The first chapter of my first novel roughly 5000 words at the moment.
|Slake, slaked, slaking. A verb used to describe the satisfying of thirst, revenge, wrath etc.
Slakes, Slakers, Slak. A vulgar derogatory term they thirst for what others have taking only to satisfy themselves. To be called or insinuate that a person is one of the former constitutes offence at a high level. A lesser example would be to call a person a scab or rat taking and not providing and in the waste this is not accepted.
*This world of ours, the distinct green and blue that we came to know could not be everlasting. As all things come to a close the cycle that continues, and while we may have occupied but a short part of this cycle we accelerated this with our own curiosity. For the knowledge to alter ones surroundings is a frivolous thing to do if one cannot alter themselves to hold their own pace in check. We must consider the why and the whole process and outcome before we step onto the path of change.
*True peace was never achieved, no matter what the intent. To have more than others regardless of what that may be, breeds contempt for others not in the same position.
So here I sit sheltered and hidden in this cove out of sight but never safe...
*I take a look at my lot in life so far, I'm a wanderer a nomad, some may say vagrant but definitely an opportunist maybe a mix of all those stated, worse off than most but not all.
The sun rises warm, its glow heating the landscape before me, the scents of the day start to spread. Light spray gathers in the wind to freshen the stagnant cove left by the receding night. As the waves lap gently onto the shore it comes to me how much trauma this land has seen.
*The moroseness of it all as I remember friends and family lost to the past, only young and never knowing any better this has been my existence so far and will always be unless I change my own future. People once said that everything happens for a reason but they are the ones taken by time and now only their words remain carved in stone on their final resting places those where the lucky ones. Humanity didn't collapse in a great fall but a slow smothering and now we only have the wisps left.
So where to go next I say to myself, what could be my next move? The seagulls squawk overhead clearly having found something to pester, flying rats they maybe but they have their uses, usually a good indicator of any person nearby or potential food source.
Oh and by the way I'm Arron Foreman 25 years old and a pilot who doesn't fly...
Feet following the wandering mind.
I can hear the old girl creaking in the wind, powered down and her systems in standby, gyros keeping her steady. Looking at this machine of metal and advanced composite materials it seemed ridiculous to have an attachment. Essentially a tool and a war machine at that, it's cold menacing silhouette covering me in shadow as the sun moved about its course through the sky.
*People had always had attachments to inanimate objects that contained sentimental value. Even back to the old sea fairing days when sailors would call a ship "She" and believed that if they looked after her like a maternal protector she would look after them.
So here is Valerie, my metal partner in crime and often savior from tricky circumstance. All legs and charm, but time had weathered her so she wasn't that pretty to look at any more but still very much the diamond even if in the rough. 25 meters high, 2 thirds of that are the legs with a battle cab mounted atop. And while she may not be the most heavily armored or packing a diverse amount of weapons there are two things this old girl has got in spades. Speed plus a huge punch. At full tilt this old girl can manage 100kph, enough to chase down nearly all opponents, then comes the big surprise as the 155mm EMC naval cannon takes action. Well only two things could make her better in my eyes the side mounted weapons pods are neigh on impossible to find and there were some very lethal cannon upgrades available for this puppy. When production was still in play but that was a very long time ago she is now defunct as the company that once made her. Never meant to be a brawler Valerie was the epitome of move fast strike hard.
The Corp wars had produced her as well as many other variants and models from companies over the world not seen since the advent of the motorcycle. Nearly all where powered by a small scale Nuclear Fusion reactor that ran on an isotope called Deuterium.
Over the years while she had been in the care of my family we had modified her, my own father responsible for moving a lot of her Reactive Armour to more sensitive equipment critical areas. Plus a new paint job could not have hurt as the fading gun metal grey paint was flaking and peeling in places. The former auto loading naval cannon took a variety of shells and the armoury was nearly full. Out of all this the only real bug bear was her heavy water usage, heavy water is what contains the precious Deuterium isotope needed for the fusion reactor and Valerie wasn't frugal with the stuff especially at full tilt.
Well time to move, the sun was gaining height in the sky continuing its ever moving arc and the weather had warmed to allow a nice breeze to cool me as I prepped for the days travel. Replenishing my heavy water stocks was becoming more serious but I could manage a few hundred miles on what was left as long as we didn't find ourselves facing down any aggressors. But where to go was the issue. Pulling out the well-worn map that had stood the test of time was next but first it was time to do a full systems check on my metal companion.
