Runaway Urashima

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Re: Runaway Urashima

Postby Mark Sakura » Fri Dec 04, 2015 5:08 am

Bibi was the one to break the silence over the com. "I swear, Yoko--you and that hutching show."

"Now, aren't you sorry you didn't hack the app to take off the obscenity feature like I asked last week?" said Yoko. "Because right there, that was the perfect op--"

"The answer is still no," said Bibi. "That's a show for little kids. I'm not gonna ruin it for them just because you think cartoon characters doing DI insults is hilarious."

"That's because it is hilarious!" Yoko protested. "Oh, just checking--were all the security cameras here on main power?"

"Yeah."

"Good. I've got one more trick I don't want them to see coming," said Yoko.

Another map popped up on Gaspar's screen, showing a glowing path from IHI's rented warehouse to their current position. "Can you run some media interference on this path?"

"I can give you some cover, but it won't be perfect," said Bibi. "You've got a plan?"

"I've got something," said Yoko. "Hopefully they'll be too focused on us here to notice. Any other cameras pointed at this sector? From the opposite side of the sky?"

"Those are pointed at the ground, so no worries. But there are a whole bunch on the Hanging Gardens... No, scratch that--they're covered by the carbon bladders." Bibi was all business. Gaspar could picture her fingers flying across whatever console she'd managed to hide herself at. "Oh--there's only three. On the spindle. Right here." More blips shone on Gaspar's HUD.

"Gotcha," said Yoko, unclipping her magazine, expelling a round from the chamber, and hand-loading a dummy paint-marker round. One after another, she blasted each camera with the paint rounds, blocking off the terrorists' eyes in the sky.

"Well then--here's the million-wulong question," said Yoko. "Can you see their operations? Did I piss them off enough to make 'em stupid?"

"You should never underestimate your power to piss people off, Yoko," said Bibi. "But yes--they're all mobilizing, they're all going interior, they're all heading to your position. ETA twenty to twenty-five minutes."

"Hah," said Yoko. "Okay, I'm summoning the ball-boys."

"The what now?"

"Secret weapon. I got a million of 'em."

"Yeah, I noticed," said Bibi. "Someone is going to have to add 'trolling with a **** anime avatar' to the counter-terrorism tactics handbook."

"If your enemy is of choleric temper, seek to provoke him," said Yoko, with a sage tone to her voice. "Not exactly new, just updated."

"Yeah... about that," said Bibi. "Um, look--could we drop the banter a second? I know you've got a plan and you--well, you're you--but this is bad, okay? These guys are pretty seasoned, and they've got the numbers, and they aren't scared of dying. Oh--and they've got one final, back-up bomb. I think it's big enough to do the job if gets to the reactor."

"This your idea of a pep talk?" said Yoko.

"Ah! Sorry--I'm just..." Bibi had to take a second to gather her thoughts. "Listen, if things go to plan-I can get a bunch of frames, but the terrorists destroyed all the security frames they didn't have pilots for. The rest would all be labor frames with--I dunno--a bunch of repair tools. Like, maybe an industrial laser if we're lucky. So--"

"Fight'll be over by then," said Yoko. "One way or another."

"Well, yeah--but..." Bibi said, sounding pained. "Look, just--take care of yourself, okay? These guys are really--"

"They're not taking me alive, Bibi," Yoko said, matter-of-factly. "But that's worst-case. You focus on your thing. I've got this covered. Now I gotta get set."

There was a long pause over the headset. When Bibi spoke again, it was in hushed tones. "Okay, Hellcat. See you on the flipside."

"Flipside, Danger Mouse," said Yoko, and then the line cut off.

With the local blackout of all the street lamps, the glare of Gaspar's spotlights threw harsh shadows on the giant black-and-silver frame, its optic sensor glowing pale yellow through the armored grates in the side of its head. It stood still like a statue, a towering, mournful monument from some ancient battle, never-ending in its lonely vigil. Then it moved.

"Okay," said Yoko. "Time to get set. You're gonna--"

"Just one second," said Gaspar, surprising himself. "One second please. I have a question."

Gaspar took a deep breath. "Just what the hutching hell was all of that? That business with that cartoon avatar?"

"Oh, that? That was the 'Nyan-Nyan Neko-Chat' app, of course," said Yoko blithely. "Isn't it neat? It came with the ears."

