Crescent Canyon, Future Century 0096
The enemy was everywhere. No matter where they looked, more and more bogeys kept streaming in from every direction. It was a nightmare, plain and simple. Once again, North reloaded his beam rifle, just to be sure.“Stop doing that.” Ryouta said over the comm channel.
“Doing what?” North replied.
“Reloading for no reason. It’s your nervous tick. If you don’t calm down and help me here, we’ll never get out of this alive.”
“Oh come on, Ryouta. There’s only like – what? – 1000 of them out here? This’ll be easy.”
“Not with that Colossus out there, it won’t.”
The head of North’s suit poked past the edge of the stone cliff the two were hiding behind. Reloading again (just in case), he gulped. Ahead of them, out past the oh-so-charming-and-wonderful canyon wall, was a hunk of green metal the size of a small skyscraper, bristling with weaponry that could cut through their beautiful mechs with ease. Today was not their lucky day.
“Please,” North said nonchalantly, “My dick’s bigger than that.”
“Really, I don’t think it’s going to be that big of a deal. A few charges, a well placed shot or slash, and it’s on the ground, ready to die like a big… robot… man. Thing.”
“Not buyin’ it. Sell it to me, North.” Ryouta implored. “Sell it.”
“Ryo, we are flying Rank 4 suits, the best the Feds can offer. They are spec’d for high mobility, high firepower, and ridiculous amounts of awesome. We’ll just take these babies and shove ‘em right up this place’s ass.”
“North, I’ve been your best friend for seventeen years, and this is the very first time I’ve ever heard you assert that a location physically possessed a rectum for us to violently invade.”
“This is actually rather par for the course, don’t you think?”
From the cockpit of his suit, Ryouta shrugged, hoping that North had the monitor on the cockpit channel.
“Meh.” Ryouta replied.
With that, North’s machine turned and plunged headlong into a throng of enemies that numbered in the thousands, brilliant green energy blades slicing through foe after measly foe. Ryo was right behind him, all blazing muzzle-flashes and tactical knives. One of the enemy suits popped up in front of North’s suit and grabbed it, forcing the barrel of its own beam rifle under the Emerald Blade’s head. Before it could pull the trigger, a well-placed sniper round shattered its singular main camera, causing the pilot to drop the rifle as they scrambled to switch to one of the backup cameras in the chest unit. That was all the time North needed to shove a glowing beam saber into the cockpit.
As the smoke cleared, North’s machine froze. There, at the foot of the incredibly large armored superweapon, was a suit very similar to his Emerald Blade. Its face was more angular and its metal beard thinner and longer, with a bright red coat of paint on top.
“Broil.” North said over an open channel.
“North…” Ryo said over their encrypted line.
North pushed the Emerald Blade forward, jumping over an artillery beam issuing from the Colossus, and charging toward the Rose Spear, Broil’s mech. The two clashed, a pink energy blade meeting North’s green one, blocking North’s extremely predictable strike from above. Broil dodged backward, letting North’s blade slide off his own. North lurched forward to match the motion, bringing his suit’s fist under the Rose Spear’s head and main camera. Broil’s suit fell back, toppling to the ground as a large beam blasted North and Emerald Blade into oblivion.
“Seriously?!” North asked, standing up out of his chair.
“Great,” Maya Dantares called from her own seat, some miles away in a different apartment. “The log shows that The Tower rolled a 20 on its Megaparticle Cannon attack. That’s a critical and the damage exceeds the Emerald Blade’s armor threshold. Your character’s essentially a barbequed turkey at this point. If it makes you feel any better, the Rose Spear also took a good deal of splash damage.” A small chime alerted them that their game lobby was restarting. North watched in slight annoyance as Maya's screen-name disappeared from the list. Clearly she was done for the night, though she hadn't signed out of the external chat program they were conversing through.
“Well, that certainly wasn't my best moment." North admitted. In Mecha Battle Gods, if anyone on the team went down, the entire team failed the mission. It was one of the aspects of the game that forced cooperative play styles. One couldn't win a mission alone.
“Dammit.” Ryouta said.
“Not my fault.” North claimed.
“It never seems to be.” Maya retorted.
North Lel’s Apartment, September 30, 2012
North laid on the couch contemplating the homework he had to do. A pile of paperwork sat on the coffee table in front of him, waiting to be filled out. They were the application for his Senior Project, a computer action-roleplaying game he’d been testing with his friends over the past few months called Mecha Battle Gods. It was turning out to be quite a solid game, though the group’s recent playtests had usually ended in spectacular, disastrous defeats of their own making. Twice Ryouta had been blasted into oblivion while reloading behind destructible walls, and several times North had just run headfirst into enemy lines. He loved it. Just a few more months and I’ll be finished with this, he thought, just a little more and I can get myself a decent job and get back to writing. North Lel was a writer in his spare time, which he’d had little of since he’d started college four and a half years before. He was taking the slow way around, just enough classes each year to stay full-time. Unfortunately for him, game design classes were project-laden and time-consuming.
He laid there for awhile, just losing himself to the back of his eyelids, not caring whether or not sleep actually came. He hoped it would; he was seven kinds of exhausted and didn’t want to face another day without rest. It was slow in coming, though. In frustration, he leapt up from his comfortable place on the couch and dashed over to the fridge.
Unimpressed with his freezer, he moved to the bathroom, and studied himself in the mirror. He had loved doing that once, before his eyes became sunken and his standard expression decidedly grim and beard-laden. Now he felt like an old man, despite not quite being twenty-four. He splashed some cold water on his face before moving back to the living room and staring at the couch. He found his cell phone there, lodged between the cushions. He’d forgotten how much this couch loved to eat things.