System Check in progress.....
Slight wear in port hip bearing.....
Heavy Water Levels at 1 third.....
All systems Functional.....
Nothing unusual but that hip bearing was a concern if i couldn't find a reliable repair facility. So closing the maintenance hatch after pressing the power up sequence I noticed that the fire was dying finally. "Never leave a fire unattended" My father's words echoed to my mind from somewhere lost to the slaking past. Checking my own gear my battered back pack was once military issue but it had long turned into a faded stained mess with a few hidden pockets that had been stitched in overtime. Enough rations for about 4 days and the fire making flint and steel. One Glock 9mm hand gun that carried 13 rounds but only contained 8 currently, ammunition like everything else was hard to come by and this particular one had found its way into my ownership by pure chance after scavenging an old military base.
Time to saddle up, "Dammit" I exclaimed forgetting to actually plot a route from the map. Ok stop, think. Checking the map really wasn't necessary as Valerie had on-board GPS but as the satellite network was getting older its becoming less reliable so good practise was to check the course plot on the map itself.
Climbing up the access ladders I managed to enter Valerie's cockpit with ease as done so many times in the past. I hit the hatch close button on the overhead console after strapping into the standard five point harness. Valarie's cockpit was comfortable enough the seat was pneumatically mounted so dampened out the very worst of the vibration and it hugged the body well enough but as with everything to do with her it had worn the test of time well enough. It even had enough storage space in the rear to easily swallow up the old rucksack. In front of me sat two joysticks these controlled the motion of Valerie and can be used to execute tight turns. The power up sequence had long passed and system status sat in front of me with the various power levels and reactor status. To the right subsystem information is presented along with any and all cautions plus the weapons subsystem, to the left is the navigation displays. Everything important such as critical information, heading, targeting, speed and fuel level are also presented on a heads up display (HUD) in the pilots eye line. Overall she was a very easily piloted machine that could change direction and speed effortlessly.
Bringing up the navigation map, it instantly located us this made things so much easier there is a settlement around 290 KM away about 3 days travel at a leisurely pace, very slow but until I can replenish the heavy water stores it was better to be frugal. Course plotted and away we go. The autopilot is set and there is nothing to do unless the system flashes to attention. The course has sent us following the coast which will make for some stunning scenery, it doesn't hurt to stop and take note even in this day and age. My mind starts to wander as we set off at the almost painfully slow pace that the system recommends for fuel saving. So here we go again travelling to nowhere looking for nothing the nomad without a purpose it feels a lot like limbo.
*"Arron, Arron" My father was calling me, and there was no way I wanted to be found it only meant one thing. "Get your lazy arse here boy!" Augh weapons training again. If there was one thing my father thought important it was weapons training. Looking back though it has helped enormously he was right to prepare us, me and my younger sister Bethan. At five foot two and built like a rake she should have been well suited to hand to hand training but she didn't have the temperament for it. Her brown eyes where ones of innocence they did not have the edge that was required to best an opponent but father still insisted that one day it may help. I wandered over to my father his name is Davey he and my mother met at a bazaar while she was trading her finds from her many scavenging forays. He stands tall at 6ft 4in with a powerful build, wide shoulders that seemed to sink lower each passing year the weight of our plight taking its toll on him. We never stayed to long in one place and never knew why maybe a few seasons here and then move onto new pastures. It never seemed odd to me or Bethan we were too young to question it. "Hey Dad" Bethan said as we approached him, he always did have a way of making this feel like an occasion and wanted our total attention regardless of what we had been doing previously. "Grab your pads and get suited" As we don our gear, my father approaches and catches me off guard with a swift kick to my right thigh. "Slacking Hell" I shout, another kick follows to the same leg. My thigh is burning with pain the muscle has tightened and I'm gasping on the floor. "Get up and shake it off, plus if I hear you use language like that again I will make sure it's your head next time" says my father. Its times like these I don't miss but although he was a hard man in certain respects he was only doing what he thought best and hindsight is a wonderful thing. I rose quickly springing into a right hand lead aimed at his face he blocked, following with a big back hand to the side of my temple I feel dizzy. "How many times don't lash out plan your strikes and follow through, don't snatch the force comes from using your whole body" he shouts. Bethan giggles at my misfortune its ironic really her turn is next and she is even worse than I am he never did show any quarter to her because she was female.
