Further Tales From The UnderCurrent (Short Story Prequel Series)
Have 'you' ever had a car? Not necessarily one of your own, just one you drove or rode in for a bit?
I've never owned one myself, but I've rented a fair few and been in enough - And I always thought it was funny, how they become a part of you, they become 'Our car' or 'The car'.
They start to take on a personality right?
I've heard some people even say the two headlights and the grill look like a face, some people even name their cars - I've never been one for that myself but I think I understand it.
As a pilot that feels all the more real, not just for mechs - I've known tank crews who see their machine as a member of the group, people who refer to their warship homes as a 'she' or 'The old girl'.
We naturally personify these thing, like we are trying to form some sort of human connection with them...
As a pilot it's even harder not to do that. We're alone out there.
Just you and your machine, usually on a backdrop of black space - Do you know how cramped it is?
The smaller the cockpit, the easier it is to defend, to put behind layers of armour - But that doesn't leave much room for living in.
You are enclosed on all sides, constantly, by walls of grey switchboards and monitors that are little more then windows to the outside, like looking through the periscope of a submarine - Expect even as a crewmember on a sub, miles under the murky blue waves, atleast you have your crewmates.
We're just alone, floating islands in empty oblivion, sent to fight against others like us.
Can you imagine that for a moment? Voluntarily confining yourself to a tiny cabin, all alone, and flying off into a gravity-less desert to fight alone, to die alone.
Mechs do sometimes fight on land but generally they are for space combat - When you die in space there is seldom a corpse.
We all know it as pilots, all of us, that when we die there probably won't be anything left to send back.
There is alot of ways to die, I doubt I've even considered them all yet - Did you know many pilots don't die directly from an enemy attack but rather from their own machine's self-destruction.
Apparently it dates back to the first Vijaiks twelve years ago.
See originally only Abhaile had mechs, hence how they could thrash TSU so thoroughly for 2 years of the First War.
Until TSU came up with stuff like the Casnel they were still relying on tanks and jets.
They discovered it was more effective to damage a Vijaik's joints, then it is to try and pierce the armour directly.
So they began using an array of relatively weak physical ammunition, packed with High Explosives - HE rounds.
A tank would fire these rounds at the space between a Vijaik's torso and its limbs.
If successful you could cause an explosion around the 'armpit' as it were, blow up the Vijaik's electrics, fuel lines, hydraulics and so on - This obviously would disable the limb, a win for the tank - But a second discovery was made from this tactic.
Vijaiks, all of them, technically have a countermeasure for this, oh yes they do!
The arm can actually be safely disconnected and new bulkheads lowered to protect the rest of the mech.
However this never happens, what pilot is fast enough to know an incoming shot is going to disable their arm? And even if you had a haunch, would you be brave enough? Get it wrong and you've just thrown away one of two arms or legs for no reason.
Would you cut your hand off, your actual hand, because you had a split second haunch it might safe the rest of your body? Look down at it right now, at your real right hand - Could you do it?
Maybe a Magi could do that but not a normal person.
And so the arm is disabled but also causes a chain reaction, exploding and because the pilot is never good enough to manually lower the bulkheads in time, the explosion riddles through the machine's torso, hits the reactor - And bam, your machine involuntarily self-destructs.
There is no corpse, your body is super-heated to nothing in seconds.
Of course now-a-days it's better then that, new counter measures - And yet it still happens.
Maybe its an exaggeration, how should I know, but I used to hear the chances of accidental self-destruction are still as high as 50% for some models, even over ten years after the Vijaik's invention.
50% that at any time you lose a limb, you also lose your life.
But maybe no corpse is for the best. Some pilots burn...
Burning in space is a pretty 'interesting' event - You don't need to be a physics teacher to know that fire needs oxygen and there ain't a whole lot of that in space.
See Vijaiks are actually air-tight inside, the arms and legs, and of course the cabin - You don't need a space suits on, to breath in one.
The whole thing can be pressurised or depressurised if needed which is a pretty useful function, with the hatchway acting as an airlock where & when required.
Thing is, if a Vijaik suffers a technical issue, some faulty wiring catches fire, then the whole thing goes up in a matter of minutes.
The fire can't get out, because you're in space, so as soon as it burns a hole out, it splutters and then quenches - This means it if anything moves even faster inside the machine, it can't escape outwards, so it remains highly concentrated, traveling the internals, through wire ducts and into the cockpit, with the machine gradually sealing off the breached segments of the mech, effectively trapping the fire in the Vijaik's core, its centre, its cabin.
I've seen it happen to people, to friends and enemies alike.
Their machines will stop moving as the pilot panics, or it'll start shuddering, spasming as though the mech itself is having some sort of stroke - And in-between the joints you begin to see flames flickering, then being quenched by the lack of oxygen before bursting out again as another part of the machine becomes breached.
If your lucky, the flames will comprise the machine's seals, causing the cabin to depressurise and suffocating the pilot to death, a much better fate then the alterative.
Should you be panicked enough or just naïve to what's happening and you put back on your helmet or if the machine's cabin reminds air-tight, then you burn - The flames slowly seep in, little by little, the leather chair makes for good burning and be under no illusions, metal may take alot too melt, but trying desperately to grab at the controls, only to give your hands third degree burns, is no joke.
There's usually no escape in these cases, even if you can push through the pain of grabbing the metal escape lever, and in the heat and panic, as the skin peals off your hands and your fingertips disappear before your eyes and your suit merges with your skin - Even if you do all that, the lever probably won't respond.
Usually the wiring ends up melting from the heat long before you start your 'escape', you stand there burning, surrounded in hellfire, screaming as every last ounce of your energy on this mortal plane is spent pulling the lever... And it isn't even connected to anything anymore.
I don't think the screams of the men I've seen die like that will ever fade - Or the image of their mechs writhing as flames spluttering in and out, quenching and relighting, bulging like the sides of a volcano.
There is usually a corpse in those circumstances, but it requires dental records to identify. We are all required to willingly give such records when we sign up, for this very purpose alone....
And we do that to each other, we willingly use weapons that lead to the most 'efficient' victory - Even if that's also the most barbaric.
Just because some of us are Bhailien and others Abhailen? It's a difference of just one bloody letter!
Will I burn to my death like them, or go out in some pathetic explosion as my own machine self-destructs pitifully.
And it won't end will it?
TSU vs Abhaile, then TSU vs Remembrance, now TSU-s against IAFS - All that in just 15 years.
So many dead for what? Why do I have to die, I don't want to die fighting for something I don't even understand, because of some stupid cycle!
I don't want to die alone, out there in my stupid mech...
Will I end up crashing again? Maybe it'll be like the Ogre pilot who crashed with me into this place I am now, who's own weapon landed on him, who's cockpit was crushed and compressed into pulp by his own damn axe.
I got in there, to take his black-box... I say 'he' but I couldn't tell, the axe had gone nearly right down the middle and before then the cockpit had clearly compressed, those narrow walls would of slowly crept in on him or her, they would of watched helpless as the monitor glass shattered into their body, cushioning the solid metal walls that would come next, to break every bone they have, before finally they passed away, split in two, crushed in half, alone!
I don't want to go back to that world, is that so wrong? No one asked for this war, I sure didn't, why couldn't I of been born some ace pilot? As a Magi with super-fecking mind powers? Why do I have to be just some nameless cannon-fodder-nobody who dies in a third-rate excuse for a machine? How many times do I have to survive before I can stop going out there?
Th-they can't make me go back can they? Will they?... When will they ask I wonder....
I don't want to die.
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