Lost Pal Tilaurin is moving and shaking at Dare Games OZ, and they’re putting together Mecha Strike Arena. He’s written six pieces of fiction to introduce you to the major characters of the setting, and we’re sharing them with you, two at a time, for your reading pleasure, over three weeks. This is part two. Please enjoy.
All sounds ceased in the cavern the moment the light went on above the metallic doors, the only inorganic object not covered in lush greenery. The caw of strange birds, chirping of plentiful insects, low grunts and harrumphs of strange beasts, and a sussurating chatter of the caverns only sentient occupants had created a natural symphony, cut off suddenly by an unseen conductor’s baton.
A hiss broke the silence as the doors separated several millimetres, clammy tendrils of fog rushing up the front of the suddenly moist surface that had moments before been protected by an invisible force field. As equilibrium was reached the fog settled back down, doors sliding further to the sides revealing a robed shape within, lit only by a dim red glow.
Spidery metallic legs reached forward into the cavern and to the sides to grip the doors, flowing out from the bottom of the dark black meta-cloth robe. It flowed like a liquid between at least a dozen fine mechanical legs moving back and forth with sharp movements. The body above them seemed to float they carried it so softly, coming several metres forward from the door before stopping. A puff of air underneath sent the fog swirling away as the cowl turned to the nearby undergrowth.
Slowly a hulking reptilian figure stood, it’s camouflaged skin shifting in colour to a neutral, even green bar some red clan markings across his upper half. In response a robed arm rose from the side of the visitor, wisps of webbed tendrils clinging between the separated parts of the meta-cloth. A human hand softly reached out of the end of the arm as the tendrils withdrew, reaching up to the edge of the hooded cowl to throw it back.
“Lurk, a pleasure to see you as always” spoke the bald human, assuming that was what he was. With Earthborn science Lurk knew the man could be hundreds of standard years old, but at a guess from the humans he had met this man had seen at least fifty. The air filled with an acrid smell as Lurk responded with a combination of movement, body language, rapid eye blinks, and tongue flicks he knew the posthuman would understand. Disturbingly the emissary had known their expressive language before their first meeting.
You smell different since last you visited. The spoken language of the Igunosu was far less precise, Lurk appreciated being able to use it.
“Yes, your jest at my spider like machinations tickled my fancy a touch, I had some work done.” The emissary’s spider legs slowly crept out from under its robe, spreading several metres in each direction without changing the perceptible height of the being. “It makes quite the impression, don’t you think?” His voice was deep, but measured.
At Home, there were large beasts similar to your spiders. I caught them and devoured them regularly, it was most enjoyable. Home referred to the planet the Igunosu had been discovered on. Scans had revealed they were not natives, like much of the flora and fauna on the planet, but had been deliberately placed there to evolve on their own some time ago.
It was an immense game preserve for a mysterious race that appeared every few decades via technology beyond any known outside the Machine Intelligences of the core worlds. The beings eschewed their powers and hunted with sharpened sticks, hand crafted bows, and other supplies made from the planet’s natural resources. It was during one of these hunts that it had first been discovered by the Hashimoto Corporation, and named Shuryou no wakusei. Loosely translated, The Hunters Planet.
The emissary smirked. “Yes, I recall them. Ghastly. Interesting bone structure though, their form has had many industrial applications. Do you know, they appear to have evolved into planetary forms from a space based creature many times their current size?”
Lurk puffed air from its nostrils that signalled complete disregard. Lead me to them and I would easily hunt such a creature, and feed it to my brood.
“Perhaps you would” the emissary responded with a smile, “should our probes find them, I will let you know for your convenience. How is the cave coming along? It reminds me of something from a tale of my homes past, a recorded speculative fiction whose era we would have surpassed hundreds of years ago.” The emissary paused momentarily, continuing “If only things had been as simple as our forebears had dreamed.”
This place suffices for now, though I have had your sources order more of some fauna, and we have butchered others out of existence. A matter of ecology.
“Oh? Had we miscalculated your broods hardiness? I hope we have not caused them undue distress”
Yes. And no. You underestimated. It was too comfortable. Fear breeds better hunters.
The emissary smirked. He had known it would be so, but knew too that Lurk would feel more dominant making such changes for the better. It was like feeding a bird from the palm of his hand. “Of course, perhaps I had made it too… human?”
The Igunosu was silent, regarding the being in front of him. He knew far more of this arrangement than his benefactor would expect, written off as if he was merely a savage from a brutal world. He had travelled enough, learnt enough, to know he and his brood were bait of some kind in a political trap. Knew too that sometimes beasts used as bait had a way of coming out best when the fight was over, if they were clever.
“Well, I shall leave it to you then. I was passing through the system, and thought I would visit and give you my regards.” The emissary turned and made its way back to the exit, the doors closing silently behind it.
Several other Igunosu appeared from the trees, all female with markings similar to Lurks own. More than one carried a strange beast, dead or alive, bounded across their back. The screech of animals and birds began to fill the cavern again as the oldest and most adept of the huntresses, Shed, approached from behind him.
“What did the human emissary want?” She used their inexpressive language, simpler by far than the language of smell, posture, and movement that Lurk used to reply.
Atop the metre and a half tall bar sat a row of small, quarter metre high stools at an equally smaller scaled bar for diminutive aliens. A semi motile pile of tentacles nursed a Vega Sunrise, while an uplifted Earthborn crab smoked from a miniature hookah next to an equally small alien with a round body, six legs, two arms, and a head that vaguely resembled an unpeeled potato covered in random tufts of hair. It was the latter that inarguably offered the ugliest face in the filthy rim world tavern.