The daydream is broken by the radar screen flashing a warning.
Unidentified Vehicle approaching 5 m range no identification...
All ex-military machines of Valerie's type where fitted with a form of identify friend or foe system that doubled as a missile detection also. Hers was not that sophisticated but it could tell rudimentary data such as distance, tracking and was helpful for range finding potential targets in battle. This contact had no identification tag but it was quite a way out and looking at the terrain had no clear line of sight onto Valerie. It could be a false return. I flicked the system off and on it usually sorted most issues as ghosts in the machine where not uncommon. The system rebooted and the contact was gone no sign of it at all, il keep an eye out though a stationary contact can be mistaken for a building or another large structure that had been left to rot since the war. It wasn't even uncommon to find old broken war machines the same era or older than Valerie in the waste, mostly though long stripped of any useful salvage. Continuing the course was the only thing to do but I couldn't quite get back into the trance I had found myself in, so in turn I looked out at the scenery the green and blue of the earlier coat line had given way to long stone beaches and the sprout of old structures that had seen battle damage and the ravages of time with no occupants or upkeep. It was still a warm day though so popping the upper viewing hatch I climbed up and let the autopilot take care of the monotonous task of controlling the bipedal transport.
Hours later the sun had moved to its zenith in the sky, midday had come. Still sat on the viewing area above the battle cab i open lunch. Old army rations apparently they could last for decades and still be edible as long as the protective wrappings where not broken. I smiled if this is fresh I would hate to see what they thought as mouldy. It was edible but just... Trying to imagine what a fresh chicken casserole would taste like I caught a glimpse of a flash in the corner of my eye, like the sun flashing off a metal surface. Slake this I'm being tracked! Serves me right for not paying attention it's never a good call to travel alone even travelling in a big grey bringer of death that Valerie is you can be picked off by clever raiders. Unfortunately forced labour or slavery was now practised again in some parts of the waste, those unfortunate enough to find themselves in these horrid places where not usually heard from again many rumours floated around but not a lot was substantiated. Rushing back in the cockpit I keyed in a full radar sweep, selecting combat mode at the same time. One ghost in the machine was a fault but I'd seen this one with my own eyes and that is a totally different thing, my blood was up with the anticipation. Being good at hand to hand combat was not my strength but combat in Valerie was a different matter she is an extension of myself built up over years of trough scrapes and familiarity, I could make her dance. The targeting reticule flared in my HUD the 155mm naval canon was automatically loaded and locked down ready to be fired. No one was going to get bead on us. Pulling the headset on was uncomfortable but the voice commands helped with the workload of piloting while in battle voice recognition was basic but very useful. Turning to face the ridge where I had earlier seen the shine of sun on metal I weighed up my options.
"Recycle Radar Sweep, Sector Scan 180' Arc" I ordered this would probe the area in front of me very quickly to give an indication or any targets in the area for quite a few miles ahead.
No targets where visible plus the rise of the hill in front of us wasn't big enough to provide cover for another battle mech. Doubt raised but it could be raiders using wheeled transport, it wasn't actually that hard to bring down a bipedal mech if you knew the right tricks. I strafed down to the end of the hill going over the top would have left my position way to exposed. Slowly rounding the corner I placed my targeting reticule in the centre of the new landscape not being able to see anything on interest. Still nothing on radar, I really need to get some form of infer red that would show up the heat from any vehicle engines. Nothing still I walk forward slowly, something doesn't feel right. This is not the ideal place to get caught out, still two days from civilisation and with only a third of my heavy water stocks left, combat is something that me or Valarie can little afford to do. If I can't see them maybe I can hear them, selecting the external microphones and feeding them into the headset provides amplified external noises. "Listen, look, don't rush plan it through" My father's words again. This is becoming frustrating now, adrenalin is flowing my blood still up.
"Radar Arc 180' Astern Now" I exclaim.
Contact 1000m Astern 180'...
"Slak It" I shout, ordering Valerie to dance an about turn. She handles it beautifully pirouetting in seconds. As the turn is completed I can see two vehicles approaching at a fair rate of knots. Looking at them I can see both are armed one with what looks like a tow rope connected to a harpoon the other is loaded with men and what could be canisters but of what I can't make out.