"That's not the hutching point," Gaspar snapped. "I meant all that baiting and name-calling. Was some strategic reason for antagonizing that man? For taunting him so badly that he now wants to torture us all to death?"

"Uh, yeah." said Yoko coolly. "Because one, the whole plan hinges on getting as many of them away from the bridge as possible, so Bibi can do her thing. We're a distraction, remember? And if our buddy Vicente just stopped to think for a second, he might just realize that there's no good reason to come in here after us. He's got navigation. He could just hold that position and force us to attack him. And that would be a disaster. The only way this has even a sliver of a chance is if we get to choose our battlefield."

"But wait," said Gaspar. "He thinks you're the source of the hacking. And doesn't he need to get past us to get to the reactor? Without the threat of a bomb, the ship could be boarded--"

"Hacking is annoying, but it's not enough to beat him," said Yoko. "And he could put that last bomb on a space-capable labor frame and send it around the outside of the ship. Not ideal, since we're still accelerating, but a decent pilot could manage. And what would we do then?"

The Shogun reached out with a metal finger and pointed at the exposed diesel engine on Gaspar's Longhorn. "Guaranteed there's no way that thing's going to function in a vacuum. What about this," she said, pointing to herself. "This thing space-worthy?"

"Ah," said Gaspar. "Not as yet, but our engineering team is working on--"

"Yay for them, but we'd be screwed," said Yoko. "Completely and utterly. So it's a good thing he's so enraged that none of that occurred to him, right?"

Gaspar sighed. Once again, she was right, though he still didn't feel great about it. "I'm sorry--I'm new to war. But I suppose that's how it is," he said, with a bitter taste in his mouth. "In a matter of survival, I suppose anything is fair game--even the memories of someone's parents."

"Wait, what?" said Yoko, with a sudden edge. "Don't tell me you bought into that sob story? Of poor little abused Vincy?"

"Of course I did," he retorted. "The horrific conditions and abuses in Trapananda are well-known to everyone in Alicanto. Everything he said has been confirmed by--"

"So that makes it okay?" said Yoko. "Oh, I had a rough deal growing up--guess I'd better murder a million people now."

"Of course that's not okay," said Gaspar. "I'm saying maybe we could've talked. Seeing one's parents die is a horrific thing to happen to a child, and--"

"Oh, really? Is it now?" snapped Yoko. "Well, guess what--it happens all the hutching time. Not like I'd know anything about that, right? Not like I didn't come out to this hutching system to visit a house full of orphans, right? I saw over a dozen kids, and each of them had a story. Each of them had it rough. Plenty of them had it way worse than poor ol' Vincy. And guess how many of them were plotting mass murder? Huh? Can you guess how many?"

"Uhh--" said Gaspar.

"NONE of them! Hutching none of them were doing that." Yoko's agitation was bleeding into the body language of her frame. The entire Shogun frame paced about in the darkness. "And that's his excuse? That he's an orphan. How dare he! How hutching DARE he use that to justify his horseshit!"

"Oh, waaaahh! My parents are dead, waaaahh!" Yoko's voice took a nasty sing-song edge. "He thinks he had it rough in the factory? Try living on the streets! He thinks it's so awful to have his parents die? Well, you know what mine did? You know what they did? My parents hutching THREW ME AWAY!"

The end of her tirade came out half-strangled, as if someone had ripped it out of her. There was a pause and Gaspar heard long breaths on the other end of the line. He was about to say something, but Yoko wasn't done.

"...and you don't see me trying to blow up the entire world because of that," she snarled. "So HUTCH him and his fake pity horseshit, and HUTCH his dead, rotting parents!"

Gaspar let the last line hang there between them, let the silence stretch until he was sure she was done.

"I'm sorry. I'm truly sorry. I didn't think about any of that," said Gaspar. "It just seemed... when he started talking like that, I thought there might be something to appeal to, some common humanity--however twisted and misguided--"

"Uhh... that's--" Yoko sighed. "Look, Grumpy Cat--you're a nice guy, so I could see why you might not get it, but this whole plot must've taken a while to put together. He's had at least a year to think this over. If he had any doubts left he wouldn't be here. I guarantee you he's got a whole litany of bullshit answers to anything you might say to him. He's so certain he's right he's willing to die to prove it. If the ghost of his dead mom appeared before him and told him to knock it off, I doubt he'd budge an inch."

