"Jeurridam: Sloan" - Chapter 4

We had a problem. Someone or something was making our sniper turrets go offline. The Outskirts needed this protection because unlike any other region of Jeurridam, we were short on manpower, this wasn’t acceptable in any way. We had to investigate.
Zanir, Swish and I stood on a spire, thousands of feet above the ground where the first turret sat nestled. It was on the border of the Outskirts and in an incredibly hard location to get to. Upon investigation, the site was unsettling.
“Oh my God…” Zanir said, almost drawn to gagging. The turret’s rear panelling was ripped out and it’s silicate tubing was severed. He held his mouth, gasping as he walked around it.
“Something drained it’s circulatory fluid.” He said.
“Circulatory fluid?” I asked.
“Yeah, cytotrolic acid. It’s what makes mechs more than mecks but not quite alive.” He said, still horrified by the sight, “This is gruesome...who’d do this?”
“Gruesome? They’re machines…” I said. He looked at me angrily.
“They can think and function independently. They can feel! This thing was fixed in one spot and probably knew it was in danger well before it actually got attacked. It couldn’t do anything but sit here and… be… drained…” Zanir responded defensively. I had not thought about it in that way before.
“I didn’t think of it like that.” I said.
“How did you?” Zanir began, “Activate these turrets?”
“They were already here, dormant. I setup the wireless network in this region and the turrets became active upon detecting it and followed my every command. They were never encrypted which is why I used them.” I said.
“Ok…” Zanir said, thinking about it, “So...someone climbed all the way up here to take this machine’s circulatory fluid...it overheated and short circuited… I gotta see more.”
“Alright…” I responded.
We spent the rest of the day, climbing to view more and more destroyed turrets. To Zanir, it was hard to view. We sat in the garage, all distraught.
“...And none of your feeds show what could be doing this.” Zanir said, truly stumped.
“Well it needs to end… These turrets have protected us for years!” I said growing frustrated.
“It is a very precious commodity, cytotrolic acid if you can’t synthesize it.” Zanir said, “And I need some for the completion of the cyberlope…”
“Really?” I asked.
“Yeah…” He said, “It was already a chore recycling and cleaning the circulatory fluid for Big Daddy. I’m virtually out of it for the cyberlope and now someone is...stealing it.”
“Maybe,” June said, coming up the ramp, “You stole it for Big Daddy to begin with…” Zanir gave him the most deathly scowl.
“Nope,” Swish said in his defence, “The time lines don’t even add up. Plus I was here when he had to filtrate the circulation fluid.”
“And do you know how fucking hard it’d be to carry several gallons of acid from a thousand foot elevation down to sea level and then some?” Zanir responded, scowling at June. June smiled, walking back down the ramp.
“I’m only fucking with you, Zanir…” He laughed. Zanir was still upset.
“I wanna throw something at him…” Zanir said, boiling within his skin.
“Don’t throw anything at him…” I laughed. Zanir walked over to Big Daddy who’s reconstruction was very close to being completion. It was simply time for manual tuning.
“Sometimes we all want to hit June…” Swish sighed.
“OK,” I began, “So you need cytotrolic acid? Can I start off by asking what exactly cytotrolic acid is?”
“It’s,” Zanir said, tightening the bolts on the chest plate for Big Daddy, “A very caustic acid that oxidizes pretty much anything non-organic or complex in chains.”
“Why would you need something so dangerous sounding?” Swish asked.
“It’s what all mechs need to function, I’m afraid and it’s not all that dangerous.” Zanir responded, steadily tweaking the giant mech.
“Can we just use the acid in the pools around The Outskirts?” I asked, truly clueless.
“No,” Zanir replied, “It doesn’t have the properties of cytotrolic acid. Cytotrolic acid is what I need to make liquid flesh. Plus the acid in those pools can corrode anything. That’s dangerous acid!”
“OK, Zanir, I’m going to need you to explain more clearly.” Swish said. Zanir paused, thinking hard.
“I don’t know what else I can say. I have the silicate made, the exoskeleton made and the majority of the electronics made…. All I need is the acid.” He responded, looking at the far table where the cyberlope lay. It was so gorgeous, an elk sized machine made to look natural in it’s own right. But still, something wasn’t right. I knew Zanir long enough to know when he was hiding something. He never was vague, always going into plenty of detail. Why not this time?
“What are you not telling us?” I asked, growing worried.
“A lot.” He sighed, not bothering to lie. It was kind of cute…  
“Well spill!” Swish responded, growing frustrated.
“It’s not that simple, Swish.” Zanir said, shaking his head, truly not wanting to talk about it, “I need the acid… Can you locate it for me?”
“You built one before. How’d you come across the acid then?” Swish asked.
“I drained a mech after being trapped in a vault for weeks. I had to filter the acid with limited resources which was a ton of work…” Zanir said back.
“Where did you find the mech?” Swish continued. Silence fell upon us all. It was clear that Zanir didn’t want to reveal where.
“...Sloan…” He finally said.
“SLOAN!” I said, shocked.
“I went by myself. I knew it was dangerous but I didn’t care… I needed it. I was a child, tens of twenties of miles away from home digging for decrepit mechs. I knew it was dangerous but I had no choice.” He finally confessed.
“You were in Sloan Canyons… by your self? And you were a kid then?” Swish asked.
“Yeah…” Zanir sighed. He still wasn’t detailing much. Something traumatizing must had happened.
“You’re a little badass…” Swish said shocked.
“So,” I began, “Are we going to have to go to Sloan?” Zanir sighed, closing his eyes.
“I’m afraid so…” He said, full of dread, “I’ll...I’ll go by myself.”
“No, that’s not going to happen!” I said, quickly refuting it.
“What’s not going to happen?” Beth asked, coming up the ramp.
“We may have to head to Sloan.” I said. Her face dropped, dreading the very idea.
“Yeah.” Zanir responded.
“Sloan the town or Sloan Canyon?” She asked.
“Sloan Canyon…” Zanir responded, this sounding worse and worse with every passing moment.
“Well…” Beth responded, trying to find the right words.
“What happened when you went the first time?” Swish asked.
“I got trapped in a vault by a mech and was there for weeks. I got lost in the tunnels and there were mechs down there too. It was just terrifying. I didn’t have any of this shit I had now so I was defenseless against these mechs.” Zanir said, continuing to be more vague than usual.
“How’d you get out?” I asked.
“I came across some machinery while in the vault, a decommissioned Big Daddy in one of the recesses. I started prying it apart, seeing what worked, what I could use. I made a stun staff out of some of the solenoids on the mech and decided to take my chances out in the canyon. I didn’t want to die in the tunnels. I just couldn’t come to leaving though, so I went back to the Big Daddy...just staring at it. I saw this clear fluid dripping out of a broken hydraulic tube. It left corrosive stains on the floor and I realized it was the cytotrolic acid I was looking for. I took the jars out of my pack and drained the acid out of the mech. It was tainted, bad but I had what I came for. As I walked back and forth through the safer areas of the vault, I stumbled across a map I overlooked a few dozen times. It detailed a long, five mile tunnel that led to a vault exit in Henderson. I um… took my chances and went to the northern stretch of the vault where all the live mechs were. The staff I made, had a powerful EMP built into it that would shut down any mech in vicinity. It was a home-free card!” Zanir finally explained fully.
“Wait, that was where you were when you disappeared for three weeks?” Beth asked.
“Yeah.” Zanir chuckled.
“How old were you?” Swish asked.
“Twelve.” Zanir smiled, knowing it would be hard to believe. Swish was further shocked, not believing it at all.
“You can’t be serious.” Swish said, full of skepticism.
“I’m serious…” Zanir said, eyebrows raised.
“He’s telling the truth,” Beth said, “My mom and dad were worried out of there minds the entire time he was messing. We all thought he ran away.”
“You had ambition…” Swish said, truly impressed.
“Well that was really the last day I had true freedom.” Zanir sighed. Beth looked around.
“Where’s Heaven?” She asked.
“I don’t know. He’s probably still at work. You know he loves cooking.” Zanir laughed.
“So are we going to Sloan?” I asked once again, having to be sure.
“I’m afraid so.” I sighed.
“Shit…” Beth said, this being truly daunting news.
Sloan was a quarantine zone. The entire canyon was fenced for hundreds of miles just to keep the people out and the inhabitants in. It was well known that the canyons had old war mechs but it is believed that an alien race inhabits the many vaults of the canyon. It could be local folklore but considering strange life forms unlike anything we’ve seen have been dredged up from the Bay of Vegas, it did not warrant a dismissal. It’d be a major concern.
“Zanir,” I began, causing the boy to look at me, “It’s just mechs there right? No creatures? I mean an EMP works great on machines but not creatures.”
“It’s why I don’t want anyone else to go. There’s something there… for sure.” Zanir said, still holding onto something he didn’t want to say.
“Forget it! I’m going!” I said, defiantly. Zanir looked at me for a long time, those big honey eyes deep in thought.
“Going where?” Someone said from down the ramp. It was June, dark and twisted June. I could see Zanir’s face wad up at the mere idea of him. He came back up the ram, curious.
“Don’t worry about it, June.” I dismissed before returning back to Zanir, “What all will we need?”
“I’ll need a shit ton of acid so the most important thing is two large thirty-fifty gallon containers. These containers need to be made out of a strong ceramic because it is impervious to the acid. We’ll need supplies, radiation protection, food, water, weapons! The more people we have tagging along the more stuff we’ll need to carry. It’s why I need to do it alone.” Zanir insisted.
“Look,” I said grabbing him firmly by his shoulders, locking eyes with him, “You’re not going to Sloan by yourself! It’s the most dangerous place in the entire Mojave!”
