|DARK LEGACIES: HEART OF STEEL #1 |
by Chris McAuley and Claudia Christian
Blood covered Williams’ cockpit readouts, his mech’s chassis was rocking from the metal fists pounding on it. His opponent had blindsided him and was now unleashing an unrelenting attack. Wiping the blood from his mouth, Williams examined his options. Making a decision, he moved his arms upward, his muscles feeling the strain of the hydraulic limbs. Pistons hissed and gears whined as Osgood continued to batter the mid-section of Williams’ mech. Beads of sweat broke on Williams’ brow but he refused to allow himself to acknowledge the fatigue of the long battle. He was a seasoned Mech-Brawler and his determination to win took over. As a two-time circuit champ on the off-world colony arenas, he refused to give in to the newcomer. He managed to successfully block Osgood’s incoming attacks with his left arm and slam his mech’s right fist into the head of his opponent’s mech.
Williams’ vox-box sputtered into life and he heard the voice of the other brawler taunting him. The vox unit emitted a low hum which kept pace with Osgood’s words. It hurt Williams’ head but it was the cocky nature of the young competitor which truly pissed him off.
“Hey, old man, you starting to feel the heat in there?”
Who the hell did this youngblood think he was? Sure, he was riding a shinier mech, bought for by a recent sponsorship from a cybersecurity corporation. As he gritted his teeth, Williams was determined that he would soon teach him that the latest tech was no match for experience.
Engaging the last of his energy cells, Williams gambled on finishing this match with a powerful offensive. The booster units glowed blue against the older mech’s yellow paint as Williams slammed into Osgood. Williams’ mech design was heavier, a relic from the days when the first Mech-Brawler units were converted power loaders. A wolfish smile passed Williams’ lips as he used the weight to his advantage. He mercilessly punched and kicked the plating of the younger man’s unit. Even with the in-built noise dampeners housed in the cockpit, Williams could hear the crash of each impact.
Osgood attempted to defend himself but it was no good, the vicious assault of the older unit had damaged the servos in his left arm. He was wide open to the aggressive ministrations of his enraged opponent. With his proximity to the rival mech, Williams could see inside his opponent’s cockpit. Osgood’s face was bathed in a red glow, a sure sign that his readout was registering serious damage. A lucky hit from Williams’ right arm had damaged Osgood’s internal coolant systems. It would be moments before the newer mech unit would shut down and Osgood would be ejected due to overheating.
With no other choice, Osgood swallowed hard and reactivated his vox-unit.
“Hey, Williams! I give, you win, man. What does that make it? Three to nothing?”
Williams smiled and stopped his attack; he took a few steps backwards and responded.
“You are getting better, Osgood, but you’re still too cock-sure. Confidence can be advantageous in a brawl but beware arrogance. If this hadn’t been a training session, you would have been splattered like jam by my mech’s fists.”
Unable to filter the thermal pressure, Osgood’s mech unit kneeled and ejected its pilot. Osgood performed an exaggerated gesture of disappointment towards Williams’ mech then moved towards the changing rooms. Williams laughed, the tension in his body and mind eased after the victory. The kid had done well, he had been worried that he would have lost the bout. If he could teach Osgood to temper the enthusiasm and become more aware of the tactical situation, the kid could go far. Maybe even as far as becoming a two-time colony champion.
Piloting his mech to the engineering bay for repairs, Williams steeled himself for another conflict to come. Eddie, the tech on duty, would be ready to berate him for taking the training too far. Analysing his read outs, Williams felt a degree of guilt. There was probably a whole night’s work ahead for the beleaguered tech and that was just to replace the damaged plating. The aging champion knew that it was important for his team to get used to the pressure of combat before a big match. On Sunday they were facing off against the Detroit Maulers, who had a vicious reputation.
Eddie was already waiting for Williams as he powered off the mech and exited the frame. Williams braced himself for the anticipated barrage of abuse from the sandy haired tech. It didn’t come, instead they shot the shit about how far the sport had come. Reminiscing about the matches they had both been involved in and how the newer mechs no longer resembled anything space port dockers would use.