"Designate Targets" the HUD shows them as Alpha and Bravo.
Alpha being armed with the harpoon and steel cable, Bravo with the men and canisters. These are raiders no question they want Valerie for her parts they don't have the expertise to operate and maintain her. Best to strip her for bits, or sell her off. And as for me well the cold truth is that dead men tell no tales, or worse slavery. Acting quickly was paramount! Choose the wrong target and this could go south very quickly. If I don't work quickly they will be too close to me to bring the main armament to bear on them. Alpha target was the largest threat in my mind's eye, getting caught up with that cable could see Valarie taking a very swift hard fall to the deck and that wasn't something that would end well. Putting the controls into reverse had Valerie pacing backwards I needed more time but they were still closing fast...
800m the display read.
Tilting the turret downwards and pivoting Valarie into a form of awkward curtsey had the targeting reticule waiting for alpha target to close. I flicked the safety off the trigger and waited with baited breath. My heart pumping loudly in my ears it was distracting but there is nothing to be done about it. And just as they entered the kill zone I had laid for them a small curl of my lip releases itself as the trigger is pulled. The next few seconds are lost to the fog of war. "Refresh Radar Contacts" I hear myself saying waiting.. Holding my breath, then the sudden realisation I'm stationary that's the last thing I need to be, slamming the controls forward I push Valerie into a sprint. Her acknowledging the new control input by the sudden burst of acceleration. The radar cycles through no contacts present, that's odd very odd. "God Dammit!"
"Radar Arc 180' Sector Scan Forward Now!"
Glad no one is here to see that, leaving my radar scanning my aft while looking for contacts in front of me that's very embarrassing.
1 Contact 400m and dropping contact Bravo stationary...
Looks like alpha raider is nothing but a charred heap of scrap now, bravo target looks to be providing assistance. That's the vehicle loaded with raiders, maybe we can play this right. Closing to 250m I stop and take note of the situation in front, the hole no crater is a good 10m in diameter and shrapnel is scattered about as well as other things that used to be people. The heavy breathing and audible heart beat has subsided now and I can take note of the detail. The smoke has cleared nearly, bravo contact is spinning up there tyres making tracks of dust as they quickly turn around making good on their escape. Time to give chase, the funny thing about cross country is that 60kmh on road feels like 120kmh off road. The raiders pick up their pace they must be gunning it as I have Valarie running at full sprint.
Fuel Warning 25% Fuel Capacity Remaining.....
Great just what we needed, the raiding approach the hill that I scanned earlier. "What?" They bounce over an old fallen log the tyres of their vehicle struggling for grip. One of them falls out straight onto the deck. I really have to slow down not only for the sake of getting to my destination but to avoid stepping on the person who fell from the raider's vehicle. Slowing down to a slow walk we pace up the hill. Radar sweep shows the raiders are running and not looking back, except this one about 100m in front of me. No sign of movement just on the ground laying still. Grabbing my Glock from my backpack I check the clip and that there is a round in the chamber this could turn even nastier. Valarie is set to park and hold as I hit the cockpit exit button and climb down the access ladders. Reaching the ground is the easy bit what comes next is the hard part this person in front of me was willing to take what little that my life had for their own, despising people like that from afar was easy but not letting them get the better of you is the hard part. The ground is dry so is the spare amount of grass it crunches underfoot, it's still a very warm day and this whole event could not have lasted more than 10 minutes. Approaching slowly with the Glock raised ready to fire, I notice that this raider still isn't moving whoever they are they must be out cold. Stopping at 10m away I can see a slim form of a person spread almost in a prone position their whole body is covered in what looks like old camouflage gear and other tattered remains of what where once maybe quite fashionable trinkets that slew from one side of the torso down the waist on a bandoleer. I still cannot make out if this person is male or female. "Hey, Hey You!" No response... I need rope or cable ties anything to restrain this person, running back to Valarie her maintenance storage has exactly what is required. Reaching the back of her right leg and pressing the hatch release, all the tools and stores that could be needed for routine maintenance and minor problem solving are located here. Good exactly where it was left 20 meters of Para Cord, never travel without it, always good for making a washing line or setting up a makeshift tent. After grabbing what was required and heading back to the spot where the raider was lain, thankfully whoever it is was still there lying prone and not showing any sign of movement. Pulling the Glock I approached slowly but my presence was given away again by the crunch of the dry grass underfoot. The raider hadn't moved, reaching for the hands of this individual I noticed they were long and slender as where the fingers. Quickly tying them both together with the standard I don't know what I'm doing granny knot. Now it is the game of wait and see....