“Sloan?” June asked, shocked, “I’m coming…”
“NO!!!!!!” Zanir shouted, very upset. Everyone in the garage looked at us.
“Zanir, I know you don’t want all these extra lives on your hands but the more people you have the better the odds!” I said, hoping to talk some sense into him.
“None of you know what it’s like! That place is terrible!” He said back, the horror written in his eyes.
“What place?” Someone said, walking up the ramp. It was Heaven, finally arriving from his kitchen job. Zanir shrieked out in frustration.
“We got a big mission, Heaven.” Beth said.
“Oooou where?” Heaven asked, truly excited. Zanir leaned across the table, those warm eyes turning into piercing rays.
“You’re not going!” He snarled. Heaven was unsure where this hostility was coming from but didn’t bother to question it.
“OK….?” He said backing away.  
“Yeah, I wouldn’t recommend him coming either.” Swish said, looking at the boy from head to toe.
“But where though?” Heaven asked, concerned.
“We gotta go to Sloan.” I sighed. Heaven fell silent, the very idea robbing his tongue of words. He leaned on the table, uneased just by the thought. His head shook in disapproval.
“Well,” Beth began, “Let’s get this plan in action…”
“I like your spirit…” June teased, warranting an eyeroll from Beth.
“You can’t seriously be considering going, Beth?” Heaven asked.
“We need the manpower.” She said, knowing they had no other choice.
“Well if you’re going, I’m going!” Heaven said sternly, protective over his older sister.
“NO!” She said back.
“Look,” Zanir began, truly frustrated at this point, “You all are making this more damn complicated than it has to be! I’ll go at it by myself…” He got up, walking over to his laptop. Everyone looked at him, stupefied.
“And how are you supposed to carry two fifty gallon porcelain drums by yourself? How are you going to scour the entire canyon for traces of the acid in a timely manner? How are you gonna…?”
“I figured it out before! I’ll figure it out now,” Zanir said, quick to interrupt me.
“Zanir… This time, it’s a huge undertaking!  You can’t deny that we’ve been a great help to you over the past two weeks so why stop now?” Beth said trying to reason with him. Zanir slowly closed his laptop, glaring at us all.
“None of you get it do you? Sloan will kill us all! It is not like the rest of Vegas where the only thing we have to worry about are banditos and rabid coyotes! There are giant territorial mechs that are nearly invincible behind those walls! Inside the vaults are countless smaller mechs that are just as dangerous. Not to mention, there’s something else! Something I’ve yet to experience but I can assure you that I know it’s there and it’s more dangerous than the vault mechs and the valley mechs combined…” He said.
“That’s all the more reason for us to come…” Beth said challengingly, standing with her arms folded. Zanir rolled his eyes.
“Look,” I said, walking over to him, “We’re coming… Whether you like it or not, we’re coming! We’ve been scouring this entire valley for bits and pieces to complete YOUR mechs! This is just another hazard that comes with the job…”   
“OK,” Zanir said truly mortified, “But you all will have to listen to me! Sloan won’t be like anything you ever experienced before.”
“Don’t worry!” I said back, trying to reassure him. It was clear the poor boy was stressed. He just stood there shaking his head.
We spent the next few days organizing the mission down to the smallest details. We picked the most terrain proof buggies for transport, making sure they were analog. Zanir was clear that he didn’t want much digital equipment on this mission. He was particularly worried about the giant mech that ran him into the vault in the first place. He was just very stressed. Comforting him didn’t work either. He’d retaliate in a volatile way, and I just didn’t want to see him upset.
“Ok…” He said, standing on the ramp, “We’re definitely gonna need ya’ll.” He looked at Big Daddy and Orb resting on their tables.
“You serious?” I asked. He looked at me as though I had some gall.
“Of course…” He responded with an unnecessary feel for justification. He sighed, beginning the boot process for both mechs.
Orb was still virtually the same, it’s damaged mantle being replaced as well as a few broken chipsets. Big Daddy, on the other hand had a big weight shave. He was no long incredibly bulky, covered in layers of armor. He was now lean, mean and built for speed. On top of that, the flight cog and parts from the destroyed Orb, were outfitted on Big Daddy. He was now capable of flight.
He still had his cannons, rocket array and that gorgeous candy apple red paint scheme. But the leaner look made him look more… lethal. We did a hell of a job with that reconstruction! Still though, it was nerve racking. He looked at his hands, surprised by the redesign as well. He stood up, feeling the four wings hanging on his back. He twisted around trying to look at them, flexing them. He looked at Zanir, hopping in place. A smile came across Zanir’s face, the first time in a while.
“So we’re gonna need him?” I asked.
“I’m afraid so…” He sighed. Big Daddy stood there shrugging. Zanir was confused, sighing, “I still gotta replace your speech cog…”
Big Daddy pointed to Zanir’s laptop. Cables ran from the laptop to Big Daddy’s spine. Zanir walked over, seeing text on the screen. He hit the spacebar.
“Thank you for the redesign but why such an early boot?” The computer read out.
“Um…” Zanir began, “Dad, we have to go to Sloan…”
“Well, that’s fine.” The computer said.
“Zanir.” I said.
“What?” He responded, not too kindly.
“Like...do I need my gun?” I asked. He began to laugh.
“Probably…” He said with an advisory tone. I wasted no time in unmounting the One-Shot-Drop and attaching it to one of the analog buggies’ turrets. Analog buggies were the toughest most durable of all buggies. No other buggy could claw it’s way up a vertical face and maneuver the way an analog buggy could. They had a very low center of gravity so they were stable at high speeds and could turn well. They weren’t very pretty though. They had ugly independent wheel mounts, a very hard to get to under-mounted engine and a wide wheel base that seemed cartoony. They simply looked like very disproportionate sand buggies. What made them look just plain hideous though was the monster turret on the hood. The hood was long and stretched out, reinforced to support the turret. This shit was made to do damage!!!
“So…” I began, “What will I be shooting at?” Zanir paused for a while, scowling. I began to expect the worst, possibly another tongue lashing.
“I um…” He began, turning to me, “I have an idea…” Relief came like a cool breeze.
With the one-shot-drop, the plan was to dispatch one of the giant mechs from a far, drain it and get the hell out of dodge. However, we knew shit seldom went to plan. We knew there was a chance we’d be scouring the maze of canyons, running up against ferocious mechs. We knew we could end up down in the vaults, fleeing from the onslaught of mechs above us. We knew that there could be a never before faced threat in this canyon. Still though, we had to do what we had to do.
Probably the hardest and longest task was to find a material capable of holding the acid without corrosion. Swish had that job. He brought in two ceramic coated tin barrels. Zanir wasn’t pleased.
“NO!!!!!!!” Zanir said frustrated, “The acid will eat right through the barrels…”
“Well what can I use?” Swish said, at his wits end. Zanir was proving to be very challenging to work with these days.
“Glass, dense glass.” Zanir responded. Swish sighed, going back on the hunt again. He found two giant urns, pH tested to withstand the strong acidity of even the pools acid from around The Outskirts. Zanir was very content with these kettle vases. We were relieved when Swish found it. Zanir was becoming increasingly difficult to work by the moment, probably due to a combination of stress over the success of the mission and worry over our safety during the mission. Overall, he was a joy to be around but under these conditions, I could care less for him. I understood though, there was a lot at stake and he had a lot to carry.
“You ready?” I asked him, simply to break the long silence.
“Are you?” He asked. It had a certain potency that caught me by surprise. I nodded as we stood, still daunted by the seventy five foot wall surrounding Sloan.
The Big Daddy and Orb lowered two hooks that connected to the first analog buggy. We were hoisted off the ground by the two powerful mechs, transported over the Sloan perimeter. It was very neveracking. It felt like we were touching down in an alien world. The second analog buggy dropped and it was now time to ride off into the canyon.
Zanir was glued to his laptop screen as I drove us deeper into the valley. He was scanning the ground with Orb and Big Daddy, building a detailed map of the terrain as well as anything in it. Beth and Heaven sat in the back seat, silently taking in the white walls of the cliffs around us. It was ghastly, having a remote ambiance about it...but beautiful.
“Stop…” Zanir said. I gently pressed the brakes coming to a halt.
“Why are we stopping?” June radioed in. I looked at Zanir, perplexed.
“Why are we stopping?” I asked him. He gave no response, getting out of the buggy. He stood atop the buggy, looking at his laptop screen, “Hello?”
“Sorry,” He said realizing he blacked out, “But there’s a valley mech about a quarter mile southeast that has been completely destroyed.”
“Good, that means we can see if it has the acid.” I said back.
“Yeah.” Beth agreed.
“Not quite,” He said, thinking about it. He turned to us as we stuck our heads out the window to look at him, “Something had to take that mech down…” It gave us all something to think about.
“I still think it’s worth checking out.” I responded.
“Yeah.” He said, climbing back in the car.
We did what these buggies were best at, driving up near vertical rock faces. We reached the top of a mesa where the mech lay. Zanir was the first to get out the car, everyone else looked on in horror, this being the first time we’ve seen a mech of this magnitude.
It was huge, like a giant armored crab with a scorpion tail. It showed no signs of struggling for it’s life before it fell. The mech was heavily armored, with over five feet of dense metal plating in the denser areas. That made it impervious to EMPS. It didn’t make sense… How did this mech get taken out?
Zanir turned to face me.
“Stand mount!” He said. I climbed to the rooftop, sitting in the turret. He then began navigating the interface of his watch.
“So what now?” June said getting out of the buggy. Zanir looked up at the sky as Big Daddy and Orb patrolled. He then walked over to the valley mech, crawling in and under it. Everyone looked on, unsettled by how fearless Zanir was. I turned my sights onto the mech, not trusting it. Something this size just didn’t fall over and die with this little extent of damage.
