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.
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.