Starting as a way for dockers to cool off some steam after a busy series of shifts, Mech-Brawling had evolved to become the most popular sport on Mars. The governor had realized its potential to take citizens’ minds off recent political events and the increase in reported mutations in infants. The pay for the mech pilots was pretty good as well and could increase with corporate sponsorship.
As the week progressed, Williams pushed his team harder every day. When Sunday came, he wanted them suitably aggressive and aware of their opponents’ weaknesses. As captain of the team, he had to ensure that each of them, from greenhorn to veteran, was ready to face anything Detroit could throw at them. When match day came, Williams looked over his team as he gave the customary pep-talk. Passing his eyes over the determined faces, he was certain that the Mars Crusaders would be up to the challenge.
The arena was packed with Mars citizens who wanted some violent escapism. Weighed down by recent news reports concerning increased civil unrest and supply shortages, the atmosphere in the space domes was grim. The ruling government of the Sol system, Con-Fed, had sanctioned additional Mech-Brawl tournaments. They even made stars from some of the pilots by featuring them in propaganda videos to curb rising tensions. It had been an idea of a Con-Fed think tank to introduce new game modes this year. Capture the Flag had proved to be the most popular of these, each team having to defend their own flags and make it back to base with the flag of their opponent. The announcement of the chosen game mode hadn’t shocked Williams, he had anticipated it and trained his team mates accordingly.
The Detroit Maulers got off to a great start, they proved themselves to be every bit as vicious as their reputation had suggested. The Maulers’ focused aggression surprised the Mars team and they had lost one of their five flags by the end of the first quarter of the match. Detroit had long been known for its manufacturing capability and this had extended to the mech units. Featuring a streamlined design which gave them an edge with regards to speed and manoeuvrability, they darted through the Mars team’s defence with ease.
Williams’ team’s mechs had resilience on their side, they could take more of a beating. Focusing the Mars team on their offensive capabilities proved to be an effective counter to The Maulers’ speed. By the half time buzzer, both teams were even.
“Frack you!” Osgood spat as his head rebounded off the inside of his suit. The strength of the impact made him see double and caused his ears to ring for a moment. As his mech slammed to the ground he could hear Williams scream at him through the vox-box unit.
“Get up, get up—get up!”
“I am!” Osgood grunted with exertion as he pushed himself up with both hands. Each arm was enclosed in a framework of metal plates with servo-mechanisms that added many pounds of pressure to his normal physical strength. He flipped on one leg and pushed his unit into a bounding leap after his attacker.
>Suit warning! Back-Plate—5%...
Osgood attempted to flank his opponent as his suit’s cockpit flashed the unwelcome incessant warning. He intended to smash into the side of the rival mech, taking the pilot by surprise. He came close to the enemy when without warning an excited voice broke through on his voice unit.
“We have their Flag!”
It was Adams, a junior member of the team. His lack of experience was balanced by his tenacity; in the last few games he had surprised Osgood by his initiative and grit.
“Engage boosters, Adams, get back to base as quickly as possible, we will cover your ass,” Williams’ authoritative voice rang through each of the squads’ vox units.
If they could obtain the advantage now, it would give them the psychological edge that they needed. Osgood watched as Adams raced past him, travelling in the opposite direction towards base. His peripheral vision caught sight of a streak of blue as Adams engaged his booster rockets.
It was then that everything changed.
Williams felt it first, a deep rumbling under his feet. He had been preparing to tackle one of the Maulers who had been chasing Adams. Along with the trembling ground, Williams could hear the sound of several explosions booming through his audio circuitry. Flashes of light and clouds of fire erupted across the steel pit of the stadium. Spectators flew across the arena like ragdolls as the explosive charges ignited. Human bodies shattering onto the concrete surface of the combat zone and internal fluids spread across the steel walls.
Before the ground collapsed beneath him, Williams could have sworn that a severed head bounced across his vidscreen. A middle-aged woman with platinum blonde hair wearing a shocked expression on her face. Williams hoped that her death had been quick. With that thought, the concrete cracked under his mech and he fell into the darkness below.