Suddenly the giant mech rose off the ground, it’s mechanics whirring.
“Ooooh SHIT!” I said, getting ready to take a shot.
“Don’t shoot!” Zanir said, hanging upside down from a plate of armor within the mech. He climbed back in, making a hell of a lot of noise as he did.
“What the fuck?” Heaven asked, deeply unnerved.
“He can’t be fucking serious…” Beth laughed, holding Zanir’s laptop.
“What’s he doing?” I asked.
“He’s syncing the valley mech with his firmware...but this thing is damaged bad.” Beth said. I climbed off the turret, looking at the laptop screen. Indeed he was syncing the massive mech to his firmware. But most of the mech’s core functions reported severe radiation damage.
“The mech has been fried with a microwave blast. Fortunately, the mech is so big, not all the wiring and computers were damaged. The memory files are also not damaged. Beth, I’m downloading them now. I wanna find out what happened to this mech.” Zanir said.
“Zanir,” Beth said full of worry, “Get out of there…”  
“What?” I asked.
“It’s overheating!” She said. Zanir dropped out of the chink in the mech’s armor, quick to give it space.
“Shut it down!” He demanded. Beth did so, tapping the keyboard repeatedly. The mech collapsed on the ground again, producing a quaking thud. Everyone looked at the giant seventy foot long, thirty foot tall arachnid-like mech as though it was some long lost relic. In a way, it was.
“Sorry Zanir,” Beth said, “The recovered files were aborted.”
“Shit…” Zanir said, sounding very disappointed, “You know what’s funny. There was no cytotrolic acid in the entirety of that mech. That was why it overheated. Something drained it… That’s why it’s armor is pried apart on it’s underbelly.”
“Really…” Beth said, looking at what was recovered, “Because the last system boot before this day was six months ago.”
“So this was distantly recent…?” Zanir realized, growing more intrigued, “Let’s keep heading southeast.”
We did so, ascending up and down the valley, yet again stumbling across another fried valley mech. This time, more unsettling evidence popped up. The mech was dragged south for a quarter mile. Upon investigation, it too was drained of it’s circulatory fluid. I was expecting Zanir to be frustrated with these mishaps but no...the boy threw a curveball at me and concerned and sympathetic for the machines!!!! Considering the way the mech was dragged and ripped apart, I didn’t blame him. It was mangled so badly, as though a massive predator of mechs crushed it then drained it’s life force from it’s circulatory system. Zanir plundered the mech, checking on it’s insides. Most of the delicate chips and machinery on the inside were smashed or burned. It was a grim sight.
“I can boot this one. What the fuck keeps draining these mechs?” He asked, looking at the machine. It made us all wonder. He looked up at the sky, “Big Daddy, Orb, scan the entire network of canyons for any more mechs, active or not. This is getting...disconcerting.”
“What do you think is happening to them?” Beth asked, looking at the massive mech, cold, lifeless on the sandy mesa top.
“I have no earthly idea…” Zanir responded, truly perplexed, “There’s still some acid left in this one, about sixteen gallons or so. I’m gonna drain it.”
“OK.” Swish said, running back to the truck. He grabbed an urn, followed by June. Tiny little Zanir moved the vases in the right position, waddling as he held the heavy ceramic storage containers. It was oddly adorable. He crawled under the mech, pulling a long silicate tube. He stared at it for a long while, contemplating what he had to do. He put his mouth on the tube and began sucking.
“Zanir!” I yelled, worried. He held up his hand, keeping me at bay. This boy was just crazy! He literally put his mouth on a tube that contained some of the most corrosive and oxidizing acid in the world. I watched nervously, this being one of the most tedious moments of my life. God, I didn’t want him to get burned. He pulled the tube from his lips, quickly putting putting in the neck of one of the urns. He looked at the four foot tall vases.
“Where did you get these?” He asked.
“I stole them out of the hotel in Fool’s Paradise…” Swish sighed. Zanir laughed, nodding in approval.
“It’s,” Zanir began, “Surreal you know…”
“What?” I asked, curious.
“Dealing with mechs. I think it’s a side effect of being cybernetic, ya know, half-mech. Cytotrolic acid runs through their tubing, providing the oxygen needed to fuel their liquid flesh. Not to mention, they have raw wiring, treated with a silicate that keeps them from corroding away in the acid. This acts as a nervous system. Running through this tubing are cytocites...the tiny machines that run through my blood. In some mechs, the cytocites link together...forming mechanical organs, all by themselves. Not to mention, these mechs are smart, can feel, respond to their environment, can fear their destruction and know pain. You all don’t know how devastating it is to see them fall like this...like something is killing them!” He said.
“You speak about them like their living beings! These things were made to kill us and will not hesitate to do so!” June responded.
“That’s beside my point. My point is that how the hell are we supposed to deal with a machine, a machine that is truly convinced that it is alive and is fighting for its own survival! This decommissioned mech alone is evidence, here!” He said looking at the mech not quite sure, “Well partial evidence… I don’t know.”
“Wait,” I said, starting to see where he was coming from, “You don’t think these mechs are behaving predatorily towards each other?”
“It’s hard to say. We’d need to find more clues. The first mech we found was fried by a very powerful EMP which is damn near impossible to do with such thick armor. This mech here was simply attacked, ripped open and drained, like a massive creature or in this case...mech did it. Maybe even multiple mechs.” I said.
“Are you saying we’re dealing with a vampiristic mech?” Beth asked.
“Possibly. The other possibility is that someone is going after mechs for the same reason we are, their circulatory fluid. I mean, mechs can adapt. That’s common knowledge but I doubt one can produce an EMP. It would fry itself in the process!” Zanir said.
“I don’t know, man. I found some giant ass tracks over here.” Heaven said, consumed with fear. We all hurried over seeing a massive foot print in the sand.  It had three toes and segments, suggesting a machine.
“Vampire mech?” Beth asked, really wanting it to be something real.
“Vampire mech…” Zanir confirmed, with a laugh. It was clear he wasn’t too sure.
“More tracks further south.” Heaven said, pointing to the cliff.
“It still doesn’t explain what fried the first valley mech…” Zanir said, completely stumped.
“Worst case scenario...what if aliens fried it and there also is a giant vampire mech and both are after cytotrolic acid?” Swish asked teasingly.
“Then we’re eternally fucked…” June responded.
“Whoa….” Beth said, looking down at the laptop screen. Zanir turned to her, concerned, “There are a lot of dead mechs here.”
“Really?” Zanir asked heading over to her, “How many?”
“I don’t know, but look at the map. So many blips.” She said, turning the laptop to face him.
“DAMN!!!!” He said shocked, “Something has been taking them out left and right!”
“This valley is relatively empty now. I don’t think there are any valley mechs around anymore. They’re kind of extinct.” Beth said.
“No, there’s gotta be some around…” Zanir said, looking at the wrecked one before us all, “I really don’t wanna go down in the vaults. We’ll have to fight close quarters then and we stand a much better chance facing off with the larger mechs since we have heavy fire power! The vault mechs are no joke…”
“What do they look like?” Heaven asked.
“Like, I don’t know it’s hard to explain, like…. dinosaurs but more metallic.” Zanir said, trying to find the right words.
“Way to keep it vague…” Beth laughed.
“Just pray that you won’t have to see them.” Zanir sighed, walking back over th the buggy. We all climbed in.
We scoured the canyonside, looking for any active valley mechs. The search lasted until sunset. It was clear Zanir was growing frustrated.
“Maybe we should set up camp.” I suggested. He seized before sighing.
“OK.” He responded, realizing it was the best idea.  He went to the back of the buggy to grab bedding supplies.
“I got it.” I said, not wanting him to lift a finger, “You worked hard today.” A barely visible smile came across his face as he went to the hood of the car to sit. Heaven sat beside him.
“So,” Heaven began, “When all of this is over with… You’re gonna leave?”
“I’m afraid so. I got a long trek ahead of me. I have to get all the way to Labrador.” He smiled.
“We!” I said from the back of the buggy. Zanir looked back at me, smiling.
“I mean,” Heaven said, trying to find the right way to word it, “After doing all of this stuff with you for the past few weeks, I kind of don’t want to go back home. I felt trapped.”
“Well,” Beth chimed in, “We can’t go with him, Heaven. Travelling from here all the way to the northern edge of this continent is a huge undertaking.”
“Well what will we do because I’m NOT going back home!” Heaven responded.
“Jeurridam is a big place. I’m sure we can find something.” Beth said, truly understanding her brother’s frustrations.
“What if mom doesn’t come back? What if things never go back to normal?” Heaven asked, deeply worried.
“Look, your mom is a hero to the UCNC! She saves lives every day and fights for a cause she believes in. It’s not for her sake but for the sake of the world, the people she cares for. Just know that every sacrifice your mom has made is for a greater good.” Zanir smiled.
“UCNC?” Swish asked, never hearing the term before.
“United Cybernetic Naval Core.” Zanir said.
“Whaaaaa?” The boy said back.
“It’s a giant oceanic voyager group that helps out coastal civilizations around the world, fight crime and stops tyranny. It’s a world balancing order, one of three. Two are off the ground one...is not. My whole purpose is to get that third one off the ground.” Zanir said, continuing to be vague. This time, no one bothered to even try and ponder deeper. They just went about their evening duties and set up the camp.
The whole time, June eyed Beth. It was clear he wanted her but Beth was a loose cannon. It was no telling what she was interested in and June would have to really, really approach that one carefully. I didn’t want to see the boy end up heartbroken. He was a very good friend of mine. However, there was little I could do.
