[Tyr Zalo Hawk]: 712.Stories.Th
When the military announced that they were holding a recruitment drive, Tyr was the second person in line. He would’ve been the first, but it turns out there was someone who lived closer to the mili post than he did: a bum. The guy wasn’t so much in line as he was taking up the space in front of the console when Tyr arrived at 2:00 sharp without the confidence that God gave macaroni. A hobo beating him to his future wasn’t a good sign.
Still, this was his chance to make a name for himself. He’d waited 6 years for the SAM to finish its mechanized unit preparations and testing. JAP did it first, of course; the Japanese did everything first, but they didn’t have enough pilots with the skills to really use them. No one knew why machines built specifically for pilots who’d undergone years of simulations didn’t do what the pilots told them. The few that could do it kwiked it to the world: “Yu cant lern how to bE a pilot; yU just hav to bE 1.”
He had hoped he was pilot material for years now, because no one really knew what pilot material was. When no one in the JAP mili seemed fit, they opened public tryouts, offering huge sign-on bonuses to anyone with the skill to do more than make the mechanized warsuits walk. The few who’d proven themselves capable enough in JAP had little to nothing in common. Honda Nanase was the first to get a suit doing anything worth noting. Tyr had gone over the holOs time and time again. He watched the beautiful university girl climb into the Tadakatsu (TDKTS-01) and making it work so gracefully. She buzzed around the screen, firing precision shots at targets the scientists had set up. It was something to see.
There’d been others who had varying success, but nothing quite like Nanase. There was Hibiki, a scrap farmer from Tokyo; Kurosaki Kokoro one of the scientists who’d built the suits; and the news goon who decided her life would be better in front of the holO-recorder that went only by Hime-Chan. With so few pilots, Japan had to scrap their mass-produced units and focus on specializing what suits they had to fit their handful of pilots. Those few became famous overnight, but no one followed their lives as closely as the Hawks.
Anyone who could pilot a mech, anyone that even got the chance to pilot one, was more like a god than a person to Tyr’s family. His empa fone had quivered with excitement when his father called to tell him JAP had done it. There were finally mechs in the world. It was something Tyr’s quinti-great grandfather had dreamed of, and his family passed that passion down through two centuries. In all that time the fire still burned so strongly that the Hawk family celebrated JAP’s achievement for a week after the first holOs.
So, there he was signing up to be part of the SAM’s mili. He didn’t like the idea of becoming a servant of the guv, but if he was one of the few people who could do it then it didn’t matter. He dragged the hobo a few feet away, into the shade of some nearby bush, and then signed on for the chance to make history.
The testing was held in Montana, of all places, mostly because everyone knew the military didn’t have a base there. Construction of a complex the size of a small city, even if it was coated with nO-vis paint, wouldn’t have gone unnoticed there. So, whenever SAM’s mili wanted to show off their latest technology, or show off a few thousand Class X Nukes somewhere, they did it in Montana. Millions of people from across the country flew or drove in for their chance to test out the mechs that were lined up in the middle of what seemed to be an endless field.
“Dehr bE 10 mech Over dehr,” Tyr’s grandfather said. “Pah! Wut dey tink? Dey goin to hav 6 mor den JAP? I don tink mor dan 6 out of dis lot can do it, and dat num onlE bE so hI cuz wE bE hEr.” Even though they rarely saw each other, Tyr had never had generational misunderstandi
“So, wut 1 yU gOin to tAk, eh mI boy?”
Tyr shrugged and scanned the mechs again. They were only 300 meters away, but one could hardly tell by looking what sort of capabilities each would have. There would be announcements, of course, but he really wished the crowd wasn’t so densely packed around the suits. “Bfor wE do dat, wE nEd to find dE fam.”
“Dey fInd us when yU get in one of dem. I’m shur of dat.” He laughed his healthy old laugh. Even at 70, Darius Hawk was as physically fit as Tyr, if not more so. If he wanted to, Darius could probably even be on the waiting list, ready to pilot a mech for the mili, but the entire family agreed that only Tyr should get to try today. It had something to do with his quinti-great grandfather, something about putting others first that Tyr couldn’t recall in the rumbling roar of people chattering, slurping, hopping from foot to foot.