14 Days Later
Everything ached, from his head to his ass. Williams issued a low groan of agony which brought a nearby medic to his bed.
“Can you open your eyes, Mr. Williams? I know that you feel like hell but it’s important that we assess any ocular damage now.”
The matter-of-fact tone of the physician appealed to the pragmatist in Williams and he slowly opened his eyes. The overhead florescent lighting caused searing pain to erupt in his head. Encouraged by the medic, he took several slow blinks and his vision began to clear. The attending doctor looked younger than Osgood, Williams hoped that was a sign of eminence in his field.
“Where am I?”
Setting his chart to the side, the doctor began to recount the events after the explosions. As he did so, Williams couldn’t help but feel a sense of dread.
“The stadium was attacked by the ‘Free Mars’ movement. It seems that they take umbrage at the ‘bread and circus’ policies of our current administration. Several high-powered explosions were placed around the arena and thousands of spectators were killed. After a few hours of sifting through the rubble, you were found, your mech suit crushed under the weight of heavy debris. Medical teams extracted you and we have been treating your injuries as best as we can. I must warn you that they are severe, however.”
Williams tried to process this information as best he could. There was another important question and when he gave voice to it the medic looked downwards and adjusted his glasses awkwardly.
“I’m afraid you are the only surviving member of your team, Mr. Williams. A few of the Detroit brawlers were found. They were in considerably better condition than you. I feel I must impress upon you how lucky you are to be alive.”
The doctor continued to explain the extent of Williams’ injuries. He wasn’t listening, however, the faces of his dead team members flashed across his mind. He felt hollow and unable to process the loss and guilt which overwhelmed him. His attention returned to the physician as the condition of his legs was being discussed.
“I’m afraid the unit couldn’t quite protect your legs, Mr. Williams; the considerable damage could mean that you may never walk again without robotic assistance.”
‘Robotic assistance’ was a way of saying that his legs would be amputated and bionic limbs grafted into place. A neural chip would be inserted so that he could control their movement. He would be transformed from a recognized star in the city dome and darling of the Con-Fed to the status of a cyborg. He would be considered as part of the underclass along with the mutants in the population.
On the third day of his convalescence and thinking over his options, Williams received an unexpected visitor. The man was dressed in Mars marine fatigues and sported more medals than Williams had ever seen. As he spoke, the gravelly voice outlined a proposition.
“Son, I used to watch you in those brawling games with my buddies over a few brews. You were the best I have ever seen. It’s rare that a brawler continues in his career after the age of thirty and you’re now, what? Thirty six? You’ve got the fortitude and guts that I need for my new unit.”
Williams sat up a little straighter in the bed. Was this guy offering him a job?
“I see you don’t quite understand, Mr. Williams. You see, I’m putting together a new team. It’s the first of its kind. We think that it would be effective in certain… urban pacification situations. Maybe it could help stop a lot of these terrorist bastards from pulling any more of their shit. Hell, I don’t know and quite frankly, son, I’m out of my depth.”
The aged soldier moved closer to Williams; sincerity blazed from the old man’s eyes.
“We call it A.I.M. The higher-ups say it means ‘Armoured Infantry Mech Division’, some shit like that. To me is sounds like good old-fashioned ass-kickery. I think it could give us an advantage to fight back.”
Williams shook his head; he was still unsure as to what all of this meant. Seeing his continuing confusion, the general placed a hand on the Mech-Brawler’s shoulders. Speaking slowly, he outlined the deal once more, in terms that Williams could understand.
“Son. I’m offering you a chance at some God-damn revenge.”
A moment passed; Williams once again saw the faces of his dead team mates flash before his eyes. He grasped the general’s outstretched hand.
“Why the frack not… sir.”
TO BE CONTINUED
More information on the up and coming Dark Legacies series, co-authored by Chris ‘Stokerverse’ McAuley and Claudia ‘Commander Ivanova’ Christian, can be found here: