Of Steel and Strife
Bullets clashed with the mechatank in a shower of sparks, the beautiful melody of steel against steel ringing through the air in a deadly crescendo. Fire and bullets rained from the smog-thick sky, though they harmed the humans far more than they did the mech’s sturdy exoskeleton.
It did not last for long, ending just as it had begun. The steel of the mechatank’s arm flashed down like lightning, pummeling the foul vermin into a grisly red pulp.
It was so simple, the complete extermination of lower beings. Igor did not even have to wipe sweat from his brow. These humans were not built for the crucible that was space, nor the challenges that came with colonizing planets. So unlike him.
His own body was scaled with thick flakes of lead, none of the weak, tearable, skin of humans. He had no need for oxygen either, instead using the pure, unfiltered energy of electromagnetic radiation to power his muscles.
Yes, he was built for the confines of deep space and the ensuing gamma rays, built for colonizing planets and crushing any who stood in his way. A true marvel of science and nature, Igor thought. He was one of seven that was quite so wondrous, rising above the rest of his species, so close to one of a kind.
A message popped up with a ting, and the hologram of the Emperor, silken robes dragging along the floor, a dark hood shadowing his face, appeared on the wall in front of him. “What is your report, IG–05?”
Igor did not like how the Emperor addressed him as IG-05. Yes, it was his name by the loosest standards, but it made him feel… dispensable, just a pawn in a larger game, unworthy of a real name.
“Your Imperial Majesty, I crushed any smidge of rebellion left in the human forces.” He kept his response brief, so that there was little that could anger the Emperor.
“Good. I knew you would..” The hologram shifted, dark eyes staring uncomfortably into his own. “All signals to YRU-1 have not reached him. He is likely dead. If the humans brought him down, they could bring you down as well. Be careful, IG-05.” His words said he cared, but his tone was cold and heartless, as if Yiru and Igor were only pieces to be tossed away once they were not useful.
YRU-1. Yiru. Dead. That could not be true. Igor hoped, with everything in him, that it was not true.
The mechatanks were made for battle, standing a hundred meters tall, a thick exoskeleton protecting from bullets and fire and cannons. They could warp and change shape, adjusting based on the gravitational pull to maximize strength and agility. A table of buttons controlled their every movement, the same table Igor was sitting at now.
A single mechatank could conquer a planet. Seven could conquer a galaxy.
It cost an exorbitant amount to make a single one. That was why there were only seven, given to the top seven commanders, those who rose above the rest of their kind.
Igor and his people, they were the only ones in the galaxy that had the resources and the intelligence to make such a mech. If humans managed to capture one… if they could replicate it… he prayed, to any god that was out there, that such a thing never happened, that the strength of a mechatank was never rivaled.
No, no, he must not think like that. Yiru was dead. Yiru would never have let himself nor his mech be captured. He would rather die, and that must have been what he did.
YRU-1, Yiru. He is dead. There is no question of it.
He thought of all the time they had spent together.
Yiru had been his only friend among the seven. He had defended Igor when the other five wanted to be rid of him, give his mechatank to one that was more worthy of it. He and Igor, they had given each other those names, not wanting to be known by the meaningless combination of letters and numbers that had been assigned to them.
Yiru was the fire that guided Igor through the dark night. He had been loyal by Igor’s side for… how long was it now? Nearly six centuries, more than a third of the average lifespan for his kind.
And now he was gone.
A sharp pain thudded through him every time his heart beat, sending pulses of electromagnetic energy coursing through his body like liquid lightning. He did not feel quite complete now that his comrade was gone. Yiru… I am sorry. I could not protect you. I will see you in the afterlife, my friend.
“Did you hear me, IG-05? Is the signal weak?” The Emperor’s tone said he knew it was not, was simply waiting to see if Igor could fumble for an excuse for his silence.
In a brief moment of carelessness, he said what he thought should be said. “With all due respect, Your Imperial Majesty, humans could not possibly bring down a mechatank with only their bullets. Yiru– YRU-1, I mean he may still live.”
Anger flashed in those eyes, the burning hatred of a thousand suns. “Do you mean to say I am wrong, IG-05?”
Igor understood at that moment how close he stood to death. A horrible fear spread through his veins as he realized he might as well have signed his own death warrant. All the Emperor would have to do is give the order, and the mechatank he was in would self-destruct.