“ATTEN-TION!” The voice boomed in over everyone. They must have put up transmitters with nO-vis in the air, because Tyr couldn’t find any other reason for the omnipresence of the sound. “Today we’re going to have ourselves a little test to see just how many of you are worth spending money on!” SAM’s mili still used Polynglish. It was a bit archaic, but Tyr could deal with that. He’d studied the writers of the early 21st century, after all. “I call out your name and you get transported here. You pick your machine. Get in it. Show us if you’ve got the stuff. If you don’t like it, you can go right back on home.”
Formalities out of the way, the officer named and detailed each of the ten mechs. There wasn’t much Tyr hadn’t expected: brol (SPTN-300, “Leonidas”), mAlA (GRIM-666, “Reaper”), hevE guns (GRMN-39, “Blitzkrieg”), spEd (CYTE-48 “RoadRunner”), hevE def (TANK-1850, “Juggernaut”), flOt (BALL-9001, “Dragon”), and snIp (PHTM-000, “Ghost”). It was a lot of different ways to kill people. The mili’s art form. Ranged, close-combat, fast, slow, it all ended the same way. Then they announced the white mech.
“The MEDC-13, code-name White Mage,” the info chief rallied off, “Is the latest in combat healing technology. The White Mage can set up a restorative barrier around itself and allied units, which stimulates the healing process of all human soldiers. It’s also equipped with short range nanobot bursts, and a healthy supply of energy transfer nodes for any damage the other mechs might suffer.”
“Woo, 1 dat hEl? Now dehr bE a ting a man can Uz in a fIt,” Darius said, nudging Tyr’s arm with his elbow.
“Yah,” Tyr mumbled, not really paying attention to what his grandfather was saying. He was going over all the info that he could remember on nanobots and how much range a burst like that could have.
“The SEGD-20K, code-name Poseidon, is the only water-based mech on the planet.” The murmuring from the crowd was nearly deafening. Even though they’d come a long way in moving technology across and through water, the fact remained that mechs were, essentially, just large piles of very heavy metals with lots of gaps where water could get into an electrical system. Even with the water-proofing technology Tyr knew of, water-based combat was still too slow and impractical. Worse than that, the Poseidon looked more like a skeleton than a combat-ready mech. “Poseidon is capable of reaching Mach 1 underwater, and is made of a special, super-dense steel which won’t give in to the pressures of the sea. The pilot is protected by an internal hyperglass shell, and its weaponry is primarily tactical micronukes.”
So that was it. The suit was designed to let water flow through and around the limbs, and the only bubble of air would be the cockpit. It was clever, Tyr had to give them that, but he couldn’t help but feel that Poseidon was missing something.
“Our final mobile suit is the FRYA-07, code-name Valkyrie. This mobile suit is equipped with an experimental Onboard Personality Interface. The OPI is specifically designed to be able to independently control the mech should the pilot become incapacitated. The Valkyrie is also capable of adapting to its pilot’s unique style, and should, with time, be able to predict the pilot’s actions in a given situation well enough to require minimal input.” A clever way of saying they were trying to get back into mass production. Get enough pilots to program their combat data into a ‘personality matrix’ and there’d be no need for these random pilots. Still, Tyr couldn’t keep his eyes off the Valkyrie. There was something so tempting about a mech that could think.
For the next two hours as Tyr stared, nothing really happened. People climbed in the mechs and the mechs fell over or barely moved. There was only one soldier in the entire field that could actually pilot, so it was his job to get the suits back up or back in place after each trial. The breathless anticipation got annoying pretty quickly, so Tyr and his grandfather just rented a flOt bench and a holO-pad to watch from a more comfortable position.