That in itself had been enough to turn a few heads when the small alien entered the tavern, now drinking hard whiskey from a regular size shot glass held in its tiny hand like a bucket, but it was the quiet bleep and whirr of the Corsair surveillance device floating in the corner that stopped every other sound in the room as the remote broadcasting device focused on the figure that had just stepped through the open arch.
Crimson metallic legs sprouted from a pair of rough, thick brown cloth pants. Over the top of the shorts, held closed with a wide belt until it spread at chest height to show off powerful bio sculpted muscles covered in short, curled black hair, a similarly crimson tunic covered a light white shirt stained with a touch of blood at the collar. All of this was covered by a black knee length coat that the figure swung back casually to reveal the cutlass and machine pistol on either side of its hips. It surveyed the room with one flesh eye and one mechanical prosthesis, one hand rubbing the short goatee at its chin.
Eyes settling on the small figure drinking its whiskey, the only face in the room that hadn’t turned to face the door, the figure sniffed the disgusting air and slowly made it’s way over to the bar. It first passed an insectoid F’enn playing a game of cards with a plant like green mass, each shocking the other every few seconds with small bolts of energy cast from torcs whenever a card tipped the balance of power in their favour. Next was a mechanical contraption surrounding a several metre wide globe of glass that contained some sort of grossly moving sentient ooze, both mechanism and ooze moving backwards away from the figure carefully. Another fellow human, none of its body enhanced with cybernetics, rushed with his hands outstretched proffering circuits and data crystals only to be shoved face first away, crashing through the hologram of an Earthborn dolphin at a table where it chittered away obliviously with several metallic Machine Intelligence proxies.
The figure held up four fingers at the bar server, a repurposed maintenance robot with a dim AI that the Machine Intelligences of the core worlds would be deeply offended to see in use. Here, on a station around a rim world planet known only for its occasional helium 3 deposits, the MI council intentionally had no sway. The figure carefully adjusted its sword, cutlass, and crotch as it mounted a stool not designed for humans, sitting next to the small alien.
“Four what?” queried the server.
“Same as mine” came the gruff reply from the small alien, “and I’ll have a fresh one on their creds.”
The server turned it’s camera first to the alien, then to the human who nodded consent, and moments later five shot glasses of whiskey arose from a small slot in the bar. The human casually drew several small chits from inside its coat, throwing them across the bar to rattle down the servers cash receptor. “Keep the change” said the gruff alien, the human turning to it with a raised eyebrow. “Oh, like you can’t afford it, it’s long been about more than the money for you Litchfield”.
“Thankyou, Blorglin” came a flat reply from the machine.
Litchfield smirked, nodded, and knocked back a shot of the whiskey. They held the shot glass against their face as the liquid burned down their throat, and then placed it carefully top down next to the others.
“I see you’ve been to the bio sculptors again,” Blorglin paused, squinting for a moment, “A bit of a classic look? I think I recognise it from a ways back. I’ll never understand why you switch your appearance up so often, it’s a bit egotistical for someone that comes off the way you do if you ask me”.
Still silent, Litchfield lightly nodded in agreement with the alien. On the screen above the bar a similar alien was shouting over scenes of giant fighting machines. In a voice as gruff yet projected harsher than the bar fly, it was recounting the pre season of something called the Strike Arena, “GLORKLOX SPEAKING! WITH TWO SPONSORSHIPS SECURED THE VZKOR HAVE OFFERED SEVERAL OF THEIR MECHA TO…” The human looked down, paying no more attention to the feed. They knew exactly what the Strike Arena was, and it was key to their plans.
“I can read you too well, Litch’, even in a freshly grown face. Is that where you’re off to then?” This prompted a sidelong glance. “Don’t tell me she’s involved, and you’re off chasing her skirt again?” The humans eyes narrowed in frustration, regretting ever having been as open with Blorglin as they had, and knocked back another shot. The glass slammed back on the bar emphatically.
“Is that the reason for the change then? Yeah I’ve definitely seen this one before, and I recall it being around the time you two first met” the alien stroked its chin in thought, no response from Litchfield. “Tactical advantage? Hoping she’s had enough Blech since then to forget it? Fond memories, perhaps?” The last question prompted a wistful smirk and a slight change around the humans eyes that told Blorglin he’d hit home. “Ahh. Dirt be damned, you’re not just hunting her, you’re still hunting her. This won’t end well for you, friend”
Litchfields dark face frowned again, and they shot the diminutive alien a sharp look as they sharply grabbed the third shot glass and knocked it back hastily.
“Well, it’s your funeral, that’s how you used to put it before you started all this strong and silent business wasn’t it? Not that you were ever particularly talkative, but I do miss the colourful expletives.”
Litchfield smiled, reached for the fourth shot. The small alien hopped off his stool and raised his own glass towards the comparatively enormous human. “Your call. Rimmer freedom and all that. Good hunting.” Litchfield raised their glass in response, and watched Blorglin slowly gulping down the whiskey, its own glass raised luck a bucket in front of its ugly face. They smirked, and knocked back their last shot.
After a few quick stops to gasp for air, a fifth shotglass was turned over by a now particularly drunk Blorglin, swaying back and forth. Litchfield gave a short salute with their forefingers, which the alien returned clumsily before turning back to his seat. By the time he had climbed back up on his stool, the glasses had retracted back into the bar and the human was stepping out the door.
“Goodluck, you love struck fool. Only a human would be stupid enough to fall for a bloody pirate. Robot! More whiskey!”