Armored Core (Part 19)


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Part 19 – RTB (Part 2)

AIRBORNE, OVER THE EASTERN US

The flight to Otis Joint Operations Base was uneventful. Positioned on the Northeastern coast, the base had worn many suffixes over the decades, from AFB, to ANGB, and now it functioned as a JOB for the hotspot nature of a new, stranger, war.

Corporal Tomkins had joined the others in crowding the widows of their transport aircraft to look down at the scenery as they flew over the eastern US, seeing it all for the first time in the warm rays if the rising sun. The sight had nearly brought Aggrandize to tears, the blessed weapon never having seen the land – any land –  from the air before…

Thirteen had also been moved by the rising sun. the chimera unashamedly clutching her Commander close, and sobbing quietly, echoing the feelings of the other mamono in the cavernous transport bay. The humans present had respectfully kept their distance, letting the visitors tension visibly drain from their bodies. When Bass asked Tamera why they’d been so emotional, the zombie dragon had been surprisingly muted in her explanation.

“Well Bass… It’s… Have you ever been through one of those days where the sky is just that shade of gray? Like all day, it’s just gray. Now imagine every day was gray. No sun, no warmth, just gray, neutral, and cool. Not even cold, every day. It’s warm inside the buildings, but only gray and cool outside. We lived like that. For years, trying to find a way out. And now… We’re here.”

The human nodded silently, mentally picturing how the monotony must have worn on his charge’s mind… There was no need for words, and he stood by a porthole, watching the sunrise with her.

It had been a minor shock to Tamera to see Bass dismount from his armor, the human standing at an impressive six-foot-three, but to her, he barely came up to her sternum, the zombie dragon standing at a little over seven feet. Still, she liked his voice, liked his presence, and liked him. He didn’t assume, and was attentive and gentle. The fact that his mana resonated with hers didn’t hurt either, she could tell. She’d been nervous about his armor, but the mechanical garment lacked the personality the Sergent’s did, though she could sense something beneath its metallic exterior. I swear by my very scales, I will defend you both, she promised it.

__________———-__________

Beth ver’Sheth had never been one to be overly impressed by technology. Her passion was in magic and the arcane sciences, after all. But when the massive “Pallet-Jack” had landed, the wash from its four massive rotors whipping at her clothes, dust swirling away in the whipping winds, she finally understood… The ability to take inanimate matter, crush it, heat it, purify it, and then work that matter into complex shapes was on full display here. These humans were far far different from the ones who had once walked her world. While she was not old enough to remember them in their heyday, she had seen many a crumbling stone edifice that her humans had constructed, and once lived in.

Poring over ancient records and plans, the baphomet had been interested in their approach to architecture, but not overmuch. And the gremlins she’d known were capable of producing far more intricate mechanisms, albeit unreliably.

But the humans of her world had never mastered flight. Perhaps they would have, eventually. But those days were long past, and now she wished to learn more about the world of these new humans. Her charge was settling down, although the chimera had been reluctant to enter the vehicle once it had dropped its loading ramp. Once inside, however, Thirteen seemed to relax, and had quickly found a spot on one of the benches bolted to the interior. She’d found the sunrise to be especially moving, with some of their fellow passengers sobbing openly at the warm glow of the rising orb. While she herself was more reserved, Beth too was moved. We’re finally home.

__________———-__________

The minotaur sisters had ended up sitting at the far end of the Pallet-Jack’s cargo bay, and had struck up a conversation with the wurms Ruby and Selena. They’d found common ground in being creatures of strength, and Asteria had found Selena’s hat to be of particular interest. After consulting with Pistol, she’d been happy to hear that the humans could easily procure her one of her own.

“So, what’re you two gonna do once we land?” she asked.

“First, I’ll kiss the ground,” Ruby said, looking a little pale. “Wurms weren’t meant to fly. It’s fascinating, and I like the view, but honestly, I have no idea how our cousins do it.”

“Aww, it’s not that bad.” Selena said, nudging her fellow dragon. “I kind of like it.”

