Weak Link

Each tumble and turn was translated to the altitude indicator in the cockpit of the machine. In turn, this data was sent back to ground control; it had everyone holding their breath as pilot and vehicle plummeted through the sky.

Reboot time was the main problem. At their current design phase, it took seven and a half seconds for the system to begin stabilization. Vital readings from the pilot were still erratic as the servitor spun towards Earth.

Prayers were whispered in an assortment of languages. Fingers were crossed and heads bowed. A collective sigh was released as the onboard computer started to fire thrusters and engines in a set pattern to restore the flight-capable mech to equilibrium. Camera drones captured the moment as its main thrusters roared to life to keep it steady. It took almost half a minute before a groggy voice crept from the speakers.

“How long… how long was I out?”

“Fifty one seconds.”

The pilot’s silence was broken with a sharp breath taken. “Alright. Give me a few and we can test again. Test Unit’s internal fuel level is reading at… sixty two percent. Say if I hold stable until… fifty five, then we’ll go through routine D… Seven, with the flight suit configured to Mode One.”

“External fuel reading is at sixty two as well. We-” The woman at the radio glanced over to the project director at the back of the room. After being given the nod, she continued. “We’re fine for you to wait until fifty five. Stay at your current altitude and enjoy the scenic views.”

“I’ll try my best to. It’s all still spinning a little.” The pilot laughed before going silent.

The project director cleared her throat. “All non-essential staff can take a break. And can someone bring me a coffee?” As some of the team filed out of the control room, she gestured the designer over to her and headed into the small cubicle set aside as her office.

“The test unit isn’t the problem.” The designer sighed, carefully perching himself on a folding chair that looked a little on the cheap side. “We always knew we’d run into this problem eventually. Performance gains are made month after month. Pilot resilience and ability to cope with the forces exerted on them?”

“Much harder to improve.” The director groaned. “Flight suits can only do so much.”

“It’s not like we can modify someone’s physiology to better resist excessive g-force.” He laughed while picking up the model of the latest test unit from her desk. Glancing up from the toy he expected a smile in return, not a serious look of consideration.

“I’ve got a few contacts in the biotech industries. You?” She asked, an eyebrow quirked.

“Some. Colleagues who went to BioGen, a friend or two at Takahashi Medical Technologies. My old lab partner is now working for AltaGene.” He gauged her expression. “You’re not serious, are you?”

The project director waved away the staffer at the door with her coffee. “You said it yourself. We’ll build better and better servitors. The way things are now, no one will be able to make full use of them.” Leaning across her desk, she rapped a finger against the plastic-enshrouded mock-up of an interface port. “We put these in the pilot’s necks so they can control them by thinking. Now everyone needs to have one, just to compete.”

“So… we do what?”

“I’ll talk to our backers. Then we’ll make some calls.”

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Long Lanes

“Why do they have to be so far apart?” Was the predominant thought knocking around his head as he traipsed down the road.

The fact that each farmhouse was surrounded by their lands played into that. Sometimes they would be close to the road winding through the countryside. Other times they would be set far back, accessible only via the long lanes winding past sties and crops until the compound was reached.

Lord Holsberg had given him his orders: to do a survey of the lands in his domain. It was not as official as a census, more of a fact-finding mission. He hadn’t been given a motor vehicle to get around with. There wasn’t even the offer of a horse. Instead his blisters had blisters and he was relying on the kindness of strangers to put him up when the hour got late.

The documents he carried with him in a leather-bound file spoke of mundane life for the farmers in the region. Number of fields, their sizes in hectares, what was growing or if it was fallow. Total animals per farm, staffing numbers, and other activities. No one would come out and say they indulged in some poaching of fish and fowl from the numerous estates.

Everyone knew it went on.

Instead the ‘other activities’ column on his printed sheets were for services offered. Blacksmiths taking external jobs on, spots on wagons being leased out to travelers, clothing repair and more. The further away the farms got from Holsberg, the less likely they were to own their own van or truck. He didn’t know what his Lordship wanted the information for. Part of him was afraid to ask in case it was a portent of war.

Switching which arm was holding the file, he hobbled past steep banks of grass and carefully trimmed hedges separating field and road. The Lange farmstead was three fields away still. With the Sunday off work, he prayed they would extend their hospitality to him. A warm bath, a soft bed, and a good hot meal were just what he needed after a night spent in the woods.