The first new recruit was a mechanic from Dakota by the name of Jack Runningcrane. He was a big, muscly SAM Indian that spoke Sioux fluently. Most everyone was surprised to see him take the White Mage for his test run. As it turned out, the White Mage wasn’t just loaded with energy transmitters; it was practically made of them. When activated, the whole mech glowed like a star. A useful function to let the injured know where to go; a dangerous disadvantage if your enemies decided they were going to forgo combat ethics and bombard a medic.
The second recruit was an older woman, nearly 85 from the static gray of her hair. Jill Freidrickson. Her profile said she’d retired from her work as a veterinarian almost 10 years ago, and yet she climbed into the Reaper’s cockpit as if she’d been doing it all her life. The Reaper’s test field was quite different than the White Mage’s. Instead of an open area littered with injured drones, Jill had been plopped into a burning cityscape full of targets. The laser-coated scythe cut through drones like they weren’t there at all, but Jill was slower than them, so she took quite a few hits.
Then nothing, again. Nothing for four hours as they waited for Tyr’s name to be called. How many people could’ve possibly signed up in the 15 minutes that it had taken Tyr to get to that terminal? Too many, that was certain. Assuming that was how they sorted people. His parents found him in that time, sitting on their own flOt bench.
“Yu get a lOd of dat old lAdE?” His father’s accent screamed Irish, even though there was barely a drop of green in him. He’d caught the inflections on his honeymoon, which had lasted about two years longer than planned. “ShE did a num on dem bots, dont yU agrE?”
“Yah, but I hOpd she wood flip on de fAzr Unit. GRIM-666 haz nEr half doz of dem, and I hEr dE tech is just getn good.”
“Yu want to sE dat mech gO thru a wal? Do it when yU get down dehr.”
It wasn’t long before the opportunity came, and Tyr was warped out of his seat to the center of the crowd. The transporter was a huge disappointment in technology, because no one could make it move anything over 50kg more than 2000km. Negative exponential correlations got you every time. Still, it functioned well enough in situations like this, provided they had your SSID handy.
“Tyr Hawk. Age 28. Occupation…” the officer looked up at him with disgust, “Poet.”
Tyr nodded and pressed his hand onto the scanner. The system recognized him immediately and large black letters flashed onto the screen.
WELCOME TO THE AMERICAN MILITARY MECH TEST
PLEASE SELECT YOUR MECH AND PROCEED TO THE TESTING ZONE
FURTHER INSTRUCTIONS WILL BE GIVEN FROM YOUR MECH’S HUD
As hard as it was to hear Polynglish, reading it was worse. There was no rhyme or reason to how a word sounded or was spelled. At least when spoken there was a chance to hear something recognizable. Still, Tyr didn’t actually have to read it to know what it said. What really stopped him was the mechs.
From the distance he’d been at, they hadn’t been real enough. They were scale models sitting at a distance, waiting to picked up and dreamed upon. Now, standing in the center of the 10 units, generations of eyes looked out from behind his in wonder. They took in every line, every edge, questioning what was storage and what was just casing, what difference there must be in the controls for each, and even how many people it took to come up with these ten designs. Before boarding, he took a moment to examine the most interesting of them. The Poseidon was even more skeletal up close, and although it was nearly 50 feet tall, none of the bars that made up its body could’ve been thicker than Tyr’s own arms. Tactical nukes were, of course, barely bigger than his fingers, but where they could keep them without risk of flooding was unimaginable. All of the other mechs were fairly standard in appearance, and their unique roles were obvious at even a casual glance now. Then again, there was the Valkyrie.
She was unimpressive. No hyper-dense alloys or brilliant coloring, no special abilities or equipment, just that onboard system the military hoped would do away with auditions like this. It was a challenge he wasn’t going to back down from. “Lets sE wut dis can du.” He took a deep breath to try and rid the static inside his fingertips. It wasn’t going to get any easier, and his future couldn’t wait.