“But what if we just… fell out of the sky?”

“I asked the sergeant earlier, and he said this vehicle can ‘autorotate’. I didn’t completely understand what he was talking about, but I guess the big rotors can act like spinblossom seeds if whatever’s spinning them stops.”

“And that means…?”

“We won’t fall, just land hard. The vehicle will probably be unusable afterwards, but we’ll survive.”

“Well… I still don’t want to fall, but at least we won’t die…”

Shoving those morbid thoughts aside, all four mamono looked out over the vista as the Pallet-Jack flew on.

“Look at that!”

“So much water…”

__________———-__________

As the quartet remarked on the coastline the craft was now flying over, Yuina took stock of her own meager possessions. The Ushi-Oni had spread them out on a freshly woven square of silk, and was making sure nothing was broken. Spare tunic? Check. Length of silk rope? Check. Manual on weaving? Check. Shawl? Check. As she finished packing her things away, One of the living armors came clanking over, the brown plumes on her helmet identifying her has Maria.

“Are you looking forward to discovering more about this world?” she asked.

“I suppose… I mean, we’ll be quarantined or something once we get to this ‘Joint Operations Base’ the Sergeant was talking about, right?”

“That’s right, but it isn’t all that bad. Standard protocol for foreign visitors is usually something like that, and we are from a whole other world…”

“But, I mean, we’ll still be able to talk to people, right? I don’t want to be locked away in some room for weeks…”

“From what the Sergeant was saying, we just need to answer some questions, pass some medical exams, and be issued some form of identification. Think of it like the process for entering a foreign city.”

“Um, miss Maria, I’ve never been to one of those.”

“…I see… All right, I guess this will be a new experience, then. I promise, nobody’s going to just stuff you in a room and forget about you.”

“How can you be so sure?”

“Well, you know a little about us living armor’s, right?”

“Not much… but your origins used to be from mana infused armor left in old castles, right?”

“Pretty much, yes. But that means we have procedures and routines our former wearers used to adhere to, and both Joan and I were probably city guard armor in our past lives.”

“So you’re saying you can sense these things?”

“Not really… But I know that we used to have entry rules for the cities we guarded. So it stands to reason that the humans here have similar rules, right?”

“I guess… It’s all so much, you know? First the old world, then waking up here, then meeting the humans and the others, Now we’re flying across an entire land in a metal box… I just need a break, some food, and some sleep. Actually… Do living armor’s sleep?”

“We do,” Maria said with a soft smile. “We’ll find a place to rest, I’m sure of it.”

__________———-__________

After getting the mamono settled, Sergeant Rawlins had retreated to his armor, closing the hatch, and filing his initial reports to Command, including the developments with Gloria. Unsurprisingly, his armor had her own things to add, and the two of them had finished the report in record time, Gloria using the fact that she was a sentient computer entity to append sensor logs, add notes on precise efficiency values, ammo expended, armor integrity, and a host of other data that the techs back at base would be salivating over…

“Sergeant, I need you to promise me one thing.”

“What’s up?”

“Promise me they won’t try to disassemble me.”

At the human’s slightly pained expression, Gloria let her digital face relax. “I’m not going to ask you to break protocol or try and beg for my life. I think the techs will be at least somewhat respectful in that respect. But I must confess that I am very… concerned.”

“I suppose I would be too, if I were a literal living weapon system,” he commented wryly.

“That’s… not exactly true.”

“How do you mean?”

“Well, you’re aware that this configuration of the ATLAS armor system has several ejection modes, yes?”

“Go on…” the human prompted.

“The ATEC device, and my processor core, my “brain”, if you will, are both integrated into the framework that contains the movement tracing and feedback subsystems and other mechanical components. Essentially, when you enter the armor, you’re wearing me, but in turn I’m wearing the outer armor, battery packs, weapon systems, and environmental controls…”

“So.. I’m wearing you like a suit of armor, and you’re wearing the rest of the suit like armor?”