If the run of charity continued, he’d be able to pocket all the money his Lordship had given him for bed and board to set aside for dire times.

Up

Rain always made her happy.

The gentle patter of each drop falling to the ground. The fresh smell that hung in the air in the wake of every tear falling from the clouds. Even the way surfaces glistened in the lights and reflected their surroundings brought her a deep joy.

Other denizens of the city hunched over in the downpour, their hoods pulled up and their expressions dour. On some basic level they knew how beneficial the showers lashing the city were but still begrudged having to go out during it. They might spare a thought for the thirsty crops and the flowing rivers.

Few appreciated it as she did.

Her favourite part of the rain? None of them were looking up. The guards paced the cobbled streets with their spears in hand, saving their stern looks for those scurrying about in the torchlight of early evening. Their serious expressions became grimaces as water trickled down the length of their weapons and up their sleeves. Polished armour gave off the tang of rust eager to form if they did not care for their equipment properly.

Magpie grinned to herself as she crossed the rooftops, always mindful of losing her footing on the slick tiles. All manner of treasures were up for the taking for those brave and skilled enough. Best of all: The rain she loved thinned out the competition. It was just the thief, the cloudburst, the tiles and the trinkets that she’d find a new home.

The trickle of water rolling down her cheek changed course as she smiled gleefully on finding an improperly secured hatch.

The mistakes of others always made her happy as well.

Not a Good Look

Years of studying had all lead to this moment: She was on the train and dressed smartly for her first day as a teacher. Training in schools near her university had been and gone, giving her some experience under her belt. In the run up to graduation she had kept an eye in the TES for jobs, and several interviews later had found one.

It was in the town she had grown up but not at the school she had attended. This was a new academy, part of a MAT of assorted schools for different age ranges dotted across the region. The commute was a bit of a pain but she had her eye on a nice little terrace cottage in town, with just enough garden to manage in between marking and setting lesson plans.

With the summer over, the students would be returning from the long break. Or starting at the high school for the first time! Fresh faces and recharged souls ready to learn.

The first thing that greeted her as she stepped off the train were two students in uniform —improperly worn uniforms at that— smoking while chatting up some of the lads waiting to go off to college. It wasn’t a good look for the pair. She’d have marched right over to them, put the cigarettes out, and shooed them off to school!

Well she would have if she wasn’t nervous enough about her first day, that is. The sight on the benches, or the roughhousing going on between teen boys in their blazers at the bottom of the ramp, did little to calm her.

Young eyes fell on her lanyard as she walked by. It took all she had to keep a steady pace and a professional expression as she walked to work with more looks sent her way. She felt like the chunk of beef thrown to the lions. The mouse lowered into to the snake’s enclosure.

Gripping the strap of her satchel bag tightly, she hurried through the school gates and made her way to reception. The shell of confidence she had built up around her in the run-up to her first day had gained a massive crack.

Letting the students see that was not a good look, either.

Anticipation

The brown paper bag was quickly set on his lap, while the unopened can of drink and pack of ‘posh’ crisps rested besides him on the wall. The town was packed for the Bank Holiday weekend, and the weather was surprisingly good. There were no sheets of thick cloud blocking the sun. Rain didn’t pour over the town and turn the sloping streets into coursing streams.

As far as he was aware, there wasn’t even a James Bond film on TV.

He had braved the backed-up traffic and stood patiently in line to queue up at the best shop in town for his purchase. It had been over a year since he had last treated himself to the local delicacy and in the run up to the three-day weekend it had been dominating his thoughts.

Wholemeal was his loaf of choice. Just a light glaze of butter separating the brown bread from the white meat of the crab, a little garnish and mayonnaise. His tongue flicked against his lips before the first bite right into the middle, fingers holding the rounded crust.

His teeth sunk in. The sandwich filling brushed against his tongue. He chewed carefully and thoroughly and savoured the first bite.

Anticipation tasted better than reality.

 

The Giant on the Distant Hill

At the far edge of town —where the evergreens stood and the spring haze rolled down the hills and into the outskirts— the giant stood. Most days the distant figure of grey looked east. Other days it stared west. Once in a while it peered north. It was always exciting for the children of Holsberg when it glanced south, towards the fishing town.