"But... that just seems so..." said Gaspar, but he couldn't put what he felt into words. Something felt off, but he couldn't say what.

"Well, you don't need to take my word for it," said Yoko. "You wanna talk to him, open a channel on your comm and do it. I bet they're monitoring all the main bands. Say we're very sorry for the insults, and could we all talk things over like civilized folk. Seriously, go ahead and try it. If you get them to surrender peacefully, I'll give you a million wulongs and I'll be your personal maidservant for a whole hutching year."

Despite everything going on, Gaspar couldn't help but picture that for a second. May would be thrilled. Fu... not so much.

"So you think that over, but I've wasted too much time jawing already," said Yoko. "Time to get in the zone."

"Yes," said Gaspar. "Thank you."

He stared at his comm controls. He did not open a signal. Was there anything he could say to someone like Vicente to talk them down? His main argument would be something like how harming other people wouldn't right the wrongs he'd suffered, and it wouldn't be what his parents would've wanted, but, actually, Neko-Chan had already made those arguments, and the young man had spewed out a ream of cant to justify his actions. And in the larger political scheme of things, his actions made perfect sense, in a totally horrible way.

And the truth was, Gaspar had little confidence left in his ability to convince anyone of anything. He had difficulty selling mobile frames to people who were looking to buy mobile frames. He couldn't convince Yoko to do more than look at the Shogun until circumstances forced her hand. And he thought back, even further, to a family gathering of Fu's in-laws. Relations with them had always been shaky. He was certain quite a few of them thought that Fu had married beneath her station, that he did not deserve her--and he tended to agree. Likewise they did not see eye-to-eye with him on politics. (Or with Fu either, but he suspected that was also seen as being his fault somehow.)

So he had tried to keep the conversation away from politics as best he could, but one of Fu's uncles insisted on pressing the issue, in regards to Alicanto's secession. So he'd had no choice but to engage. And Gaspar had been somewhat surprised with himself in that he'd actually done very well. In fact, he'd managed to keep his cool, and proceeded to shoot down every single one of the uncle's arguments, run circles around him rhetorically. Actually, he suspected the old man wasn't used to having anyone talk back to him. Gaspar had managed as much as a total victory as you could have in that type of situation, and in the end, Fu's uncle hadn't changed his opinion on iota. If anything, he was even more firmly opposed to secession than before. And Gaspar doubted that Fu's uncle had ever been willing to die for his beliefs.

The reality of it sunk in. He didn't need a comm. He needed a time machine and a psychic: the first to go back in time, six months, perhaps; and the second to contact Vicente's parents and talk sense into him. All he needed to solve this problem were two things that didn't exist. It was so depressing. Why were people like this? There must be some way out of this dilemma--human civilization couldn't survive like this, could it? But human civilization had endured for thousands of years, spreading to the stars--so there must be something. Surely there must be something he was missing. 

Gaspar gave up. This task was beyond him. Yoko had been so quiet. He looked over to see what she was doing. The Shogun should poised, like a dancer waiting for music to start. Then it picked up its right foot, and took a careful, precisely measured step. It stopped there, and tilted its head enough so that it could check its stance with its optics array. It then returned to its initial stance, and repeated the motion several times, sometimes stopping midway to test the range of motion in each joint--ankle, knee, hip. The movements started tentative, and became surer with each repetition. The final repetition was a precision explosion of movement, and the Shogun added an arm gesture to the move, with its right arm held out straight in line with the direction of the step, and the other held high overhead. again repeating the process until the pose was just right. Then she added a new motion after the first, working it through until it was correct, and then yet another to the sequence, and so on.

Gaspar recognized what she was doing--this was a Sokokunst form. Piloting a frame was a lot like donning a suit of armor--the metal plates around the machine's joints tended to restrict its range of motion, and different designs did this in different ways. The advent of frame-based combat created a need for pilots to have a way to quickly acclimate themselves to a new frame; a systemic way of figuring out its strengths and weaknesses. This became the foundation for the mobile frame martial art of Sokokunst. Ideally Yoko would have done this back at the hangar, before they'd set out to lay their ambush, but they'd been in a hurry, and the combat had all been long-range anyway. But for what was coming... yes, Yoko would need to be at the top of her game if they wanted to survive this. Though he still had no idea if that was possible.

