05 December 2008

"Antique"

ANTIQUE
By Curtis C. Chen

I brushed away more leaves. There was a hard surface beneath. Ceramic armor. I ran my hand along it until I found the edge, then pointed my flashlight. I stared into a dark mass of machinery--joints, gears, struts, wires. There was a serial number engraved on the interior surface of the casing.

"I don't believe it," I muttered.

"What the hell is it?" Embeck called from below. He had insisted on staying at ground level, scanning the landscape, his finger on the trigger of our only blaster.

"It's a mech," I called back.

"A what?"

I rolled my eyes. "A giant robot."

"You're kidding."

I lifted one leg and kicked the hidden mass beside me. My boot clanged against the armor, and leaves fell like rain. I pulled away the remaining vines so my co-pilot could see the huge metal arm.

"I don't believe it," he said.

"Get up here and help me clear this stuff away."

"What if we're attacked?"

"Then you'll have the high ground. Hurry up."

He secured the blaster in his hip holster and climbed slowly. Very slowly. He was the cautious one now. Funny.

I was sitting on the mech's shoulder by the time he got halfway up the torso. The main antenna array had been crushed a long time ago. Rust, bird droppings, and other stains streaked down to the middle of the mech's back.

"I don't suppose you've ever driven one of these things," I said.

Embeck shook his head. "Never even seen one in person. When were these last used in combat? Fifty, sixty years ago?"

I grimaced. "Christ, Embeck, I'm not that old."

"You were a mech driver?"

"I got the training. I was a Starbird candidate, you know."

He smirked. "How the mighty have fallen."

I saved my breath. "Let's get this canopy open. Maybe we won't have to walk back to the crash site after all."

We found the emergency release latches around the opaqued chest cavity of the mech, following the seam just above the window slit. I remembered being sealed into one of these things, being overwhelmed by a dizzying array of displays, nearly losing my lunch as the mech lurched around the training field. The narrow band of sunlight coming in through that window was the only thing that had helped steady me.

When we opened the seal, a cloud of dust puffed away from the mech, with a sound like a sigh. Mech cabins are airtight, to protect the driver from biochemical attack. It smelled stale. We lifted the creaking canopy and locked it into place, then leaned over and looked inside the cabin.

This mech's driver was still strapped into his seat. Something must have made it through the ventilation filters. He just had time to park the mech in this grove to hide it from the enemy. His desiccated fingers were still touching the throttle.

Embeck vomited into the cabin.

"You're cleaning that up," I said.

EOF

1 comment:

scott said...

I'm really happy with the reversed posting order! Now I don't have to step out of the default flow in Google Reader to read the story before reading your notes. Thanks!