With the tents pitched, the food brewing and the fire started, Zanir shut down the mechs, bringing them in for the night. He clearly had a lot on his mind. Seeing him stressed like this was no fun. I wanted free his minds of his worries for this night. However, he seemed so distant, so far gone. It was rather intimidating to say the least because I had some serious feelings for him. But he showed nothing…
We sat silently, no one uttering a word. I didn’t like this one bit. Even extremely talkative Swish found himself being quiet which was rare. Everyone just had a lot on their minds. I felt particularly bad for Heaven. He just had the loneliest lack of expression on his face. It was clear something was missing from his life and I’m betting it was understanding. It was how I felt before Zanir came in my life and now, the feelings were starting to return with Zanir being so dedicated to his work.
“I remember the last story,” Zanir said, looking up to the skies, “My father told me before I never saw him again. It was about a senator’s daughter and a lieutenant of the Interstellar Campaign. The two began to fall madly in love but couldn’t be together for respect of duties. However they made it work somehow but they knew the risk of their relationship. This war that ravaged the planet, a war over precious space minerals, ripped everything a part. The senator and his family were now political targets for a faction and the only one who knew was the lieutenant. Disobeying orders, he and a team of space soldiers went to their rescue. It was a grim battle, many people being killed in the process. In the struggle, the lieutenant's face got ripped off revealing he was not as human as he seemed. He was an android one with a synthos chip that allowed him to feel sympathy for others, inevitably making him fall in love with a human believing he was a human for so long. The senator’s daughter was so shocked to know she had been sleeping with a machine, but wanted to stay. However she was forced onto an evacuation fleet without seeing the lieutenant ever again… The lieutenant felt betrayed, risking all he had for this woman and she just left him. He began to see himself as nothing but a machine and hated they programmed him to feel. Feeling purposeless, he found an underground bunker where a machine called Decimation was. This machine was dark and twisted and got inside the lieutenants mind. It made him hate humans, believing all humans were selfish creatures that only bring suffering upon themselves. It was then he vowed to never risk his life for another human. He ripped out his synthos cog and from that point on rallied other abused and hurt androids to form a third faction in this war. They ended this war, only to start a new one. It was now machines against humans and the leader of the human faction inevitably becoming the senator’s daughter. Truthfully, she had never moved on from the lieutenant but she was now a world away, safely on Mars. Upon seeing evidence of the new war and the cause of it, she flew back, rallying all of her own. Deep down, she felt that she could talk sense into the lieutenant who was now fully android with no regrets. The fake human skin he used to sport proudly, had been mostly burned off, revealing the hard, cold mechanical frame underneath. All the androids did it to themselves to show that they were no longer human. The war lasted a long time, the whole time the senator’s daughter trying to get close to the lieutenant. When she finally did, it was like dealing with another entity. She tried reasoning with him as he furiously attacked her but it was fruitless. The android had memories with her, sweet memories but these memories only served as archival data to only justify his disdain for humanity without his synthos cog. It was futile. The senator’s daughter realized she got in over her head, thinking mere words could rekindle feelings from years ago… especially with robot. It was heartbreaking to her. Then and there she fell to her knees, not wanting to fight anymore. The android stopped, shocked as he watched a human he cared for, give up before him. Despite not having a synthos cog, his computational systems prohibited him from killing her. If he could feel hate for humans, he surely could feel love. However, the android’s second in command did the job, killing the senator’s daughter before his very optics. The tides of the war had changed now… It was now mech against mech which, supposedly is how we ended up in this predicament.”
“Wow…” Heaven said, mesmerized by the story, “So a woman fell in love with a machine?”
“Yeah. I always loved that story as a kid...despite it being quite dark.” Zanir laughed.
“I wonder what it’s like to fall in love with a machine?” Heaven pondered.
“Why would you want that?” June asked, disgusted by the very idea.
“No! I mean, I want to know the thoughts that’d run through your mind, the way it’d make you feel, like… I don’t know.” Heaven said in his defense.
“That story can’t be true…” June said, looking at me.
“It is. I found the original archival data from it. It happened five hundred years ago.” Zanir said.
“So that dumb bitch fell in love with a machine and died for it?” June asked, truly upset to know this was real. Zanir looked at him blankly.
“You know sometimes you can’t help who or what you fall for. I completely sympathize with this woman!” Beth chimed in, “I’d much rather be in love with a robot that would guaranteed treat me right, versus a man who’d put his agenda before mine and treat me like less than what I’d deserve. Her plight is something real and believable and if I was in her shoes, I’d be torn the same way!” It made June go silent, staring at her intently. He simply didn’t understand the way girls thought. It was hard period to make June feel outgunned but Beth completely disarmed him. It made June think hard on how to get closer to her. If a girl could managed to do that to him, she was definitely a prize. However, they were two vastly different types of people. His eyes eventually slumped to the ground, feeling as though he didn’t know what to do about her.
“I mean, I only told the story because of how I feel about these mechs. I think it is so wrong to build them the way they were built, with so much intelligence and feeling but having ultimate control over them. We fucking made them breath but would not treat them like they did.” Zanir said, shaking his head.
“You’d say those machines were alive?” June asked.
“I don’t know but very close. They could feel pain… You shoot them, they knew they were hurt. You chase them, they knew they were in danger. You catch them, watch them plead. And we built that…” Zanir said, this being mind boggling even for him.
“I see your point now. But, don’t you think it’d be best if these things were destroyed?” June asked. Zanir looked at him, very upset. His look eventually waned down as he thought about it.
“I don’t know…” Zanir responded, perplexed, “I just don’t see the point in not treating them like they don’t deserve respect. For one, someone broke their back designing, planning and building one. Secondly, they are built to feel and understand and to learn from what’s around them. That is a very… life-like thing to do. I mean I wouldn’t say they are alive in the same way that we are. You’d have to be a mech to see how to be alive from their point of view. They did, after all fight for their own survival… and almost won.”
“That’s crazy… I don’t think we should be mad when a mech tries to kill us anymore. I mean… all things considered. We just gotta put’er down gently.” I teased. It warranted a warm smile from Zanir. It was all I wanted. That little show of kindness made my entire night.
“This food smells good.” Swish said, looking at the massive pot, boiling stew.
“It’s almost finished.” Beth smiled.
“I should be cooking!” Heaven laughed.
“Yeah, you should, mister!” Beth responded.
“Wait… You said that the Big Daddy you found in the vault had cytotrolic acid. Does that mean yours does?” I asked.
“Yeah, but he has a hydrogen synthesizer so he can make his own from the having the tiniest sample. Other Big Daddy’s don’t and have to have about one hundred gallons pumping through them.” Zanir said.
“Hydrogen synthesizer?” I asked.
“It is single handedly the most complicated machine on him. Basically he has a nuclear power core that diffuses water. Oxygen is a waste gas and hydrogen is his fuel source. However oxygen is only a waste gas for the reactor. The acid pumping through his system uses oxygen as an electron receptor for controlling the liquid flesh. The thing is though, most of the oxygen comes from an auxiliary water tank that connects to the hydrogen synthesizer. This is the machine that either separates the hydrogen from the oxygen and feeds hydrogen to the reactor or uses the hydrogen in making cytotrolic acid. A special cog decides which is the greater priority for the time being. I went through a lot of prototypes building such a system and I hope I never have to do it again.” Zanir sighed.
“Hell, I don’t blame you!” I laughed.
Zanir got up, looking around.
“Where’s my laptop?” He asked.
“...Buggy.” Beth said back, stirring the stew.
“OK,” Zanir said, waving me over, “Come on.”  I eagerly followed, hoping it’d turn into something more. He reached into the buggy, grabbing his laptop. He popped it open, pulling up schematics of the Big Daddy, “You see this?” He highlighted the big circular piece on Big Daddy’s chest, “This is the reactor,” He moved the cursor down to a strange curved ventilation and bladder system, “This is the hydrogen synthesizer. This is what you shot last time…”
“Sorry!” I said, looking up at the sky, “Zanir…” I reached for my pistol.
“What?” He asked, concerned.
A white flashing bola was being flung over to us from an incredible distance. I wasted no time shooting it. The thing burst, a powerful white light washing out everything around us. Zanir clenched his head, shouted. His laptop flickered before rebooting. It was an EMP.
“THE FUCK!!!” He screamed. Suddenly two more were being hurled at us. I aimed again. Zanir slapped the gun out of my hand, “DON’T SHOO!!”
The EMP bolas landed on the ground, next to Orb and Big Daddy. Zanir staggered over to the flashing bolas, grabbing them in his hands. He rushed over to the campsite! As he did the EMP bolas pulsed faster and faster. They were about to blow up! Zanir opened the lid of the stew dropping the EMPs in the boiling hot water. He collapsed to the ground, panting heavily.
“What the hell?” Beth asked. I rushed over to Zanir.
“Shit, you okay?” I asked, very concerned. It looked like he was in serious pain.
“That was a powerful ass EMP!” Zanir said. His head was spinning and his senses were fuzzy. He tapped on his watch, “Big Daddy, Orb...boot now! Air Support!”
“What was that flash?” Beth asked. June got to his feet, looking in the direction of the buggies and the mechs. Dust was rising!
“Guys something is coming!” He said.
“Get to the truck now!” I demanded. Both of us ran, hopping on the back of the turrets. I looked down the scope, seeing one of the gnarliest mechs I ever laid eyes on. It was coming fast, faster than I could aim. This thing was right on top of us within a matter of seconds.