Yoko had some sort of plan, and involved bringing the service drones to the battlefield. He saw them as little blips on his HUD battlefield map--they'd reached the blackout zone and were starting to spread out, according to some pattern that Yoko had already programmed into the remote. How were service drones the key to survival? Something about being able to switch and replace equipment during a fight? It didn't seem like that big of an edge, but he wasn't the tactics expert here. And he wouldn't be doing any systems-switching, either. He had his AG-01 assault gun and a standard soldier loadout. Probably just as well. He hadn't so much as gotten a shot off in that last fight.

"Whoa, what's this?" Yoko's voice muttered in his earpiece. He turned back to where she was practicing her Sokokunst. The Shogun was poised on one leg, with its torso held nearly parallel to the ground and its other leg curled up into its body. Slowly, it extended that leg out into a high side-kick--high enough that it could have kicked another Shogun in the head. Most other frames weren't that tall.

"Whaaaaat?" said Yoko, actually sounding impressed for once. Granted, it wasn't the most graceful pose--some of the armor plates had to slide around at awkward angles to accommodate the position, and her balance looked more than a little wobbly, but it worked.

"Despite its size, the Shogun is an extremely flexible frame," he said. "Actually, that's one of the main reasons the Shogun is as big as it is--to accommodate the joint structure."

"Huh," was all that Yoko said in response, but Gaspar felt like he had won a point, finally. He watched Yoko test more kicks, finally going at full speed--or at least as close to full as she could without damaging the Shogun's joints. After that, it was a series of long, low stances, some of which Gaspar hadn't been aware the Shogun could actually do. For a minute or two, he thought she was going to try to do the splits, but the armor plates around its hip and the design of the ankle joints seemed to prevent that.

Finally, Yoko ended all of her testing and drilling. She stood still in the "ready" position in the center of the plaza. A long moment like that, and then she began the form, start to finish. Gaspar had taken a couple of Sokokunst classes, enough to get the general idea of how it worked. It had been a company-sponsored event--to help them relate to some of their clients and explain the features better. Sokokunst only really had one "form"--but that one form could appear vastly different, depending on the design and capabilities of each individual frame. Some frames had very limited range of motion, and could never attempt a high kick if their lives depended on it. Other frames, like the ubiquitous Hi-Leg, had digitigrade "chicken walker" legs, and usually lacked arms of any kind. He remembered the instructor calling Sokokunst on a Hi-Leg like "hutching ballet dancing--hopping about on your toes the whole damned time." Commonly available frames like the Chub, Commissar, and Hi-Leg had "official" versions of the Sokokunst form, but for a brand-new frame like the Shogun, working something out would be up to the pilot. And that was what separated a novice Sokokunst practitioner from a master: a novice would know the stock routines for their own frame, and some of the other, most commonly-used models. A master knew the full library of Sokokunst maneuvers, and--most importantly--how to incorporate them into a full routine, that would all them to sync up and adapt to any frame you put them in, no matter how exotic. That was what he was seeing here.

He watched the Shogun going through its litany of motion--smooth, flowing, and graceful. He really should be recording this. A bit guiltily, he wondered if he should be using this time to practice, himself, but truthfully, it had been a long time and he didn't exactly remember the proper routine for the Longhorn. Plus, this was his regular demo and he was probably synched up pretty well with it already. And there wasn't enough room on the plaza for more than one frame to practice, anyway. He'd just go with that last excuse. It was a pretty good one.

Yoko reached the end of her routine and returned to her ready position. Gaspar was about to compliment her on it--he managed to get as far as "Tha--", when the Shogun exploded into motion. That was when he realized that what he'd seen hadn't been her form--that had been another warm-up. The real thing was something else altogether. He found himself enraptured by what he was seeing before him, and he remembered another thing that journeyman company-contracted Sokokunst instructor had mentioned about the true, highest levels of Sokokunst mastery. It really wasn't about just knowing a whole bunch of moves and figuring out which ones a particular frame could perform. It was also about the individual pilot, and what they brought to that combination. A true master didn't just execute a sequence of motions; they poured themselves into the form, both assuming its shape and making it their own, completely unique to themselves. When that happened, the Sokokunst practitioner ceased to be a pilot and became something else. A true master was one that could elevate the form from exercise into Art.