The sun was shining bright that day for Rina. A fine mist clung to the hills and, after walking into town to take her father the packed lunch he forgot to bring with him in his dash to the docks, the beach as well. Walking up the hill to the little settlement of cottages on the western side of town gave her a chance to stare at it. The trees broke near the Great Hall. The horses belonging to Lord and Lady Holsberg were of little interest to her. The pheasants were brightly colored. They did not capture her imagination.

The giant on the distant hill?

How she dreamed of the giant on the distant hill!

What must it be able to see with its vantage point over the area? If she were allowed to sit on its shoulders, would she find a new place to sit with her friends? A pond surrounded by dragonflies of all colors. A tree just right for climbing, with branches to hang off. Green hills to roll down or gold fields to run through.

The beep of a car horn had her scampering up the verge. The military had most of the vehicles. A few of the larger companies could afford a motorized wagon for delivery. Lord Holsberg owned a beautiful car with a convertible roof, allowing him to wave and be seen by everyone during parades and carnivals through the high street. Lady Holsberg even had her own, a slender racing machine in a dark green.

Rina distinctly remembered seeing it for the first time. Just for a few seconds. Then her grandmother had clamped her hands over her eyes and dragged her inside, muttering about how vulgar it was to see a highborn woman using something powered by tiny explosions.

She had asked her grandmother how she knew how a car worked. Rina received a short, sharp slap across the back of her legs for her curiosity.

When the military drove by, it was customary to salute if you were old enough. Rina stood tall and pressed the edge of her hand to her head. The jeep slowed and one of the soldiers leapt off the edge of the vehicle. A nervous look crossed her face. Had she done it wrong?

He stopped by a small patch of wildflowers, finger and thumb pinching the stem. He offered her the tiny blue flower and a wrapped piece of confectionary. Her glasses were at home, but squinting at the label she could read ‘mint cake’ printed in faint green on crisp white.

“Thank you!” Rina beamed with her best smile, still saluting with one hand while taking the offering with the other. The soldier, and his fellows in the dusty jeep, started to laugh. The good natured chuckling continued into the distance as they departed.

Clambering down from the verge, Rina looked up to see the giant moving. Its legs stayed still while its body rotated at the waist from east to south. With laborious effort it started to shuffle its legs around to match the orientation.

Drawing herself up smartly, Rina saluted to the giant.

To her amazement as soon as it had finished moving its legs, one of its heavy arms began to rise. It could not quite get its hand in position, but it tried its best. The giant held its hand by its head in salute, and she held hers with it. When it started to lower, she broke off her own gesture and waved enthusiastically.

She wanted to run home crowing with joy and excitedly recount the events to her family.

A small part of Rina’s mind knew she’d be in for worse than a slap to the back of her legs if her grandmother heard. Wisdom prevailed. She opted instead to pop the piece of mint cake in her mouth, tuck the flower behind her ear, and pop the wrapper into the nearest bin she could find.

 

“Driver, is everything optimal?” The radio in the cockpit hissed. “You raised your Hermod’s hand. Is there a communications issue?”

Locking the left arm control gauntlet into place of his machine, Driver Colden jabbed his thumb against the talk button. “Everything is optimal, Operator.” He replied quickly, adding some clarification: “Just partook in a little public relations.” The little girl could still be seen in the mid-range viewer of his Hermod, skipping merrily down the road.

“… Received. Do not startle us like that, Driver.” The operator’s grumbling transmitted clearly on the wireless, in spite of the usual crackling and background noise.

“Noted, Operator.” Colden did a better job in keeping his feelings out of his voice. “Commencing long range survey of the area south of Holsberg. Clearing channel now.” With the radio silent, Colden was free to stare out over the roofs of the town to the estates and farms in the south.

The enemy could come at any time from any direction, they were taught. Colden laughed. That must be why a list was pinned to his dashboard requesting information on the movement of certain members of the community. He reached up to adjust the viewer’s lens.

It certainly had nothing to do with the Commander’s daughter stepping out with one of the farmer’s sons.

 

 

Faeries

She glanced out from the pier towards sand

at flocks of faeries swimming in bands.

They danced and glittered across the water,

oh how they shone as they frolicked before her.

Locked in adoration and stood in rapture

if only they’d consort to being captured.

She wished to join them and twirl by the shore

but she could not swim, that was a bore.

The sun-drinking fae passed underneath;

until they returned she’d only know grief.

Just mere reflections upon ocean’s surface,

ephemeral dreams that could not be purchased.