It was coming for Big Daddy. Big Daddy took flight just in time. The killer mech leapt after him, missing by inches. It landed with a quacking thud, finally coming into view. The only way I could describe was a giant mechanized monkey. It stood about fifteen feet at the shoulder, had a long tail with a strange launching weapon on it. It launched another bola at Big Daddy, nimble Big Daddy dodging it with ease.
It was a diversion though. The giant mech leapt onto the back of a buggy, using it as a platform to get extra vertical distance. It reached for Big Daddy, met by a cannon blast to the face. The giant mech fell to the ground skidding to a halt. It retaliated quickly, roaring out in...anguish? It then began sniffing around. It’s optics locked right on to me. I feared for my life.
I had no time to react before this mech leapt. However it leapt past me, going for the back of the buggy. It grabbed an urn filled with acid with its tail. It disappeared down into the valley side. Every single one of us were too shocked for words. We just looked back and forth between each other wondering what the hell happened. Was this an attack?
“So that’s our… vampire mech?” Zanir finally said.
“I’m guessing so.” June said, getting out of the turret, running behind my buggy, “It stole the few gallons of acid we managed to get.” He shook his head, before returning to his buggy, “I need a drink after that one…”
“Shit…” Zanir said frustrated.
“And the food is ruined…” Beth said, holding the lid of the pot over her hip.
“I wasn’t even hit by the full brunt of that EMP and it nearly knocked the shit out of me! In fact, I’ve been impervious to EMPs for the longest… What the hell was that?” I asked.
“You should send your mechs after it.” June suggested, “Don’t let it get too far away.”
“No. Sixteen gallons of acid can’t sustain that machine. It’ll be back, thirsty for more… and We’re gonna kill that son of a bitch… Coming after Big Daddy? Hell nah!!!” Zanir said.
“So,” I began, climbing out of the buggy, “There’s a mech that can launch long range EMPs and it has been preying on other mech’s circulatory fluid? Why?”
“The circulatory fluid has cybercytes in it. If the circulatory fluid isn’t filtered on a regular basis, it becomes tainted. This mech has obviously learned that if it constantly changes it’s circulatory fluid by consuming other mechs it can live a bit longer.” Zanir noted.
“That thing was so damn fast…” Swish said, I didn’t even get a good look at it.
“Shit…” Zanir said, rushing over to his laptop. After tapping a few keys, he slammed it shut… “Well… It’s fried.”
“Really?” Beth asked, shocked.
“Yeah, I’ll have to replace the entire motherboard. That fucking EMP wiped everything.” Zanir said, frustrated.
“I’m confused,” I began, “The outer perimeter wall is like seventy five feet tall. That mech just leapt probably the same height, maybe even more. Why is it still in this canyon, then?”
“Yeah, that’s strange…” Zanir said, wondering the same.
“You don’t think that mech is reporting back to someone or something do you?” Beth asked.
“I really don’t wanna find out. I just wanna drain that thing and leave.” Zanir chuckled, placing his laptop in his bag, “Now I have to program everything on this watch and that’ll get aggravating...fast.”
“Oooou,” I said growing excited, “Sounds like someone has a plan!”
“Hell yeah I have a plan!” Zanir smiled.
“And what would that be?” I asked.
“You seem pretty good with that rifle.” Zanir said.
“Man, I’d have to be like a mile back to hit something that fast.” I said.
“That’s fine.” Zanir said, still maintaining the smile, “You’re gonna drop it as soon as it appears.”
“Ok...you’ve got me interested.” I smiled.
“June, Beth, Heaven, Swish… Get your asses over here!” Zanir said. They did so, “OK, so… Orb has a very long range radar. I want her to be up high, being an early detection system for this mech, so we can see which direction it’s coming from. Big Daddy will be on the ground in scan mode, similar to torpor. He’s essentially gonna be bait. I want each one of these buggies posted on the high sides of the valley as we lure the mech in. Galveston, you’re taking the shot.”
“OK… that thing got blasted close range with a cannon shell. You think my little rifle can down that thing?” I asked, somewhat skeptical.
“Your little rifle destroyed Big Daddy which can also take a blast from a cannon at point blank range.” Zanir smiled.
“Good point.” I said.
“Alright…” Beth nodded.
“Can’t your blades target the mech?” June asked.
“My blades make a mess! Also, they’re the last thing I want to fix after an EMP blast which is why I’m keeping them powered off for the duration of this mission unless it’s just a completely last resort.” Zanir responded.
“Well…” June said, everyone expecting him to say something fiery, “I brought Sabrina.”
“You did?” I asked shocked.
“Yeah, you’re not the only one who gets to play with a high powered rifle. I brought my own. She’s not calibrated...or tested...but shit, what better chance to test her than now?” He laughed nervously.
“That’s,” Zanir said, “Great.” He nodded, walking to the rear of the buggy, “I really gotta say thankyou to you all! You’re putting a lot on the line to make sure we succeed...but in case we don’t...in case we fail, I want you all to leave this place.”
“Are you fucking retarded?” Beth asked.
“A little bit.” Zanir responded.
“We’re not leaving you here, Zanir…” I said.
“I don’t even like you,” June added, “But I don’t even agree with leaving you here.” Zanir smiled.
“I just don’t want any of you getting hurt.” Zanir responded.
“And you think you’ll stand a chance better on your own?” Beth asked, really surprised by Zanir’s way of thinking.
“If we fail...we’ll learn from our mistakes and try again.” I said, sternly.
“I just…” Zanir said, his frustration coming out, “Why are you all so damn dedicated to this?”
“Because, you’re like my other little brother!” Beth said.
“I don’t know, you’re just cool as fuck and I hate… I mean I really hate A99. I never wanna go back.” Heaven said.
“I um… you’re just brilliant. And this is much better than metalsmithing...” Swish laughed.
“I don’t know,” I said, “I kinda love ya kid! I don’t wanna be away from ya.”
“I don’t know why I’m here.” June shrugged. Everyone looked him, a thin smile growing across his face. Zanir punched him in the shoulder.
“Shut up…” He laughed.
“So… What are we gonna do? I don’t think I can sleep tonight with that thing somewhere in this valley.” Beth said.
“Well I’m not sleeping! I gotta like um... protect my dad over there! You all can get some rest. I’ll be up.” Zanir chuckled.
“Ya know what… That means we’re all dead! Zanir will end up going to sleep since it’s probably been a week since he last slept.  Somebody better stay up with him!”  Beth said, walking to her tent. June watched her, infatuated by her curvaceous body. He looked so hopeless, as though her were letting her slip through his fingers. He sighed.
I looked at Zanir, smiling.
“I volunteer.” I said, holding up my hand. Zanir smiled back, summoning the mechs back to rest on the ground. He sighed as Big Daddy came back to land. The mech folded down, it’s radar poking out of the top of it’s compact state, twirling around. Orb did the same. Zanir leaned against Big Daddy, staring off into the valley below.
“I guess we go hungry tonight.” I said, walking over to him. He watched me as I sat, his eyes wandering off. I reached into my bag, handing him an oatmeal bar.
“Thank you…” He said, expressionless.
“Sometimes,” I said, unsure how he’d take what I’d have to say, “You’re like a sentinel. You’re cold and objective and don’t know how to damn rest. You gotta at least sigh the good sigh, kick your feet up and relax once and a while.” He looked at me with those big honey eyes. I couldn’t tell if it was a scowl or his typical blank expression.
“Sorry.” He responded, “I’m not used to… people. Interacting with you all, being social… it is all very new to me. I don’t know what the fuck I’m doing. I don’t even know how to come to terms with….” He paused, looking down at the ground. God, he was being so cute.
“Come to terms with what?” I asked hoping it was what I thought he was going to say. A smile came across his face, one of sweet embarrassment.
“Us.” He said. Even though I suspected it, I was caught by surprise. A broad smile began to spread across my face as I turned to him.
“What about us?” I prodded. He slowly began to shield his shy face with those cute little hands.
“I don’t know,” He said, “I just wanna say sorry. I’ve been a big pain in the ass for the past four weeks. Stuff has been kinda tough on me ya know. I struggling between dealing with people and dealing with machines and the line is very blurred.”
“No!” I refuted, “Only for the past week!” It made him laugh, “But seriously, I like what we have… We can take it as slow as you like it. I know how hard of an adjustment this is for you. I can see it. Just know that whatever you do, I got you!” He looked at me, seemingly torn.
“I don’t feel like I’ve lived yet…” He said, “I haven’t felt the true fire of doing something spontaneous… Something to make me feel remotely human…”  
It was then I realized his disconnect from the human world was far more tolling than I previously thought. Basic human interaction was definitely a chore, something more stressful than it should have been. However, he’d never admit how bad it was because feeling human was something he’d long to experience. He was a tough little bastard but even he had his limits and it seemed he was running to that cliff’s edge.
The fact that he could sympathize with machine the same way he sympathized with humans told it all, apart from being completely amazing. He was apart of two worlds, one I’d never be able to understand. His whole life had been devoted to studying machinery and mechs alone in an isolated area. That would make this human world ours feel very foreign to someone who was from a world pretty much their own. It was a challenge I truly hated he had to face, a challenge I wanted to ease a way out of his memories.
I leaned in, greeting his lips with my own. His fiery warmth met my passionate inferno in a swirl of mutual longing for each other. He grabbed me shirt, bringing me in as close as physically possible. I reached for his thigh, my massive hands nearly encompassing it all. This boy was tiny, though! I lifted him up, pulling him over onto me. We kissed and kissed, just us two in the world, alone.
“Ahem…” June said, leaning against a buggy. Zanir and I stopped, turning to look at him.
“What?” Zanir asked, looking at him fiercely. June was holding a rock glass with obviously something very alcoholic in it…
“This is something I don’t condone,” He said approaching us, “Especially since I can’t do that with Beth right now.”