“No, Your Imperial Majesty. I am sorry. I did not mean to…” His words cut themselves off as his throat clenched up, afraid of what he could say.
“Do you need to be taught a lesson?”
He had messed up, spoken against the Emperor. Oh, how he had messed up. This could be seen as high treason, if the Emperor chose not to be merciful. He hoped his high status would save him from capital punishment.
If he kills me, I will see Yiru again in the afterlife.
Igor bowed his head. “I will gladly accept punishment for my grave error, Your Imperial Majesty.”
The only thing he could do now was pray for mercy.
“That is the problem. You accept punishment. You never learn.” The Emperor’s eyes shone with a dangerous hunger, his glittering scales reflecting that expression a hundred times over. “You have one more chance, IG-05. If you fail me, I will simply discard you.”
The message was clear. You are nothing more than a maggot crushed under my heel.
His voice came out shaky and unsure, the pinnacle of cowardice. “Of course, Your Imperial Majesty.”
“Humans have been gathering in Quadrant F-3, inside the crater.” The Emperor waved a hand, waved away Igor. “See to it that they do not live to speak of rebellion.”
“As you order, Your Imperial Majesty.”
The hours passed before him as he made his way south, to follow the Emperor’s orders to the letter.
There were perhaps two thousand of the common humans gathered around the border of the crater, most of them the foolish ones who did not know to bring weapons to a fight. It was not as if the weapons could harm Igor’s mechatank, but it was nearly comical that they did not even attempt it.
The humans crowded together like sheep, yelling of revolution and other such idiotic things. It’s too late for them now. If they had surrendered when we sent the first hologram, been content as slaves, perhaps we would not have to slaughter every last one of them.
The sound shook the world around him, causing a haze of dust to lift from the reddish ground, rising nearly to the knee joint of his mech. The humans were not running. That was strange.
He did not dwell on those things for long, instead working a well-practiced series of buttons and levers that caused the mechatank to move as he wished. The left arm swept across the rim of the crater, knocking at least a hundred into the depths and another hundred quite literally flattened.
They did not run. They stood their ground, ready to be massacred. Quite strange behavior, but he counted it as the will of gods. They had taken Yiru from him, but they would make this task simple.
The arm was dripping red and coated with the jelly of squished flesh when he retracted it. Blood stained the ground crimson, shards of bone dotting the earth. That could not be good for the vegetation. Unable to take the warning, the humans simply stood there, some nervously looking towards the horizon.
Far, far, in the distance, the beginnings of a shape began to emerge from the storm of dust. Igor could not quite make it out.
Another swing of the mech’s arm, another hundred pulverized. Blood had begun to mist the air, hanging thick like a cloud of fog.
He saw it then, walking towards him with thunderous steps that shook the earth and the sky. A mechatank, large and strong enough to rival his own, something a human could never build.
No. This couldn’t be happening. No, no, no…
Yiru’s mechatank stepped towards. It was not Yiru that manned it.
The mech had been the last reminder of Igor’s friend, and now that was stolen by the humans as well.
They had taken everything from him. Those foul creatures, vermin, it was on them he had lost his good standing with the Emperor, had to leave everyone he loved behind to participate in a war he did not want to give his life for, and now they had taken the last piece he had of his friend.
Stabs of pain jolted through his heart, making it difficult to move. His mech was frozen mid-sweep. He could not make himself pull the levers that controlled its joints. He would have to fight the last thing that remained of Yiru if he did so.
Follow your orders to the letter, IG-05. The Emperor’s voice rang through his head.
His mechatank came face to face with the one that was once Yiru’s. Humans scampered around like rats in it, pressing buttons and pulling levers that moved the monstrosity around. Yiru should be the one doing that. Yiru should have been here, at his side, fighting the humans with him.
But he was dead, and Igor could not bring back a dead man.
He knew what he had to do.
Reaching around to the bottom of the chair, he felt the lever. It would take a fierce pull, and then he would never know pain nor misery again.
He would never know misery again.
The self-destruct mechanism locked into place as he jerked on the lever with all of his might, flammable fluid coursing through the insides of his mech, bursting into searing flame in an instant.
If he was going down, he would bring the mechatank the humans had seized with him.
The bones and metal skin of the mech creaked for an instant before exploding outwards in shards of steel and glass. He heard screams for a brief moment, relished them, as well as his own, as he cooked in his own scales.
He knew Yiru would be waiting for him in the afterlife.