With the hatch still open, he could see everyone and everything outside clearly, even his parents and grandfather hovering, waiting. Two hundred years of anticipation pulsed in his system, and Tyr thought it would be best just to get out, let it all go. The static in his fingers spread to his hands; they shook. The cockpit shrunk in around him. Walls of blank screens and circuitry surrounded him, choked him, but he forced his hands forward. As he touched the joysticks which controlled the Valkyrie, everything stopped for just a moment.
The hatch closed automatically, shutting him in permanently, and now Tyr was staring into a dozen different monitors showing him his energy and ammo levels, systems’ statuses, altitude, speed, hull integrity, his own vitals; one functioned as a window forward, another behind him, one for each side and even screens for above and below, while yet another buzzed to life to show the position of every object within half a mile on radar. A mass of tiny grey dots surrounded a ring of 9 green ones and a single blue. Then there were a dozen other readings Tyr wasn’t yet familiar with yet. One screen, just to the left of the forward view, was oddly blank.
A moment after the system booted he was transported below the earth into his training field. It was rather similar to the Reaper’s field, except the city wasn’t on fire yet. As the grey and green faded, red dots flashed onto his radar. The target drones. He didn’t know what to do, but he gripped the rubber tighter. His hand flicked sideways, fingers clicking down on several different buttons at once to draw out the plasma rifle on the Valkyrie’s right leg. Targeting systems superimposed themselves atop the view windows and radar screens, and Tyr rattled off a dozen shots in succession. The dots vanished, but the tingling started up his arms. “Now dat I can get Used to.”
Tyr rushed forward, the control rods silently whipping one way or another at his slightest touch. More red dots. A lot more. He spun the movement rod and fired as fast as his finger would allow. There was no time to aim and no need to with that many targets. The dots flashed out just as fast as they’d come. “Ha! And dey tink dis is hard?” That’s when a new DOT appeared. This one was big and green, easily three times the size of the practice targets. Taking a closer look, the dot took a more familiar shape. It was getting bigger faster, and Tyr realized why it was so familiar a moment later when the TDKTS-01 flew into visual range and started firing.
This wasn’t the same mech from the holOs. The Tadakatsu had been transformed into a sleeker, faster machine. According to the latest reports which flashed into life on a new screen the mech was equipped with twin laser SMGs and some crazy targeting system that calculated recoil and adjusted each shot accordingly. There were also nearly 16 fusion thrusters hidden along the adamantium frame, and some kind of laser lance for close-range combat. Tyr could only see the red blasts raining down on him.
What was a JAP Mech doing here? Tyr’s body was working faster than his mind and the proto shields were up before he remembered how to activate them. There was a palpable energy to knowing without thinking, flowing directly from his fingertips to his heart. Even a six year gap in technology and training between the two wasn’t going to stop him, not when he’d come this far. He and the Valkyrie stood firm, ready to fight, but the Tadakatsu was running.
If this was training, it was damn good training. J-mechs had been built both smaller and lighter than the SAM unit Tyr piloted, so just keeping up with the intruder was hard enough. Even with his near automatic shooting, the Tadakatsu’s pilot moved too unpredictably for Tyr to find a target lock. “Dam yU… stA put a min.”
“Why not make me?” The female voice, so close and sudden, made Tyr skid to a stop. It was Honda Nanase. He’d forgotten about the S0-Chip in the cockpit, and wondered how she’d tapped the SAM’s code. Had Nanase heard everything he’d been saying? Worse yet: had everyone outside? He hadn’t said anything embarrassing, at least, not that he could remember. If he had, no one was saying anything about it. No one was saying anything at all. That meant only one thing.
“OK den.” Tyr fired over and over again, but always just barely missed. He chased Nanase around streets suddenly empty of drones, into and through abandoned buildings, and finally onto the roof of a sky carrier. There were at least a dozen wrecked planes, canisters of jet fuel, and a large pile of burning wheels. They were almost 2 kilometers above the cityscape, and without flight capabilities it wasn’t likely the Tadakatsu would be running anymore.