“Eeeew you like Beth?” Zanir asked, drawn to laughter.
“Hey, I’m not the one on top of and kissing another man!” June sighed, sitting down right next to us, “It’s something about her, man… It’s like she’s nothing but passion and strength! Most of the girls back at the Flats are just swoon-easies and shit. But it’s good you two found each other. I mean, I didn’t know you were gay, Galveston but it’s cool.”
“No one knows,” I laughed, “I um. I never told my father but he’s been suspicious lately. I’m not sure how he’d react.”
“Probably with a shit ton of volatility. Alistair is old school Southern Remnant…” June responded.
“Why not just…” Zanir began to suggest, “Just talk to her?” June looked at him as though he were stupid.
“And do what, get chewed up and spat out? No thanks… I like my skin the way it is…” He responded.
“I mean… I know her good! She may seem tough, I mean she is! She is nothing but stern will and compassion for those she feels need help and cannot buckle. But if you bark up her tree long enough, you’ll win her over. You just better be good to her. I mean treat her like she deserves to be treated because back at A99, she got treated like she didn’t do her share when she pulled everyone’s weight on top of her own.” Zanir clarified.
“What about…?” June asked, pointing to the buggy. Zanir turned to see Heaven standing there, arms folded angered, “Sorry bud, but I’m really into ya sister.” June chuckled.
“I don’t care…” Heaven said, walking over to us, “I just wanna know about this whole… gay thing.” He sat in the sand, distraught. Zanir sighed, climbing off me. These folks ruined a good moment between us, but it was alright I guess…  
“Just don’t be afraid to be yourself,” I said, “I know that it’s hard, and people will hurt you for being the way you are...but don’t let it deter you.”
“Don’t let it be to your detriment either.” June laughed. Heaven looked at us all, scowling.
“I didn’t say I was gay…”
“Heaven…” Zanir said, looking at the boy in disappointment, “Like really? No one here is gonna bite you for being the way you are. But June is right. People will ruin your good day for being… happy. Be careful who you inform.”
“Slow down, slow down…” Heaven said, overwhelmed, “ummm.”
“I don’t mean to overwhelm you, Heaven.” Zanir laughed, “I’ve had a lot of alone time and a lot of time to figure it out. I mean it’s different for each person but you must know...we’re here.”
“Thank you?” Heaven responded, unsure of all of this.
“I have a question…” June began, looking at both Zanir and I, a devious smile coming across his face, “So you two literally were about to do it in this freezing ass desert? Like what if that thing would have come back?”
Zanir shrugged.
“Then we would have been caught… midstroke…” He teased. It had me hard like a rock, sitting here leaning against Big Daddy. I wished Zanir and I could be alone again, if only for five minutes.
“Well, I’m not leaving either of you two alone!” June said, being a devious little shit, “I’m not going to let you two risk your lives… and half all the fun.” The devilish smile spread across his face. Zanir rolled his eyes, just as frustrated as I was.
Heaven fell silent. It was clear the kid was extremely lonely, feeling like the only person with his case. It definitely didn’t help to see Zanir and I getting intimate with each other. It was dumb on our part but damn, I wanted Zanir so bad! Still though, for the sake of Heaven, I had to show some restraint. I looked at Zanir. It was hard to tell what he was feeling, Zanir being rather banal with his expression. Suddenly, a look of worry came across his face. He got to his feet, looking around.
“Where the fuck is Swish?” He asked. We all got up to look around. June went over to the tent, looking in it. He gave an eyeroll.
“Man this fool’s sleep!” June said before kicking the living hell out of Swish, “WAKE UP, NO MAN’S SLEEPING TONIGHT!” Swish jolted up, startled. He rubbed his neck, climbing out of the tent.
“Dude, you have no chill.” Swish said, wiping his eyes, “Now, why can’t I sleep?”
“Because Zanir and Galveston are trying to get it on… while I can’t… So now everyone has to suffer! You too!” June said, being bitter.
“You can’t be serious?” Swish asked, very ticked off.   
“When am I not serious?” June asked in response. Swish looked at him angrily.
“Fuck you! I’m going to bed…” He said.
“Swish…” June threatened. Swish climbed back in the tent, not caring.
“Let him get some sleep, June.” Zanir laughed.
“I wanna go to bed too.” Heaven yawned.
“If ya’ll don’t…” A croaky voiced Beth said, climbing out of her tent, “SHUT THE FUCK UP! PUNTA TRYING TO SLEEP HERE!!!!!”
She was wearing the thinnest robe, her solid hips and juicy thighs being the only thing June could see. Heaven looked at his sister in disgust.
“Never mind.” He said, walking back to the buggies. He had one fucked up sense of humor, everyone silently snickering away at his reaction to his sister’s… eruption. June took a sip from his rock glass, eyeing Beth with predatory intent…
“It’s ok.” June said, approaching Beth, “We ain’t gon’ disturb you anymore. Ya need someone to watch over that tent while ya sleep, honey? Climb on back in, sugar…” He wrapped his arm around Beth’s shoulder, leading her back to her tent. She looked at him, wondering why he was acting so strange, seeing the glass of alcohol in his hand. She removed his arm, entering her tent. He followed, closing the tent behind him. This surprised everyone…  
“WHAT THE FUCK!!!!” Beth shouted, “June!” The rustling had everyone worried but her shouting quickly turned to laughter.
Zanir and my eye’s fell upon Heaven who stood there sweltering in rage.
“I guess I’m never sleeping in that tent again.” He said walking to the rear of the buggy, “WHOA!!!! Who brought all of this booze?”  
“What?” Zanir asked, surprised. We went over to the rear of the buggy and there was a crate of nopal wines and sangrias. Zanir sorted through the crate, finding a small vial of tequila, half empty. He picked it up, the strangest smile coming across his face, “This explains so much about tonight…”
“Well, this is his actual… buggy. He runs cartels. This might be his stash.” I said, thinking about it.
“I can’t believe that fucker is in there with MY SISTER!!!!!!!!!!” Heaven shouted in a flurry of emotions, that cute Mojave accent coming out, “God I can’t believe this.”
“I’m sorry, Heaven.” Zanir apologized, sympathizing with the boy. He squeezed his head, this becoming far more awkward than he would have prefered. Heaven leaned against the truck, staring at the jostling tent in disgust. He gave an eyeroll, sitting against the armored vehicle.
Zanir shook his head, feeling so sorry for the boy. It was clear Heaven was always the kid in the difficult position, the one who had to take the blame for everyone else or had to sit by and suffer when even the simplest things didn’t go his way. He had to remain silent through it all and this was no different from the rest. All he wanted was to sleep. It was disconcerting because it seemed the boy was approaching his limit. Something had to give…
Zanir walked over to the boy.
“Come on….” Zanir said, squatting beside him, “You don’t wanna look at that…”
“You don’t even get the right to tell me…. Look what you have...” Heaven exploded, pointing at me.
“Look,” Zanir said, “I’ve been there! I know what it feels like to be the only one in that world! I know you feel like it was just you and Beth but now that bond has been… a bit divided. I’m just here to tell you it’s not the end of the world. You’re frustrated but you’ll live.” Zanir smiled, “I lived…” Heaven fell silent, Zanir’s words penetrating deep but not quite doing much to make him feel better.
“...I just think you got really lucky, Zanir,” Heaven finally said back, “You have someone you can talk to, tell everything about yourself to, FUCK when you wanna, and hold for an entire night!” It took Zanir aback. He never looked at our relationship as such. Hell, neither did I! I saw it as something that was more so… out of the blue to be honest. Like, we simply met, had the slightest of chemistry and I had to try and pull out the human in Zanir! That was what this was about, making Zanir feel like he was important for entirely different reasons than simply being the bearer of vast information. I wanted to make him do something spontaneous, something spur of the moment. These were the things that I simply knew would make him feel alive. He already had come such a long way!
When I first met him, he was simply cold and calculating. He was so strongly guarded and ferocious I was daunted by him. But I did something no one ever did to him, at least not in the way that that I did it. I showed him unequivocal compassion, went out my way to help him. In the beginning, I had no idea what I was getting myself into or why I went to such lengths but still something compelled me to just be kind to him. I mean… I had my motives. He was brilliant and I wanted him to teach me what he knew! But there was something so innocent about him that drew me in. It took me a while to figure it out. It was the tiny glimpses of humanity that’d come out in the sweetest ways that just made me fall for him. From that point on, it subconsciously became my mission to bring out more of that humanity.
It also made me wonder how Zanir viewed what we had. He obviously cared for me, cared a lot but I wanted to know how her perceived all of this. Then again, Zanir was still very detached from us all and the answer might be surprising… not in a good way. I don’t know. Zanir was still a very daunting person to try and get close to.
“Guys…” Someone said. We all looked to see, Swish standing there scratching his head.
“Yeah?” I responded. Swish just stood there shaking his head.
“That motherfucker kicked the shit out of my neck… Where’s he?” Swish asked.
“Fucking my sister…” Heaven sighed. Swish choked on air.
“What?” He asked, having to hear it again.
“You heard me right.” Heaven sighed.
“God, that idiot. Sorry, Heaven.” Swish said, rubbing his neck, “Tomorrow, I’m going to fuck his ass up…” Heaven smirked a bit.
“You won’t have to. He’s gonna be hungover.” Zanir laughed, quickly glancing over to his mechs. This boy could juggle so much at once. I had completely forgotten we were on high alert.
“Shit, leave it to him to fuck up something.” Swish said.
“Eh he’ll pull through…” I sighed. Zanir looked at me skeptical, but saying nothing.
“So,” Swish began, “I should have known you two,” He pointed at Zanir and I, “Were a thing. You got so close, so fast. I never stood a chance.” He shrugged with a smile.