At the time, Gaspar thought it had sounded pretty suspect. "Art" seemed like a very pretentious term to apply to a frame synchronization process, but now, as he watched Yoko's Sokokunst, he realized he'd been one hundred percent wrong. The motions he'd seen her practicing transformed into expressions of emotion and intention. One sequence would flow smoothly, limbs swirling about like eddies in the current of a storm-swollen river, another would take that energy and blast forward in a series of straight, sharp lines--jabbing and snapping in a torrent of angry accusations. Other sequences reminded him of the ocean, slowly gathering its vast power before its inevitable crash on the shore.

And, while it wasn't unusual for a pilot's body language to get transmitted through their frame, he'd never seen such powerful emotion from a mobile frame before. The Shogun lashed out with a kick, and he saw a rush of pride and exhilaration. It dodged invisible incoming blows, took cover, and he saw fear, desperation, vulnerability. The Shogun slowly transitioned through a series of long, low stances, and he felt a melancholy so profound that it was heartbreaking--which ended when she leaped up and began a vicious string of attacks--and it was pure, focused, incandescent rage that went on and on. Gaspar found himself reflexively taking a step back, before he remembered where he was and what he was seeing. How was a faceless machine able to convey such human feelings? The whole routine made him think he was watching some type of story, but he couldn't follow the plot at all--just Yoko's reactions. But just that much was enough to hold him spellbound.

The Sokokunst form reached its furious apotheosis as the Shogun stomped down hard enough to shatter the concrete pavement, sending a shower of tiny stone chips flying up in all directions, as a spiderweb halo of cracks appeared beneath her foot. Gaspar held his breath as Yoko held that final pose, bent over her own knee, arms held outstretched, parallel to the ground. The whole world held still along with her.

Then the spell ended. With practiced, measured efficiency, the Shogun stood up and went back to ready. Gaspar released his breath. He hadn't seen anyone do a Sokokunst form like that--no, he'd never seen anything like that, period. He felt like applauding, then wondered if that might be crass, like it might cheapen the moment somehow.

Yoko rocked from side to side a bit on the Shogun's suspension. "Bleah," she said.

Gaspar nearly fell over. "Bleah?" he repeated, after trying and failing to process this affront to Art from its own creator.

"Oh, don't get me wrong," she said. "I'm not hating on the frame. It's actually pretty decent. Really good hips. Some range limitations on the shoulders, 'cause of the armor, and the ankles are kinda screwy, but overall it's good. And I can live with the shoulders--my Superchub does the same thing."

"Bleah?" said Gaspar. It really was the only thing he could think to say.

Yoko shrugged, "Well, what do you expect from just twenty minutes to practice? Normally you'd need a couple days to break a frame in proper. Honestly, I kinda wish I had that time, just to see what I could get this monster to do. But hey, it's better than nothing--and it helped me put my head back on straight a bit."

"Oh, yeah," she added. "Sorry I was snapping at you earlier, Grumpy Cat. It's those pre-mission jitters, you know. I forgot how wound-up I can get. But it's no big deal. We're cool, right?"

"Uh... sure," he said. "We're cool."

"Speaking of which, we'd better get in position," she said. "I want you here, see?" A flashing yellow circle appeared on Gaspar's HUD map. His frame's position was a white silhouette icon of his Longhorn imposed on a directional arrow showing his facing. Yoko's Shogun appeared in bright green. The service drones were blue wrenches, scattered all throughout the blackout zone. At the far edge of the map were seven red humanoid icons, each surrounded by wide red halos. The estimated position of the enemy. They were almost here.

He felt his heart quicken and his muscles tense up. "Yessir," he said, as he ran to his marker, taking deep breaths to try to calm down.

"Hey, do I look like an officer to you?" said Yoko.

"Yessir," he repeated.

"What? No, I--," she said, before giving up. "Oh, fine. I accept my field promotion. Why the hell not?"

Gaspar wasn't sure what she was going on about. He was too distracted by the red wave, blinking its way ever closer to them. He reached his glowing circle. It put him in a plain, ordinary Urashima intersection, just like a thousand other.

"W-what--" he said, and took a long breath and a hard swallow. "What do I do next?"

"Relax, Grumpy Cat," she said, as gentle as he'd ever heard her. "Your job is simple. I'm going to draw you a path. Like this:" 

A glowing yellow line appeared on his HUD map. "You wait until I say 'Go.' Then you run that path and shoot at the enemy. That's it."

"That's it?" he said.

"Soldiering isn't rocket science," she said. "That's the one upside, I guess. Just follow your orders and hope you don't die."

"I see," he said. It was kind of comforting. "Just fire my gun."

"Yep," she said. "If you hit the enemy, great. But don't sweat it if you don't. Your job is to give them something to think about that isn't me. Just remember your militia training. Controlled bursts--they taught you that, right?"

"Yes. Controlled bursts."

"And don't worry about waiting for clear shots, either," she added. "Anything in your way won't be for long, so just shoot, okay? All the civilians have been evacuated--so no collateral damage."

"Yes. That's good."

"But, remember--the same deal goes for your cover. It won't last more than a second or two, so make sure to keep moving. Staying still is death. Keep moving on your path."

"Keep on the path, right."

"Okay, soldier--tell me your orders." she said.

For a minute, Gaspar's mind was a blank. He nearly panicked, but it all came back to him. "Follow the path, shoot at the enemy, stay moving."

"When I say, 'Go.'" she reminded him.

"Yessir," he said. "I will wait until I hear you say, 'Go.'"

"Just making sure," she said. "But that'll do. Don't worry--you'll be just fine."

"Thank you."

Yoko's low chuckle tickled at him through his earpiece. "You know, when I met you at lunch, I kinda thought you looked like a real dork. But you know what, Grumpy Cat? You've got some serious guts. You really could've sat this one out, you know?"

"Thank you," he said, though "gutsy" was the last word he'd apply to himself at this minute. He was scared out of his hutching mind. "You're pretty amazing yourself."

"You bet your hutching ass I am," she said. "Okay, time to kill the chatter. See you on the flipside, Grumpy Cat."

"Yes. On the flipside," he repeated, though he hadn't the faintest idea what that meant. He'd come to the conclusion that he didn't understand Yoko, and probably never would. So what was the point in driving himself crazy trying? He made his Longhorn get down on one knee while the red blips meandered closer. The comm line was silent now, and the noises of his cockpit seemed magnified by comparison--the low rumble of the idling diesel engine, the pervasive hum of all the electronics surrounding him, the rasping of his breath, the thumping of his heart.

He watched the red blips edge closer and closer on his HUD, then checked back to his main viewscreen. Could he see them now? His frame's 'head' with its primary optic sensors peered out over the apartment rooftops. He hit the zoom function, and the jagged Urashima skyline appeared to race past him. He was having trouble making anything out. The heads of the enemy frames should be poking out over the rooftops, but the weird twilight in the ship was making it hard to make anything out. He was trying to look for anything moving--like a dancing light between the buildings. Wait, no--they wouldn't have lights on, precisely because It would give away their position---

Gaspar felt a surge of panic as he realized he'd forgotten to switch off his own shoulder-mounted floodlights. He fumbled for the switch, and took entirely too long to kill his lights. This was bad. He'd been the only light source in the entire blackout zone. Had he given them away? Should he move? He checked his HUD. His yellow circle was still in the same spot. He wasn't supposed to move until she said "Go." That was the plan. He wasn't supposed to think. Just follow orders. Maybe they hadn't seen. The red blips on his HUD weren't acting any differently than they had before. His main screen showed nothing but shadows. What were the night-fighting options again? 

He found the switch for starlight amplification. The world jumped into sharp relief of monochrome detail. It was even more of a ghost world than before--an abandoned city spread out between the strange conical black mountains of the hidden Gardens. Gaspar again looked for any signs of motion. Something caught his eye, just at the edge of one of the black mountains. A metal head swaying between the buildings, before passing behind the edge of the dark cone. What else was there? He switched to infrared. The world went into an even stranger realm of black and white shapes, only nothing was solid. It was like he was peering though rows and rows of film cut into angular shapes and laid on top of each other. He was able to make out a faintly glowing silhouette before it, too, wandered behind the cover of the Gardens, which were even more solid black in infrared. All that water.

