Grass Is Greener

Five hours of downtime were afforded to the Weaver pilot Darius. Three hours of which were spent sleeping because the salvage crews were supposed to be done in that time. Alas, there was an issue, an accident. Darius doesn’t know the full details save to say that someone lost their life. In due course Samuel will no doubt come and inform him in greater detail. His hope is that it was not Enrique. The twenty two year old deserves, not that they all do not, to have more of a life than he has had. Until then Darius will continue plodding onward.

He’s no longer alone in the command centre. Three of the four other crew members are present. Charlotte is fixing a panel causing issues for some of the system calibrations needed to keep Weaver within operational parameters. It could take a while. She isn’t an engineer but the command centre crew would rather not bother the engineers at a time like this. That would have been the case different them having suffered a loss, but doubly so considering they have.

You see the salvage sorting operation is a hard one for those who are part of the crews have to decide where the materials would best be used over the coming days and weeks. Yes, there is no planning beyond that. They aren’t swimming in resources. If they were things might be different.

There is no doubting that Darius feels a great deal better than he had prior to his few hours rest. Still, the two hours of downtime waiting were problematic, to say the least, as it allowed for lethargy to sink back in. A common issue which pilots, who spend long periods linked to the mechs, suffer from. It’s part of the reason multiple pilots were initially drafted to serve the role at any one time. Aside from the wish to keep Weaver in as close to constant motion as possible that is.

You might wonder why there would be such a need, well it’s because of the rust inducing rains, surface blasting sandstorms and all other manner of weather related issues which assault the mech on a near constant basis. Weather that means being static is a real danger to the ill-maintained mech ever moving again.

It isn’t long before Governor Jenrick appears in the command centre. His face is grave, his head dipped, eyes lower. He sidles slowly into the room until he is roughly at the edge of Darius’ periphery.

“Governor, what do you have for me?” The pilot Captain asks softly.

“We got less than we hoped from the salvage. Plus, as you know, we lost someone. It was Lincoln.”

“What happened?” Darius says without showing any intention of changing pace. He can’t afford to especially in light of the news that the crews didn’t salvage as much as had been hoped.

More than ever that means they could do with reaching their next potential resource cache some four thousand miles away sooner than was originally planned. It’s going to be tight but Darius might just be able to make it.

But what happens when surface resources run dry? I don’t know. Don’t you think you should think about it? It’s going to happen you know. Planning is intelligent. Reacting is not. It could be the difference between life and… I’m fully aware. Now shush. I need to listen to the Governor and his report.

“The crew was extracting some raw materials when there was a collapse.”

“What sort of a collapse?” Darius asks with a mixture of curiosity and confusion which causes his brow to furrow and a single eyebrow to raise.

“A stockpile of steel lengths gave way. Lincoln was crushed between them.”

The pilot turns to look at Samuel, a quizzical look upon his face as he legs continuing pumping. They ask a silent query, which the Governor cannot answer. He doesn’t have the details, not fully. He’s requested them in a report but with how busy the salvage engineers are its doubtful he’ll be getting it anytime soon. After all, running Weaver is far more important than…

“Captain, we have visual.” One of the crew, Harriet, informs over her shoulder from her seat at a console. It lacks padding meaning she feels every jarring movement run up her spine with each step the mech takes. She isn’t the only one; Lawrence and Rafe feel it too. So would Charlotte if she were here with them in this room and not mixing a fried system.

“You have visual on what Harriet? We are days away from our destination.” The pilots face is furrowed deeply with lines as his legs continue to pump unabated. 

Samuel doesn’t know how Darius does it. He certainly could not. Not even for a single eight or twelve hour sitting could be manage, and yet Weaver’s pilot does it for far longer than that he knows.

“Another mech, it’s heading our way.”

“What? That can’t be. We haven’t seen another mech in…”

“I’m well aware Governor but my crew does not make mistakes, isn’t that right ladies and gentlemen?”

“Yes sir.” Is the collective reply to Darius’ rallying words of assurance.

“Captain, we can’t make contact.”

“We can do that?” The Governor exclaims in surprise. He had no idea. Why did he not know? He hasn’t an answer.

“We can but it seems they cannot. Show me on my heads-up.”

A second later Darius is met with a poorly defined outline which could be a mech or a large misshapen rock. At least that is his conclusion until he squints to better focus his eyes. Upon doing so he takes note that it is undoubtedly a mech, moving to. That was going to be his next query. It’s obsolete now. No need for him to offer it.

“What does this mean Captain?” Samuel feels a need to ask, unsure as to whether he’s comforted by the sudden and miraculous appearance or not.

“I don’t know Governor. Lawrence, what can you give me on movement patterns?”

“Not a lot Captain other than to say patterns are odd, as if they’re damaged. Yet, there is nothing to give credence to such a conclusion.”

“What are our options?” Darius asks never to get an answer as a proximity alarm blares into life, deafening them all.

“What is that?” Samuel manages to screech over the wail.

“It’s the proximity alarm. Brace! Brace!” Are the orders the pilot issues attempting to turn at full speed. It fails and the mech is hit. Somehow Darius manages to keep the hulking mass of metal upright. Alas, many of those inside are thrown about like skittles in a roughly shaken bag.

“Damage report?”

“Systems overloading.” Someone cries back in response. That’s something Darius could work out for himself as the lights above his head flicker violently. It’s like they are ready to explode. He hopes they don’t. Though, to make matters worse whatever hit them has restricted the movement down the mechs left side. The pilot curses under his breath while the Governor clambers back to his feet. One benefit of being suspended mid-air Darius concludes in the fractions of a second prior to him catching the panic stricken expression on Samuel’s face. It’s a silent plea for information but the pilot doesn’t have any to give. He has as little of a clue regarding what hit them as the Governor does. And by the looks of things Harriet, Lawrence and Rafe haven’t a clue either.

I need to look, to turn and see. On instinct that is precisely what Darius does. Sadly the movement afforded to him while linked to the mech is far below what anyone would consider acceptable. What choice do I have? He screams in his own head before his subconscious can offer any sarcastic or judging barbs.

“Get what you can under control, shutdown everything else.” Are the quick orders the captain and pilot of Weaver issues while undertaking the considerable task of turning.

He hears a trio of, “Yes sir.” confirmations in reply but offers no acknowledgement. He doesn’t feel the need to. It’s redundant, pointless and he needs the focus to turn Weaver.

Systems blink off perhaps never to fire again. What damage might all this be causing, Samuel wonders as he watches in shock. Then his eyes fall upon the cause of the strike delivered unto them only to go wide. He cannot believe it and spits, “Is that a… what hit us?”

“I would guess so Governor; now if you could please keep comms free during this situation I would be most…” The giant metal fist slams into the side of the command centre. Everyone inside is tossed about.

Meanwhile Weaver itself rocks from side to side unsteady as if it is about to topple over. Darius prevents the catastrophe through sheer force of will but it hurts.

The mech was never built to survive a fight and yet that is what they are engaged in. What might the people be thinking? I don’t have time to consider that. I have to act. If I don’t we’re all done for. But why? I don’t know now shut up and let me think. His subconscious falls quiet, mercifully.

“What the fuck is happening… Oh shit is that another…”

“Yeah it is Charlotte. We need your expertise. Drop in and get me everything you can.”

“Understood.” The redheaded woman with her hair in a ponytail assures while rushing unsteadily across the patchwork decking to her seat at a nearby console that is one of the continuous bank of nine. Most no longer have power flowing to them and have largely have been stripped of useful components to keep other, more important, Weaver systems running against all odds.

Once seated her hands glide over the console before her. Samuel would be mesmerised by it were it not for the giant mech blocking the view out of the wide forward port. It is unlike any mech he has ever seen with its far more rusted than Weaver plating and installed arm which terminates in a ‘fist.’

He re-examines his terming of ‘fist’ to discern that truthfully it is more akin to a wrecking ball welded to the termination of the jointed shoulder, elbow arm that has been grafted to the side of this antagonistic mech than of being an actual fist with digits and dexterous motion.

“It’s reading as Ulysses. It was one of the former colonies on the outer edge of the cluster. Contact was lost with it early on and it was thought to be one of the first to become mobile but hasn’t been heard from since.”

“Well we’re hearing from it now, Charlotte. Capabilities, limitations, anything that might aid us would be perfect right about now.”

“What do you mean Captain? Do you mean to fight it?” The Governor exclaims incredulous at the prospect Darius seems to be suggesting. They both know Weaver is not capable of combat. Hell, the four other members of the commander centre crew probably know it too. After all, Weaver is a walking colony, not a machine of war.

“Not unless I have to. Though, it looks like they don’t hold the same reservations regarding us, sadly.” Is the pilots reply. It comes without much thought for his attention is on getting moving and out of the range of that arm/fist combo.

If Weaver’s movements were more comprehensive and closer to those he is capable of performing that might be an easier task, but alas they are not and so he is forced into a single strategy, flee. There is no way Weaver will fair favourably in a fight. However, the last thing the pilot expects is what happens next.