“Wait…” I said, taken aback.
“This has been one hell of a night! I would go to bed but…” Heaven said, not liking where this was headed.
“Well, if we’re being honest right now,” Zanir smiled, “You never did….”
“I figured such.” Swish laughed, “You’re such a scary dude, Zanir. I never would have tried, to be honest.”
“I’m scary?” Zanir asked, startled.
Everyone looked at him blankly.
“Yes…” We said simultaneously.
“Like, you don’t look like you’re that… calculating, that driven.” I said.
“I saw you get shot repeatedly and crawl to claw out Galveston’s eyes… That’s scary! You’re the toughest little bastard!” Swish said.
“You’ve chucked so many lethal objects at my head in the past few months… You’ve also beaten my ass. You just don’t look capable of the shit you can do.” Heaven said.
“Eh… Well looke’ there” Zanir said astounded, having something new to think about. He obviously enjoyed learning new stuff about himself.
“You say that like you didn’t know?” Heaven asked.
“I didn’t!” Zanir laughed.
“You’ll keep learning more and more about yourself...what you’re capable of.” I reassured.
“It’s probably the funnest aspect of this all. I never thought I’d say this but I’m glad you all came along. I dare say this feels like a family.” Zanir said, this obviously being hard to say for him.
I sat next to him, giving him a tight hug. I reached for Heaven as well too.
“Swish,” I said, “If you don’t bring your ass down here…” He laughed, getting on the ground with us. He joined our embrace.
“Family is what we are! From this point on out, we’ll ride for each other!” I said.
“Hell yeah!” Swish said, totally agreeing.
“Don’t know what the hell I’d do without you guys…” Heaven smiled. Swish got up, heading back to his tent.
“Well,” He smiled. smiled, “I’m about to try and go to bed. Heaven, if you need somewhere to sleep, June’s side of the tent will be empty tonight… GOD my fucking neck!!!!!!!” Heaven shrugged.
“Well… Okay.” He said, entering the tent with Swish.
It left Zanir and I alone again. Broad smiles came across both our faces as he climbed atop me. We began undressing each other, it finally beginning to happen. We were going to consummate what we had! I was going to take… his… virginity…
We kissed and kissed, our hands rubbing up and down each other. My hands seemed to engulf his tiny frame while his seemed to explore ever contour on my muscular body. He could feel my raging bulge nearly lift him up from under my pants. He looked down excitedly at it, so much wonder in his eyes. I slowly unbuttoned it, wanting him to see it for the first time.
It was about seven and a half inches long with the same girth. The thing wasn’t a joke so I’d have to be careful with Zanir. I reached in my pocket grabbing a condom. They were special, highly lubricated… The wetter it got the better and I planned on get Zanir plenty wet.
It began with a rim job! Yes I ate him out, something he never thought of doing sexually. He couldn’t imagine it feeling the way it felt but damn was he in euphoria. I turned him around sitting him on my lap again. My hard cock rubbed against his virgin hole, ready to enter inside. He and I were face to face, nervous about it all.
“You ready?” I asked.
“Yeah…” He said, just shaking. He was scared.
“It’s gonna be intense…” I warned, grabbing my member pressing it against his rectum. The tip slid in, causing Zanir to tense up, “Easy…” His eyes widened as he felt the intense burning spreading him apart. I slowly eased every inch further and further in. He grit his teeth in agony as he dug his nails in my shoulder. Soon, his face was buried in my shoulder, the feeling be far more extreme than he ever could have anticipated. He seriously looked in pain!
“Want me to stop?” I asked.
“No…” He said, surprising me. Still though, I inched along slower and slower, until every inch of my dick was in his hole. It was so tight! I see why he seemed to be in pain… He still held on to me tight, those nails dug into my back. I moved my shaft around in him, slowly stretching the hole more. He groaned but kissed me… It was then I knew he was ready.
Slowly but surely, I worked my way from slow rows, to vigorous thrusting. Being one with him was better than I ever could have imagined. We kissed and kissed, the fiery initial burning of penetration obviously giving way to the addictingly hot friction that’d keep him coming back. The part I loved most was how the tiny boy bounced up and down with each thrust. That and how my hands wrapped around his torso just did so much to me.
My climax was approaching and approaching fast!!! With him being so tight and everything I could ever wish for, I couldn’t help it.
“I’m coming…” I said, the intense rush suddenly causing me to shudder. Each contraction made me fall more and more in love with the boy. I didn’t want to stop. I kept going, holding him tightly, not wanting this to end. I just couldn’t stop pumping.
The only reason we stopped was because we exhausted ourselves. He laid on top of me, just panting. I felt his warmth he felt mine...
“You okay?” I asked him.
“Yeah…” He chuckled, “You...we… we just did it.” It finally hitting him. I wanted to know how it felt to him, was it as magical for him as it was me? However, I knew better than to ask him. He kissed me, nothing but amazement in his eyes.
That was nothing but reassurance… I smiled, glad to see I had pleased him. However it was just the very beginning. I had more in store for him. It was all I could think about as we cleaned ourselves up. That night seemed to last forever. The somberness of Sloan brought us both closer. Everything around us was cold, barren and white. We rested together, hugged up with one another beside the mechs until the sun rose. Beth and June woke up bright and early that morning, June definitely hung over.
“Water please…” He said. Zanir brought him the vase with the water, looking at the boy with nothing but skepticism cold judgement. June drunk it.
“You good?” I asked. He whipped his mouth.
“I’m good.” He said, having a throbbing headache. He clenched his head, regaining his focus, “I’m good….” Beth watched, made a believer of June’s powers that night. He popped his knuckles, walking over to the rear of his buggy. He pulled out a long case, obviously struggling to hold it. I rushed over to him, trying to help.
“Bitch get the fuck back!” He snarled. I threw up both hands.
“Fine.” I said.
He put together the rifle, mounting it to the turret at a swift rate. Typical June, always being good for the job, even when hungover. He burped, checking his sights. He sighed, shaking his head, hopping out of the turret, going back to the giant case. He grabbed a humongous, four foot long silencer walking leisurely back to the turret. He began whistling an unfamiliar tune, climbing onto the hood of the buggy. He twisted the silencer onto the barrel, climbing back onto the turret again. He continued whistling as he looked down the scope for several minutes.
During that time, we all cleaned up the camp getting ready to start this mission. It truly was a stretch, one that’d be a tedious waiting game but who cared. The fact was that this secluded region of the Senoran Desert had it’s own ecosystem...of mechs and we were about to witness a spectacle unfold unlike any others.
Indeed it was a waiting game. Zanir, Heaven and I were on one side of the canyon while June, Beth and Swish were two miles away on the peak of another valley. On the low grounds between us, Big Daddy rested in a low energy state, its radar swirling around vigorously. High above us all, Orb scanned the ground for signs of the vampire mech. We established radio contact via Orb, making this quite a stake out.
“You all good?” Zanir asked over the air.
“Very…” Beth responded.
“Whore…” Heaven said to himself, still upset with his sister. I couldn’t lie. It was very funny.
“Heaven…” Zanir scolded. All Heaven did was roll his eyes, sitting with those noodly arms folded.
We waited for hours and hours. I sat in the turret seat the entire time, looking down into the valley.
“Anything?” I asked.
“No.” Zanir said.
“I’m so fucking hungry…” I sighed.
“Here.” Zanir said passing me a granola bar, the same bar I gave him last night. I got out of the turret climbing down into the buggy.
“You didn’t eat it?” I asked.
“No.” Zanir said, his voice void of emotion.
“You fucking need to eat!” I said. Zanir slowly looked at me.
“I do.” He said, not bothering to disagree, “But I’m not.” I picked up the radio, making him worried, “Wait what are you doing…?”
“Beth…” I said.
“NO!!!!!!” He pleaded, reaching for the microphone. I held it out of reach.
“What?” She asked.
“I’m trying to get,” I said, struggling against the boy as he climbed all over me, “Zanir to eat, but he’s refusing!”
“See what you’ve done!” Zanir pouted.
“EAT!!!” Beth screamed.
“I’ll eat later.” Zanir said.
“NO, NOW!” Beth demanded. She was very upset with Zanir.
“Yeah, I’ve been watching you Zanir. It’s been six days.” Heaven chimed in.
“Six days?” I asked, shocked, “Come on, Zanir! You need to eat something! You’re already skin and bones!”  He clenched his head, obviously stressed.
“OK SHIT!!!!” He shouted, wanting us all to shut up. It made me smile. You seldom saw Zanir get angry. Despite the circumstance, it was a show of expression which was my goal. I handed him the granola bar and he ate it leisurely. It left me confused.
“What the fuck kind of fuel are you running off of! You are still strong as fuck despite the self neglect…” I teased. He looked at me with a thin smile.
“You keep forgetting I’m cybernetic.” He said, chewing on the bar.
“Yeah, I do.” I laughed.
“I’d be stronger if I eat but,” He said swallowing, “It always escapes my mind.” He places his hollowatch on the dashboard, projecting a stereoscopic map of the surrounding valley.
“I’m gonna make sure you eat five square meals a day when we get back…” I said.
“Oh, fucking christ, blow my fucking brains….” Heaven groveled in the rear. We both looked at him, knowing our little quarrel was probably driving him insane. We didn’t know what to do to help him, though. He truly was on his own.
“Well,” Zanir started again, “That means I’d have to remember to shit…”
“EEEEEW” I laughed, heaven giving a silent chuckle too.
“What? Shitting is stupid as fuck! We eat food but only extract about ten percent of the total nutrients when the food is packed full of extreme energy?” He said.