Gaspar let out a long breath. They were using the Hanging Gardens to cover their approach. He wondered if they should switch positions to counter them. He was about to call Yoko to ask, but stopped himself. For all he knew, she'd expected this from the start, and they were already in the right position. There was no change to his HUD display, and the comm was silent. Then he remembered that her display should be networked with his. It took him a second to find the feature on his console, but he called it up, and he had a small rectangle in the bottom right of his main display with a feed from her main optical sensor. He got a view of one of the service drones as it was attending to her, spindly arms stretching out past the edges on the screen. He couldn't see exactly what it was doing. But it didn't matter. She was busily preparing for whatever was coming. All of this worrying was pointless. There was nothing for him to do until she said "Go."

He really wished he had something else to do but wait. Something to take his mind off things. Otherwise it was too easy to think about the fact that they were horribly overmatched, and there was a very good chance he was going to die here. He recalled the many, many company events where they'd run competitive matches on the training simulators. He recalled just how often he'd been 'killed' during those matches. It had happened to him quite a lot. Only if it happened this time, there'd be no resetting for the next match. It would be the end.

The thought made his blood turn to ice, but he couldn't leave it alone. What would happen then? What would Fu say? And his daughter? He didn't think enough of himself to imagine that he was the center of anyone's world, but he couldn't help thinking that it would be terribly rough on them. Fu especially--even though she came off as stoic, even though strangers, and even acquaintances remarked on it; that she reminded them of some silent, beautiful porcelain doll--he knew she felt things deeply. And his last memory of May had been an argument. She'd been sullen and sulking when he'd left for the spaceport. She hadn't let him kiss her cheek for his goodbye. Would she think he'd died still angry at her? Would she blame herself? He didn't want that. That wasn't what he thought.

The truth was... the truth was she'd been right to be angry. What the hutching hell had he been doing all this time? Staying late all those hours doing 'client research.' When had any of that panned out? What was the point of any of it? All that time he'd spent away from his family--the most important people in the universe, to do what? Waste time at a job he hated. Yes! That was right! He hutching hated his stupid job! He was sick of it! If he ever managed to live through this, the first thing he was going to do was quit. He'd tell Rahul to just hutching shove it. And he'd give May an extra-huge extra birthday to make up for the one he'd missed. And then he'd take Fu out on a date. How many years had it been since he'd done that? Taken his wife on a date? He couldn't even remember. How had it gotten like this? It wasn't like May needed a sitter anymore. How could he have wasted all that precious time? Why did it take something like this for him to truly realize how important they were?

He had to live. Somehow, he had to live--or else he'd never be able to tell them any of this.

Oh, god--he'd give absolutely anything--whatever he could think of, all the riches in the universe--just to see them again for one more time.
Runaway Urashima: A short novel set in the Mobile Frame Zero universe.
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Mark Sakura
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Re: Runaway Urashima

Postby Mark Sakura » Mon Dec 07, 2015 7:56 pm

A low tone rang out in Gaspar's earpiece, jolting him from his reverie. He checked his HUD. The wide red circles had vanished from the enemy icons. Yoko had got a definite readout on their positions. He saw her green icon on the HUD. She'd crept forward to the edge of the black mountain. Then his central screen absolutely lit up with searing white points of light that lit up the entire cityscape, before racing over the side of the mountain in a rainbow arc to terminate in wider flashes that lit up the hidden Gardens from behind, throwing them into stark relief. Even with the dampening effect on the Longhorn's mic system, the roar of the rockets was an unrelenting din. And it kept on going.

Gaspar felt a sense of awe, seeing his own company's systems in action. Yoko must have had the service drones equip her Shogun with the high-capacity missile pods. And she was not firing it in measured salvos. She was firing them all off, as fast as the system would let her. The long roll of staccato booms echoed throughout the Urashima, as Gaspar watched the red icons on his map scatter in a panic. Except for one, that flashed bright white and disappeared, just as Yoko's final rocket whistled away.

"Whoo! One down!" her voice sang out over his earpiece, along with two heavy clunks, and some more scattered bangs. The terrorists were starting to return fire, sporadically. Perhaps they didn't have much in the way of artillery with them, but Yoko was already moving--quite rapidly, curling around the edge of the gardens to spoil their aim. She must've jettisoned the spent missile pods--but that meant she now had no weapons! A mobile frame could only carry a certain amount of weapons and armor at any one time. If the terrorists guessed what happened….