“We have incoming.” Rafe informs.

“Another mech?” The Governor blurts panicked.

Darius ignores the outburst from Samuel aware that the incoming is nothing to do with an attack or an additional mech. Rather it is a transmission burst.

“Surrender your mech for disassembly and your lives will be spared. We will not ask again. Comply or die.” That’s it. That is the transmission; spoken in a deep, far too calm and even tone of voice that could not quite hide the angry undertones of violence contained within.

Following the burst there is nothing, not even static. The channel is closed, evidently with no room for negotiation or polite discussion.

“What…?”

“They’re pirates. They’re gone feral. Taken to hunting their own! They want Weaver. Captain your orders?” The statements are delivered by a number of the command centre crew but Darius would be unable to tell you as to who spoke which line. Principally because his mind is a blur and they all assailed his ears en masse.

Thankfully he doesn’t need to think to react. If he did then he wouldn’t be capable of forcing Weaver into a higher motion gear to hasten their retreat with hopes of widening the gap between them and the Ulysses.

“Give me everything Weaver’s got. We have to get away. It’s our only hope. We aren’t equipped for combat and they’re clearly crewed by the insane.” The pilot Captain blurts more than he orders or demands.

Everyone of the four person crew jumps to it all the same however as they go back to deactivating unnecessary power drains and placing calls to sever safety functions. It’s dangerous and could result in severe damage but it’s less definitive of a fate than what the Ulysses will do if it gets within… Suddenly the massive wrecking ball of a fist comes in. It strikes hard at the rear of the command centre. Beyond a shadow of a doubt they are aiming there in hopes of eliminating the head so that the body is easy pickings. Darius can well imagine, as he recovers from his double vision and star filled gaze, that these psychos might be armed with lengths of sheared steel bars fashioned into makeshift weapons. After all, Horizon held no armaments for the journey across the stars. They weren’t needed by colonists. This was a fresh start and yet the old failings of humanity have reared their ugly heads here anyway; a reliance on violence and survival by any means. The pilot expects the old barbarians and warlords of Earth would be proud. He certainly isn’t.

“What hit us?” He queries feeling it important to know.

“It looks to be…” Harriet says turning to look at her Captain only to see a length of steel punched through his side barely above his hip. Her eyes go wide at the sight. As it happens Darius begins, at that very same moment, to feel a burning sensation.

“I’m hit aren’t I?” Are the next words out of the pilot Captain’s mouth.

“Darius, you have to stay still or you’ll tear the wound.” Samuel advises without a care for how his words confirm the pilots’ question now that he is close and examining the wound.

If he could Darius would look down so perhaps it is better that strapped and linked with Weaver he cannot. The sight would afford him no useful knowledge. It would only confirm, visually, what he knows to be true.

“What hit us?” The pilot Captain asks for a second time seeing as he never got an answer the first and still feels it prudent to know regardless of what he can deduce from the wound he can feel seething.

“A primitive sort of javelin hit us, sir.” Charlotte informs without turning. She is oblivious to the damage which has been wrought upon Darius.

“It’s pierced the rear plating. Systems remain operational but…”

All of a sudden Weaver stops. The pause lasts only a split second and following it the hulk of metal begins to be hauled backwards. All of them feel it. It would be impossible not too.

Thankfully, during the system shutdown the commander centre crew issued a mech wide signal to advise all inhabitants needed to seek shelter. If it were an option they would have conveyed an attack but Weaver was never built with the prospect of such a notion and so the warning had to be vague, verging on false insinuation that it might be a storm or hull breach that is afflicting them. In some ways that is correct for the javelin has breached the Weaver’s hull. Yet, that is not the gravest of concerns for the walking colony as Darius digs his heels in. It’s the only option he has available to him and might thwart the mech being dragged in reverse any further than it already has. It does. However, the reply from Ulysses is swift, the arm shattering the javelin in two. The tip remains skewered into Weaver leaving the rest to quickly become a club which is soon brought to bear and battered against the legs of the damaged mech. Darius can feel the pounding of each strike, painfully. He shouldn’t be able to and yet somehow he does. He doesn’t question it. Now is not the time. Rather, he pours his focus into resisting the growing urge he feels to fold under the strain. I need to do something, he tells himself. On instinct he does as he somehow manages to come whirling round on Ulysses. His sudden pivot successfully knocks the javelin out of the appendage which served as the throwing ‘hand.’ In truth ‘hand’ is an overly kind way of describing the amalgam that performed the feat. Thankfully the collision with Weaver disables it completely. Unfortunately the decommissioning of the limb is a far cry from an end to the danger Weaver is under for the wrecking ball fist soon comes slamming in.