As the hours of the day passed i spent time weighing up the options available, leaving this scum immobile and in the middle of nowhere had a certain poetic justice no doubt at some point the raiders had done the same to others. Valarie was not big enough to carry two passengers in the cockpit and even if she could having a raiders even an immobile one in the cockpit wasn't a bright idea. Putting a bullet in the back of the raiders head was the simplest but most unnerving option, quite simply it would weigh on my sense of fair play. Id taken life before and it doesn't leave you but the circumstance it's taken in can only sooth your mind so much they always come back eventually. Besides id only ever taken life before in self-defence.
The raider stirred a low groan radiated towards me. Time for some answers. "Who are you?" No response just another grumble. "Turn over let's have a look at you, do you have any weapons?" Slowly the raider turned over, awkwardly as its hands where still bound behind its back. Lying on its back the raider showed the face of a young woman maybe late teens early twenties. A small scar ran its way down her cheek, a long healed injury. Her hair is a very deep auburn nearly the colour of mahogany. Her eyes bright striking blue. "I asked you what your name is." She managed to lift herself up into a seated position, looking around gaging the surroundings she notices her hands are bound. Growing frustrated there are questions that need answers, hanging around here is not a good idea the raiders could return with company. In a cold calm voice I repeat "Tell me who you are or I will slot you right here and now I have to leave". She looks at me, eyes weighing me up gauging if the threat to her life is real. "Sandy, my name is Sandy" no emotion betrays her she isn't scared nor intimidated. "Ok Sandy where are you and your slaking raider friends located?" Shifting onto her knees then starting to stand, uneasy at first but gaining balance she stares at me straight into my eyes. "I'm not a raider, those others are, I just wanted some food and shelter they wouldn't give me anything unless I helped them. We only met a week or so ago. They have a camp in an old warehouse about 30km from here". She stands still waiting the atmosphere is thick with tension, 30km isn't much leaving her is the best option. "Ok we are done maybe your friends will pick you up, empty your pockets and drop anything on you to the ground." This gets her attention. "I don't have anything of value." But complying her hands ruffle through her various pockets and various objects hit the ground with a dull thud. "Move away over there" gesturing to a rotten old log, she complies walking towards it. Looking through what she has dropped she wasn't lying and a lot of this stuff is just worthless refuse. One thing holds my gaze an old metal cigarette case tarnished, slightly battered I pick it up and place it in a pocket. "Ok I'm leaving, stay where you are or I won't hesitate to shoot your knees out from under you understand?" She nods acknowledgement. "Take me with you leaving me here is a death sentence." She pleads. That's not going to work slakers like her are more effort than they are worth. Walking back towards Valerie I can hear footsteps following.
"You're not coming with me" again a cold and firm voice. How do I justify leaving her here?
"Don't leave me here" No emotion to her still she isn't begging just asking.
"Go and find your raider friends they will help you." Not so cold that time but still firm.
"They won't help you know that as I do." Again emotionless no self-pity evident. Maybe a slight crack in her armour that time.
Valarie is just ahead, stopping and turning to face her as she stands before me it's clear the chink in the armour isn't in hers it's in mine. An idea pops into existence and that slight raised curl on my lip is back. The cockpit may not be big enough for two and it would be too much of a risk in the first place but... Walking towards Valerie I approach her starboard leg and hit the maintenance hatch release.
"Come here then and get in, don't make me regret it." She now looks nervous maybe the small smile on my face has spooked her. As she approaches a look of shock crosses her brow but only for a short second. She stands still silent.
"It's big enough for you it won't be comfortable but it's the best I can offer, take it or leave it I'm leaving either way."
"I've put up with worse" she states and awkwardly climbs in seating herself on a sack, it's a tight squeeze. "My hands?" She says, hitting the hatch close button ignoring her, it's time to get underway and boy she is going to hate me by the time we are done travelling for the day.
Climbing into the cockpit it feels good to get back under motion, the autopilot is programmed and the heavy water supplies will get us there but only just. Shame it would have been fun to make Valerie dance around a bit for our unwanted guest on board.