05 December 2008


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.


Audio: "Antique"

Music: "This Isn't My Day" by Evrim Sen, licensed under Creative Commons from ccMixter.


Stop me if you've heard this one.


Mechy McMecherson

"Antique" was the first story of mine featured on 365tomorrows. I haven't changed anything except for adding one adjective. (Hint: the word has a double-C in it.) It is the last reprint you'll see here at 512 Words or Fewer.

Who doesn't love giant robots? Well, except me while watching the Michael Bay bastardization version of Transformers.


I have many problems with that movie, but chief among them is something I've said about much better shows: it is insufficiently rigorous. I remember reading a Wired article about the visual effects, in which the filmmakers go on and on about how they wanted their robots to be more "transform in a believable way," and to that end required the art designers to use actual car parts in the humanoid forms and change Optimus Prime's distinctive shape. I still prefer the old-school anime robot designs, with blocky limbs and smooth edges, but at the time, I was willing to give them the benefit of a doubt.

And then I actually saw the movie, in which (SPOILER ALERT) not only does Bumblebee transmute his physical structure from a 1976 Camaro to the 2009 model, but the magical Allspark gives life to inanimate technological objects--which, by the way, also allows them to sprout guns and rockets whose manufacture would require materials not present in the original object, such as chemical propellants and explosives.

Now, I suppose you could argue that transforming from car to robot is a merely mechanical action, while the aforementioned subatomic transmutation of fucking matter requires more energy (or Energon, as the case may be) and happens only rarely. But in that case, why wouldn't the folks who captured Megatron and the Borg Allspark cube be working like crazy to figure out how to turn lead to gold, instead of just reverse-engineering cell phones with bad reception?

Let's not even talk about John Turturro getting peed on. Just... no.

I mean, if you want to see unapologetic giant robot phallic imagery, go rent Robot Jox. I'm not going to say it's a good movie, but it was co-written by actual science fiction writer Joe Haldeman and correctly depicted the silent vacuum of space (as did 2001: A Space Odyssey and Firefly).



04 December 2008

Temporal Mechanics

As you may have noticed, I schedule each week's trifecta of 512 Words posts (story, podcast, and notes) to publish right after midnight. It just occurred to me that, since posts appear on the home page (and many RSS feed aggregators) in reverse chronological order, the notes will show up at the top of the page for most readers.

So, in the interest of not burying the lead, I'm going to reverse the order of the posts every Friday, starting tomorrow. Which means that the notes will actually get published first, chronologically; but when you read this blog, they'll show up under the actual story on the home page, and the story will get top billing. I'm hoping this will be an improvement. Let me know if you disagree.