At the very least it doesn’t follow the simplistic and forced pattern of romance development that I’ve run into quite often in the entries of Gundam which I’ve been watching recently. The last line I find odd, since it seems to indicate that Takuya has labelled Miracle as the same as the rest of this world; cold, unfeeling, unappreciative, yet gregarious.
    It’s this coldness which I keep coming back to, because I think this is the defining aesthetic icon in your series of shorts.
    This brings me to how I can’t get a grip on Takuya’s personality. The most I can say right now is that it seems his character exists in a perennial state of solitude and dissatisfaction over said solitude. A lot of this seems self-inflicted.

    The hints about the aliens here make me think of the Vasari from Sins of a Solar empire. There are a lot of reasons why Scar Needle could have been described as wanting to die, but unless it’s discarded as due to Takuya’s mental state after the fight, I think the ‘clinical stoicism’ aesthetic isn’t going to be the direction it takes.

    This story doesn’t seem to open many doors on the world-building front. The most I can point out here is that the conflict has been reduced to sparks in the distance. It would be a shame if the story follows a mission-based structure from here on in, because (a)trope and (b)it compromises on narrative momentum.

    • r042

      Thanks for commenting, and especially thanks for being nitpicky.

      I’ll take another look at the dialogue – it’s quite likely it made sense to me at the time but could have done with another pass.

      I’m definitely not aiming to keep this as just an episodic thing for the reasons you say – I just felt this plot needed closing as its own thing.

      As to how Takuya sees Miracle, and his dissatisfaction, I was trying to set him up as quite selfish and naive – in need of having his prejudices shattered. He thinks the world should be heroic, that people need saving, not realising that that kind of self importance is based on a very immature understanding of others.

      • runoverpebble

        I see that Takuya wants the hero treatment, and feels entitled to it since he pilots the figurehead (that line Chekov’s gun line from the second short about pilot arrogance is quietly building up here), and ‘saves people’. However, what Miracle strikes me as is someone who wants to be a hero; she wants to be the glorious figure who lands the final blow while the trumpets blare and the fires rise higher. In a sense she is an even more selfish character – one who wants to die nobly for a cause, not live humbly for one.

        That leads me to how this conflict is very strangely constructed. The real pupeteers, namely the commanders on either side, are completely unseen, and the most that the soldier-soldier relations ever got was a single line about somewhere in the first short. The characters here are in a strange middle-zone, where they have none of the grunt mentality of the lower ranks, and none of the agency of the higher echelons of the military. I really can’t see these two hero-complexes ending well.

        But really, it’s the sudden shift in the characterisation of the aliens that really intrigues me. We haven’t gotten anything on the cloak-and-dagger side of the war, just lots of head-on clashes, and while this lack of information may be because of the controlled nature of the setting, I do wonder if the aliens have actually tried subterfuge, or if there is some strange honor-code that holds them back. The second option would be quite the twist.

        • r042

          Two things come to mind from this conversation – firstly that your ideas about the higher ranks are definitely fruitful inspiration.

          Secondly, you reminded me of that Chekov’s gun line from before, and that got me thinking. The very first scene in Pacific Rim has the protagonist claim “In a Jaeger, you can fight the hurricane” or some such – and that line strikes me now as the most spectacular arrogance in any super robot or space opera show.

          The most defiant characters in this genre – Kamina, the Getter team, Guy Shishio and so on – all work on an “if it bleeds, we can kill it” kind of aggression. The enemy made their machines, we can destroy them. It’s a frequently costly arrogance but super robots tend to win important fights by bringing the biggest guns.

          Even when you have something like Kabuto Kouji saying Mazinger makes him “stronger than God or the Devil” it’s still quite different to that line. Traditionally the idiot hero talks about winning against a defeatable foe, an arrogance born from past easy victories – not setting out to try and stop a force of nature just because it’s there.

          • runoverpebble

            It took me quite a while to figure out the relation of the point you were driving at to the story, and here’s why I think it did:

            Super Robot shows generally feature driven protagonists. There’s a ‘them’, and there’s an ‘us’, which exits even in works that try to be subversive (Evangelion), but your stories seem to be completely devoid of this us-them dynamic. This is probably because Takuya seems to take pains not to consider himself as part of the with the military he fights in, but basically what happens is that the entire conflict feels like something mechanical, or even (probably thanks to the high body-count) unchangeable. It feels, right now, as if the war was a force of nature as well, and the only thing that keeps me from concluding this is the last bit about Scar Needle’s death.
            I don’t quite know what to make of this. It’s a common feeling to feel that an ongoing war is as unstoppable as a force of nature, but hardly ever as if it were something as natural as air(which is the feeling I’m getting), and I imagine that this is the true ammunition for the Chekov’s gun here.

            Oh, and this has nothing to do with anything, but the mental image I have of Miracle is Tieria Erde, genderswapped and minus the glasses.

          • r042

            Interesting image! I saw her more as the older Miria from Macross 7 as I wrote her.

            Another way I had been thinking of the conflict was that it was well past the stage where creating an “other” to hate was useful – the suggestions that there was a time when the Figureheads were more like the usual super robots perhaps suggesting that was when the propaganda was more useful.

            I don’t know if you’ve watched Space Battleship Yamato (especially the recent remake) but it very well shows how anime has done the “tiredness” I’m trying to evoke and you mention. The war has just gone so badly that there’s not really the energy to hate or otherise the enemy any more.

          • runoverpebble

            It’s just the character design, mind you; I haven’t seen Gundam 00, and now that I know Tieria isn’t a girl, a good deal of my motivation to start has been sapped.

            As for othersiation, I get the vibe you’re pointing at, having seen the Yamato remake(though not the original), but I don’t quite find myself comfortable with this concept. I can see this as following a number of steps.
            The crisis(i.e. war breaking out) -> Demonising the enemies’ leaders/causes -> Demonising the enemy as individuals/their values -> Emphasising the enemy’s atrocities.
            The last step I see as pretty much self-propagating. The more of us they kill, the more anger we build up, and the more driven we should be; the propaganda need not be any more complex, and just the sight of statistics should rile an observer up, irrespective of whether it recieves state-backing or not.
            I should probably take a real-life example: I know a lot of people who, even though they routinely come across positive perspectives on western figures (say Nobel Peace Prize nominee Malala Yoosufzai), openly loathe them. Something has happened (or been happening) in this universe that’s sunk this tiredness into everyone’s bones. I don’t think it’s because of the biased casualty rate -12 years of war hasn’t cooled the Afghanis down much-, but something else. And I don’t know what this something else is.

            Yamato is the product of a country that lost the war full decades ago: Japan was already burnt out when it made Yamato. But a civilisation currently fighting? And managing to hold what appears to be a solid front? No; something else is up.

          • r042

            That’s a really interesting perspective and certainly not something I had considered previously. I’ll definitely keep this conversation in mind when I write more.

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