A barrage of lasers struck his shield, and Tyr winced as the meter to his right plummeted to a tenth of its total height. He swung around behind cover and checked his remaining ammo. The rifle only had about 5 shots left. It hadn’t been made for such a long exercise. Or at least not one with so many missed shots. A warning flashed across his right view and Tyr escaped the second volley of fire with about 2% of his shields intact. The rifle was essentially useless, so he strapped it back on. It looked like melee was his only option. He drew out the laser-broadswo
“Hey Nanase. Wut yU sA wE do dis old stIl? Hand-to-hand.” It was worth a shot, if nothing else.
“As you wish.” No sooner had the words registered than the Tadakatsu came swerving around from Tyr’s left with a glowing spearhead aimed straight at him.
Tyr threw off the blow with what was left of his shield and rolled beneath a second sweep. Nanase was too fast to try to catch, and there was no need to run after her when she kept coming back at him. And she did. Time and time again, Nanase and her Tadakatsu flew in for deadly strikes, and each time Tyr and the Valkyrie would barely escape each blow, or escape with some minor wound.
His dry eyes flitted around the screens as fast as his hands moved to counter Nanase’s actions. His heartbeat could’ve powered ten men. His mech’s feet were cut out from under him. That was it.
The Valkyrie lay on the ground, unable to move and therefore unable to fight. Spear in hand, the Tadakatsu walked slowly over, and Tyr tried to figure out something else he could do. There weren’t any other weapons he could use, and the two he had wouldn’t be of any use now. Any movement and she’d mow him down with an SMG.
When she finally stopped, the spearpoint hovered over his mech’s chest. A headshot would only disable the system; this way she’d take out the pilot too. “You have last words?”
Then, the blank screen came to life as a blue-haired maiden in medieval armor flew out of the blackness. “If he doesn’t, I do,” she said, and Tyr’s targeting system kicked it up notch. Without any input from him at all, the Valkyrie’s crosshairs locked onto the Tadaktasu’s right foot. “No touching.” Plasma bursts erupted from his rifle, but he hadn’t pulled the trigger either. This girl had to be the OPI, but why hadn’t she shown herself when Tyr booted the system? Moreover, why hadn’t she helped when they’d really needed it? These thoughts came as heartbeats in his skull.
As the Tadakatsu fell, Nanase tried to shove the spear down for the kill, but the Valkyrie’s OPI whipped up a hand to deflect the blow. The laser edge hit only concrete. “Flip the yellow switch, it’ll jam her jammer.” Tyr did so without question, and almost immediately the White Mage, Black Dragon and Reaper units appeared on the carrier. The Reaper’s blade hovered an inch over the Tadakatsu’s chest, but it also had a foot on the spear, just in case.
“Don’t you make a move, missy,” Jill said over the S0 link.
“That was quite the performance, Hawk.” The voice wasn’t familiar to Tyr, but a readout in the upper-right corner of his display told him it was the Dragon’s pilot. Must have been the soldier pilot they had on standby. “But you, Nanase. You’re not supposed to kill our recruits. That’s not what we hired you for.”
“You hire me to test Valkyrie. This is what I did. There would have been no danger if he not break Tadakatsu.”
“To test, Honda. Not jam our signals and then cripple our mech,” the soldier said. “It’s going to take our team a days to fix this damage.”
“It wasn’t all him.” The OPI again, and Tyr wondered just how much everyone was hearing of her voice. She smiled. “I was the one who saved us.”
“Valkyrie, later.” As the Dragon’s voice finished echoing in his ear, Tyr found his viewscreens filled with the sky, the ground, and what must have been the crowd at a distance. Teleportation was always instantaneous, but Tyr couldn’t remember it being more sudden than that moment. The sobering blue brought with it the full effect of a huge adrenaline crash. His entire body was numb yet sore, and incredibly fatigued. Whatever he’d thought he’d done for exercise the past few weeks was child’s play compared to the drain of piloting a mech. Every muscle in his body was going to scream at him tomorrow, but that didn’t matter now. All that mattered were the three little words scurrying through his mind.
I did it.