“Precisely. There’re a few fiddly mechanical linkages that’ll need to be redesigned, but I am confident I could shed the outer armor, and use the inner motion control system as my own endoskeleton, as it were.”

To back up her ideas, Gloria used the armor’s displays to describe the situation with mechanical diagrams, and overlays.

“So between me, you, and the armor, we’re basically a high-tech Russian nesting doll?”

“Well… Pretty much, yes.”

“And you’re concerned about whether or not they’ll just let you roam free on-base with literally millions of dollars in classified equipment?”

“It’s a bit past that point, I’m afraid,” Gloria said. “Sergeant, I am the equipment.”

“And if Command, the Brass, and the Techs all sign off on this, what would you do?”

“Stay with you.” She replied immediately. “You’re my Operator.”

“Just like that?”

“Just like that. Besides, there’s a round of upgrades we were scheduled for anyway, not a chance I’m missing out on those.”

“Why do I get the feeling things are going to get… weird?”

The look Rawlins’ armor gave him was pure deadpan. “Sergeant, we are way past weird at this point.”

__________———-__________

ELSEWHERE

 

The technicians scanning the old factory site were thorough in their duties, and had quickly identified all the mana-contaminated debris scattered in the rubble. The fact that most of the debris was organic in nature wasn’t lost on them, and technician Peters was grateful for his envirosuit, and reinforced gloves. Picking up pieces of charred bone and pulverized flesh, and placing them into a biohazard bag wasn’t his idea of a good time, but the less debris they left behind, the better. After all, creatures from another dimension could be carrying all manner of pathogens, and only God himself knew what would happen if some poor creature ended up ingesting any of the stuff…

 

He’d just finished bagging and tagging another few pounds of remains when he spotted movement along the road to his left. It was a person, a pilot, by the looks of it, carrying a battered helmet in one hand, his armored drivesuit unzipped, allowing his shirt and dog tags to catch the sunlight. And walking beside him-

“Hello!” The pilot raised his hand in greeting.

“Who goes there?” Peters asked, awkwardly fumbling for his radio.

“I’m 1st Lieutenant Jim Stryker, S.T.A.R. Team Seven. My mech was damaged at this site, and I’m here to retrieve it, along with reporting back in to Command.”

“Hold on, Sir, let me get in touch with my squad leader.”

“Sure thing”’ the human replied, before turning to the person standing beside him. Her cloak billowed slightly in the breeze, revealing the very minimal equipment she wore. “Gotta follow procedures, Ma’am, they’ll probably be along to collect us shortly.”

“They will be here for you, Lieutenant, but I will not be going with you.”

“Oh? You have anyplace else to be?”

“As a matter of fact, I do. Worry not, we shall meet again. In the meantime, our arrival in this world has likely set several events in motion. Events I wish to not only investigate, but also do not wish to allow to proceed unchecked. We are at a precipice, and if precisely the wrong things happen, things will go quite poorly.”

“Understood,” he said gravely. This was the longest single speech she’d given him, having commented in short sentences on their walk back to the site where she’d rescued him.

Meanwhile, Peters had finished his call, and was approaching. “Sir, and miss, my section leader should be here soon, and we can proceed to get things sorted.”

“She’s not coming,” Stryker reported, gesturing to the lich that was already turning to walk away.

“Technician, please see to my Lieutenant, he has valuable information to provide to his superiors.” Before leaving though, she took the Stryker’s hand, and pressed a small medallion-like device into it. “Please keep this on your person. If you are ever injured, I will return at once. Also, it will allow me to locate you, and provide the information I will be obtaining.”

“Uh… Thanks?” He replied awkwardly. “I just hope the eggheads will let me keep it.”

“It is like your human myth of the bad penny, it will return to you on its own.”

And with that final remark, Meyliss took to the air, the lich flying off at low speed, her mostly bare body catching the sun as her cloak billowed behind like an oddly shaped pair of wings.

“…Sir?” Peters asked.

“I guess we’ll just have to take it on faith that she’ll be back,” Stryker said.

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