“You have a point…” I said, still laughing, “But I would have thought because of the smell since you have, ya know, super sensitive everything.”
“It’s not the worst thing I’ve smelt before.” Zanir said, cringing where he sat.
“I don’t even wanna know.” I said throwing both hands up in refusal.
“You don’t.” He reassured, shaking his head.  
“Why must you two be so damn cute? It’s fucking agonizing…” Heaven said.
“Awe, Heaven!” Zanir said, turning around, running his fingers through his hair.
“Um, Zanir…” I said. He turned, looking at the image projected on the watch. I climbed back up to the turret, looking down the scope.
“Guys,” Zanir said into the radio, “The vampire mech is coming in hot. Be on standby.”
“Roger.” June said back.
This mech was hauling all kinds of ass as it went through the valley. Somehow, it managed to sniff out Big Daddy and stalk him. It got to within a thousand yards, aiming with it’s long tail.
“Shoot it now!” Zanir said. I fired a single round at the mech, nervous about this machine’s durability. The shot pierced right through the mech’s skull, instantly deactivating it.
“WOOOOO!” The radio buzzed. I climbed back into the buggy, Zanir looking down into the valley, very, very uneasy.
“Something’s not right. That wasn’t the same mech from last night.” He said.
“You sure?” I asked.
“Yeah,” He responded, “I think… Let’s get down there and get the fluid then go.I don’t want something to happen we’re not ready for.”
“Ok,” I responded to Zanir before picking up the radio, “Guys, standby. We’re going down into the valley to retrieve the acid. Provide support.”
“Roger.” June said.
I drove the buggy down the steep cliff, heading into the valley where dead meach was.
“We need to hurry! It’s leaking out a lot of fluid.” Zanir advised.
“I only can go so fast in these sheer faces… sorry.” I said. It was now growing more tense as the machine continued to drain. Zanir’s eyes suddenly grew wide with fear.
“No…” He muttered, having to pick up his watch to beleive what he was seeing.
“Guys…?” June said back on the radio, “There are a shit ton more of these vampire mechs.”
“We know...we see them.” Zanir said, full of worry. We reached the base of the cliff, wasting no time in punching the throttle.
“Dispatch them…” Zanir commanded, squeezing the badge of the radio.
One by one, mechs fell, ricocheting pieces of metal flying in every direction. All the mechs were trying to scramble to their fallen comrades…. to consume it’s circulatory fluid. This was effectively cannibalism.
“I’m launching Big Daddy. He’s gonna lead them away while we get what we need.” Zanir said, fiddling with the watch. He climbed in the back of the buggy as I drove, putting on one of his gauntlets. As he reached the rear, a blade rose up. It and it’s solenoids began counterotating, producing an anti-gravity field. The blade followed him to the front of the buggy. It faced me then looked out the window.
Those things were so freaky. They had no optics, but could sense the world around them in stereoscopy. Zanir was telepathically connected to these advanced machines and they were extensions of his feelings. The fact that he even opted to used a blade showed that this situation was more severe than I previously thought.
“Orb,” He said, squeezing his watch, “Provide high altitude air support for any mechs that come while we’re on the ground.” The machine in the sky buzzed in response.
Suddenly, a red streak flew past us. It was Big Daddy, flying towards the onslaught of vampire mechs coming in from every inch of the valley. He blasted cannon fodder at several of the mechs, sending many tumbling across the ground. It was not to destroy them, but to get their attention. As some neared the fallen mech, Big Daddy sent a barrage of explosives to pummel the mech. He flew at a slow pace, making himself a big aerial target.
The mechs now wanted him, and were pursuing him vigorously. He lead them north through the valley, up and away from us. By that time, we had just reached the fallen mech. We scrambled out of the buggy, Zanir running over with his sole blade. Heaven and I totted the urn out of the rear of the buggy, bringing it near Zanir.
Zanir used the blade to cut into the mech, grabbing a big chunk of silicate tubing. He had it squeezed on the end, delicately holding it until he reached the vase. He fed the tubing into the mouth of the urn, letting the circulatory fluid flow.
“This is gonna be heavy…” Zanir said.
“I know…” I said, daunted by the wide barrel-like vessel.
Mechs continued to drop as more and more poured into the valley. June was doing a hell of a job dropping them with one shot. This mission was turning out to be a success.
“June…” Beth said, inside the buggy.
“Oh my God…” Swish said, terrified.
Something wasn’t right. Zanir was looking at the map on his watch, then back up to the western side of the Valley. His whole demeanor went from mission-devout to fear.
“Oh my god…” He said, squeezing the microphone on his watch.
“June,” He said, “There’s one right beside you!”
“JUNE!!!!!!” Beth screamed, yanking on his leg from inside the buggy. June looked over to his left, a massive fifteen foot tall vampire mech sitting a stone throw’s distance away. It looked between them and the valley floor, having no concerns.
June swung the turret around, aiming at the mech. The mech snarled, taking off in a mad sprint down the canyon, far too swiftly for June to aim.
“Shit…” He said, climbing out of the turret, grabbing the radio badge, “It’s coming for you all!”  
“Orb…” Zanir said, looking at the vampire mech as it sped down the valley side. Orb whirred, accelerating to her top speed quickly. She met the mech with the fodder of a thirty millimeter cannon. The mech stopped mid track, throwing up its hands to shield its fragile face from the powerful guns.
The mech turned tail, running the other direction. Orb stayed right on it’s tail despite the pace being well in the hundreds of miles an hour. Unlike Big Daddy which vanished out of sight with the pursuing mechs, this vampire mech stayed close, throwing sharp turns in an effort to throw the Orb off it’s tail. This thing was sticking around for some reason.
Zanir looked at it as it waned in closer then further then closer again. There was a big chunk of armor missing from it’s chest plate. He pointed at it.
“That’s the one from last night!” Zanir said, turning back to look at the urn, “I hope it’s enough. We can’t stay here any longer! Come on!” He pulled the tubing out of the vase, Heaven, Zanir and I lifting it together. We toted the forty plus gallons of highly corrosive acid back to the rear of the buggy. Zanir tied it in place so it wouldn’t spill.
“The acid,” He began, looking around for the lid, “Is only corrosive to metals, semimetals and low complexity polymers. We got to be careful not to spill it or it’ll burn a hole deep into this buggy.”
“Ok, good to know.” I said as I ran to the driver’s seat, “Heaven, you think you can man the turret? Pull the black lever near the floor and the sniper rifle will spin out and the assault cannon will come.”
“I only got one question.” Heaven responded, crawling up into the turret.
“What?” I responded.
“How the fuck are we going to get out of here?” He asked.
“I know these canyons…” Zanir responded, not able to find the lid, “Shit, I’m gonna have to make sure this doesn’t spill!!!”
He held it in place as we rode up the sheer rock face where Beth, June and Swish were.
“Time to get out of here! Follow us!” Zanir said over the radio.
“Roger!” Beth said, driving the buggy.
“You know what you’re doing down there?” June asked, worried.
“I got away from you in a pickup truck! HELL YEAH I know what I’m doing!!!!” Beth replied.
“Alright, good to hear!” June responded, confident in her driving.
“Head west to the perimeter gorge…” Zanir said, looking at his watch. He was locating both Orb and Big Daddy. Both were online, running low on ammo but nothing major, “Once we’re out of the canyon, I’ll call them back.”
We reached the canyon, Zanir being glued to his watch. I didn’t know where we were headed, but if it was one thing I knew well enough to do was trust Zanir. He stood up, looking ahead.
“About one klick north, there’s the biggest vault in all of Sloan! Heaven, the door is jutting off the seams!  Shoot it as soon as it is in your sights. That’s our way out!” Zanir said.
“Ok!” Heaven responded. I said nothing, too amazed with him.
Just as we neared the vault, a vampire mech came speeding in. Orb was right on its tailed. The mech was riddled with bullet holes, it’s chest piece missing. It was the same mech that attacked the night before. It caused us to slam on brakes, risking a collision with the massive machine. The mech rushed the buggy, pounding on the hood with its fists. It roared out...as though it was angry, as though we had taken something from it. It’s focus was on Zanir as if it knew this was his doing…
Zanir wasted no time in connecting his hollowatch with this mech. He synched his firmware with the machine downloading the mech’s archives as well. The mech instantly calmed down, it’s wind bladder expanding and contracting as though it were breathing. It sat in front of us like a regal feline.
“They’re called manticores…” Zanir said, astounded, “My dad designed them… These are new mechs like within the past thirty years, new!”
“What the fuck is going on?” June said in the radio, “Can I shoot this thing?”
“No…” Zanir responded, “It’s not a threat. We can proceed to the vault. We’re done ya’ll.”
Heaven aimed the heavy cannon at the door, blasting it off its seams with the heavy fire. The manticore watched, observing like it always did. Zanir looked back at the mesmerizing machine as it walked off into the valley. We rode through the narrow vault terminal, entering a vast network of underground tunnels. Orb followed us.
“This is the same vault a valley mech chased me into…” Zanir said, reading the schematics for the manticore.  
“Which way to go?” I asked, reaching a four way split in the paths.
“Straight ahead… We’ll end up in Henderson.” He said, still reading the schematics, “I don’t get it…”
“What?” I asked.
“...Why my dad would build such a thing?” He said, plainly confused.
We reached the end of the tunnel, Zanir once again fiddling with his watch. The access gate began to lift. We drove through it, exiting the subterranean vault system. Standing there, waiting for us was Big Daddy. Zanir looked at him in confusion.
“If your speech cog worked, we’d be arguing…” He sighed, relaxing in his seat. He closed his eyes, getting sleep for the first time in over a week… such a beautiful sight.    


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