Once more Darius is forced to resist losing balance not his own but of the mech he pilots. For a third time he manages it but would be lying if he did not admit he is struggling, sweat pouring off him in no small part due to the wound to his side. He reprieve is offered for another strike comes in. Weaver’s right leg buckles but holds, miraculously. Meanwhile systems overload, wires catch fire, circuits fry, plating creaks, supports groan. Weaver was never meant to sustain anything close to this onslaught but Darius refuses to relent. The people of this mech have fought hard for thirty plus years to survive and are not about to break under the madness of insanity fuelled barbarians hell-bent on praying on their own kind. Whatever might have driven them to these ends he doesn’t care. There is no justifiable excuse for actions such as these.

It is then that it strikes the pilot Captain that the Ulysses might be the reason as to why they have seen no other mechs in years. Surely, they can’t have felled them all, could they? That is the question he presents to himself. Thankfully, he is never forced to face it and provide at answer for Samuel roars, “Darius, you can’t keep this up! We should abandon…”

“No! We will not abandon Weaver. This is… our home… they will not… take it from us!” The pilot screams the words. Doing so takes considerable effort that result in deep heaving breaths.

Determined, Darius does something he has never attempted previously, which is to violently raise one of the legs of Weaver. It shouldn’t work. It should refuse, resist, send systems into meltdown and yet it does not. Rather, the leg, knee bent, thrusts upward unhindered. At first there is nothing except air and then it collides with the Ulysses knocking it off-balance. The wounded pilot Captain smiles, sweat pouring off him still. Alas Ulysses is not done. It throws out its fist. The impact shreds plates around the command centre.

“Seal command!” Is the order Darius gives in a heartbeat. No one argues against it. Though, considerable effort is expunged completing the feat due to the long since having failed doors which need violent coaxing, both physical and verbal, into place.

Darius hopes the closure of the doors will be enough. He’d rather lose no one else today. One salvage engineer, Lincoln, is more than should be endured.

But he was nothing to do with this. I don’t care. It doesn’t matter. I am the pilot of Weaver, the captain. Every life lost is a mark against me. I wear it as a failure and I’ve decided there will be no more failures.

Again Darius violently thrusts one of Weaver’s knees upward and for a second time it hits Ulysses. Except this time, unlike the last, the mech cannot recover. It falters, then falls. Alas, as it goes it delivers one final swipe. Half of the command centre is crushed and deformed beneath the blow as a result. The pilot screams for he feels the damage wrought.

Unbeknownst to Darius he brings the mechs leg down onto Ulysses hull, crushing a wide section of it. It occurred because the pilot of Weaver is blind too much of the outside world. When finally he opens his eyes and can see at something approaching what he would term as normally he finds he is the only one conscious.

All around him systems read irreparable damage suffered. He ignores the warnings, turns and plods.

 His breathing is shallow, strained, painful. When finally he hears voices they are screaming. He is well aware that the harness and straps have in places failed, leaving his body sagging. It’s became obvious to him the moment it felt as if he was dragging his legs, crawling. He is not and nor is Weaver. Though, it is struggling with a doubt.

Those around him demand he seek aid. Darius refuses, batting them away with numb arms when they try and force the issue. They ask why. He does not answer. His vision is blurred again. There is chatter about forcibly removing him. He orders them against the consideration of such notions only to inform them that he has to put as much distance between Weaver and Ulysses as possible.

He, and they, do not know that Ulysses is crippled. It will seek no revenge. It and those who descended into madness upon it will be victims of Promise for the hull has numerous breaches across all sections. The few hundred which called it home will contract and suffer Rotcage. They might make it a few miles on foot before they succumb to crippling agony and breathlessness. Darius, at this moment, feels he might too soon succumb for the pain in his body is so immense.

Somehow, he continues to not dare look. He can think of nothing worse than the sight of whatever state he must be in.

It takes more than an hour of ordering, demanding and batting those around him back before Weaver’s left leg begins to seize. More pain is heaped upon Darius as a result. His mind tells him it can only be the result of failed systems having fused to create a feeling link between him and the mech. He is aware of the conclusion but offers no comment either way while his crew and the Governor assure him that he has done enough. They beg that he stops, allow them to offer him aid. Darius does not agree and so continues until finally he can continue no more and slips into unconsciousness. His final thought before he goes is that he hopes everyone will be safe.

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