Silently, he flipped through his unread text messages. Mom wanted to know if he was coming for Thanksgiving, Harle when he’d be back in Beaumont. He read them with dead eyes, still hungry for sleep. He stuffed the phone in his pocket and sat down to remove his shoes.
He grabbed the remote and switched the television on, and froze. The newscast was covering yet another earthquake in the mainland U.S., somewhere in Oklahoma that had, the newscaster was saying, never experienced any seismic activity on such a scale. He leaned forward, resting his elbows on his thighs and balancing his chin on his clasped hands. Not good. The world continued to tear itself apart, unrelenting and uncaring of its inhabitants. The amount of earthquakes the world over had skyrocketed that year, most of them as devastating as they come. A banner year for disasters, Jackson Whitefall had told him over the phone a month ago, and the irony is that the Mayans might have been right. Jack was right about that. It was almost December, and the world seemed rather determined to end. The reports were getting worse, too: on top of major earthquakes came strange diseases that contorted the body and gave a slow, miserable, painful death to thousands upon thousands. Some thought it was a government conspiracy, others the wrath of God, but it was when cyan plasma started leaking from cracks in the ground that people really started to worry. Nobody had a clue or suggestion as to what it was, but it seemed certain that it carried the plagues with it. The world’s ending, he told himself quietly. How long before I end with it?
He flipped open his laptop, and began to write
Deck of the star-ship Infinite Dream, Above the Plains of Demor
Captain Mazkus Stream was out on the deck again, like he often was in the early hours of the morning. A small wooden pipe hung from his mouth, and long trails of smoke emanated from it and floated off into the night air. The world of Vesrok moved around him, beautiful and timeless. The smoky sun - called Suul - shone with a pale white light as miniature versions of it floated effortlessly on a quiet breeze against the blue-black of early, early morning. If he tried, he could reach out and touch one of the miniature suns – the balls of fluorescent green light the Vesroki called ‘stars’. It would pass through his hand, unfettered, leaving behind a soft metallic scent and a euphoric feeling known colloquially as ‘star-fed’. Directly below him stretched Demor, a country he hadn’t seen in years. It was close to his homeland, the once-great Kingdom of Vanguardia. Too close.
Work was work, however, and it was something the crew of the Infinite Dream was in sore need of. As the last trails of smoke drifted away, Mazkus turned and ran back to the bridge of the ship.
“Mikail, get in that pilot’s seat man. There’re more than enough stars to harvest tonight! We’ll finally make it big!”
Mikail yelled an affirmative from the cockpit of the ship, and the Dream began to rumble as its engines shifted from hover mode to active. Mazkus took his seat in the captain’s chair, and prepared to take control of the ship’s star collectors.
The Infinite Dream was a star-ship, so named for its ability to harvest and store the energy of the Vesroki stars. The Dream was the fastest ship of its kind, an experimental Vanguardian design that used a portion of its haul to power its engines. Star-power, as it was called, was near infinite - a single haul could keep the ship going for the better part of a year. The cities of Demor consumed considerably more than others , and paid highly for it. As the ship sped through the star-laced sky, collector-foils open wide, Mazkus wondered how much the Council at Aionia would offer. He was hoping it was in the range of ‘handsome’.
From his chair, Mazkus busied himself ordering the bridge crew about as the stars filtered into the ship’s reservoirs and the Dream sped through the pre-dawn mists. A smile crept across his face as he sat back in his chair, still squeezing the controls for the collector-foils lightly. Outside, the collector-foils responded by expanding, making the Dream appear as though it were a giant bird with its wings held to make itself look bigger. Through the bridge’s canopy windows, he could see the fluorescent lime of the Vesroki stars as they passed into the ship; the light from them danced across his face. Soon, the lime-on-royal-blue began to give way to lime-on-gold as the central sun shifted into dawn. A new day, he thought. And more importantly, pay.
Mazkus eased up on the foil controls, letting them close as he stood to check the size of their payload. He wandered down the hallway towards the Engine/Reservoir Room, whistling a tune his father had taught him when he was little. He tucked his hand around the doorframe as he swung into the room.
“Arden, what’ve we got today?” Mazkus asked. Arden Vent turned to him, looking up from the glowing console, his red eyes shining with glee. Arden was the resident Engineer on the Dream, a trade he’d learned from his father – the ship’s original designer. A grin crossed the man’s face as he answered.
“Six-hundred and ninety-seven units of star-power , Maz. I shifted three of our original seven-hundred into the power core, as usual, which should theoretically power us for a few more months. “
“Good,” Mazkus replied, suddenly ecstatic, “Let’s get the rest of it sold off. The Dream could use a few new parts.” With that, he turned and headed back to the bridge and grabbed the intercom microphone.
“Good morning Infinite Dream, this is your Captain speaking.” Mazkus was monotone, his voice laced with just the slightest edge of sarcasm. “We made yet another good haul, and Mikail is currently taking us to Aionia to sell our payload. Post-Aionia… I have no idea. Thanks, guys.”
He set the mic down and turned to Mikail again.
“Take us in. I’ll be in my room.”
“You didn’t sleep, did you?” Mikail asked.
Mazkus stopped at the door, and looked over his shoulder at his best friend.
“You feel it, too, Mikail. We’re close. Too close. Makes me restless.”
“I know. But there’s nothing the Ra’zaan can do to us in Demor. Now go put your game face on, Captain. You’re gonna need it.”Mazkus sighed, and walked back down the hallway to his room.