Gaspar checked his HUD and saw two of the terrorists pull away from the pack and close in on Yoko's position. They came round the gardens and into the view of his main screen. The lead frame carried a sword that nearly blinded his infrared before the software adjusted, and he was able to make out a strange gangly frame with a weird shovel-like head protruding straight out from an upper torso shaped like a sideways egg, followed by another, not glowing nearly as bright. It took him a second or two to interpret the infrared image and recognize the second frame as one of the station security XST's, carrying a heavy shield and a wicked-looking poleax. He still had no idea what the lead frame was. Some bizarre stolen custom job. Mobile frames were much hardier than people, frequently able to absorb multiple gunshots without shutting down. (Their ambush from earlier that day had gone exceptionally well.) But frame-sized melee weapons were capable of slicing another frame to pieces in seconds, so melee-focused assault frames were a common part of most frame companies. If they caught up to Yoko...

They were catching up to her! Yoko had stopped moving. What was she doing? It took Gaspar a second to see the blue icon, almost super-imposed on top of her green one. Re-equipping? He looked down at the feed from her display, saw the limbs of the service drones flitting about the edge of the screen. Was this planned? Wait--it made sense! She'd drawn two frames away from their fellows. They'd be expecting a pure artillery frame--next to helpless up close. It could work--if she kept switching her systems and surprising them…. But did she have enough time? The assault frames were nearly on her. He could see them in her feed, rushing straight at her. The egg frame was going all-out. Its fusion edge, a blade of magnetically-contained plasma, blue-tinged at the edges with a searing white core, lashed out at her in a wild swing.

Gaspar held his breath, but at the last second the Shogun's magnetically-shielded midnight black vibroblade came up to bat the glowing sword aside, and then the whole image swooped around in a slick circular motion. There was a loud clank, and he caught of the lanky egg-frame going airborne, tumbling head-over-heels to crash through an entire block of apartments. What kind of move was that? No time to puzzle it out--the XST was coming in hard, but showing more discipline. A second, shorter vibroblade appeared in the left side of the screen to join the first. Gaspar had a second to admire Yoko's guard before the two frames clashed. The exchange happened so quickly that he couldn't even begin to follow it, but the terrorist's poleax went flying away in several pieces as it staggered back.

The XST recovered quickly, hiding behind its heavy shield and surging forward. The shield-bash came up short, as it ran into the sole of the Shogun's outstretched foot. Yoko followed up her stop-kick with a vicious series of slashes that tore the XST's shield to pieces. It stumbled back, narrowly avoiding an attack that would have decapitated it, fell to its back. Yoko had the coup de grace, but instead she had to leap back, as the gangly egg-frame leapt into view, slicing through the air where she'd just been. It rounded on her, but stumbled as the service drone plowed into it, waving its spindly arms wildly. (She was giving it commands in the middle of all this? How was she doing that?) The distraction bought her precious seconds as the frustrated terrorist hacked the drone to bits. She kicked the XST as it was trying to rise, raised her swords again--and had to dance away as gunfire rang out.

Gaspar checked his HUD and felt his skin turn ice-cold. The rest of the terrorists had caught up with their companions and formed a firing-line at the edge of the black mountain. Yoko circled to face off with the egg-frame, putting it between her and the rest of the terrorists. The egg-frame raised its fusion edge in a rather sloppy guard--even Gaspar could see that--eager to do battle, but it paused, glanced back at its companion. Still lying prone, not even bothering to get up, it made an impatient gesture at the egg-frame, easy to interpret: "Get down, you idiot!"

Somewhat reluctantly, still holding its fusion edge in a kind of half-guard, the egg-frame began to kneel. Gaspar watched in helpless horror as Yoko was about to be caught in the open by the entire terrorist company, when two spinning black blurs flew over the egg-frame's head. Yoko had thrown both of her swords at the terrorists aiming their guns on her.

The sheer insanity of the move made Gaspar's mind reel. The terrorists must have been taken aback a bit as well, because instead of opening fire, they watched the swords arc through the air harmlessly. Gaspar groaned as he saw the spinning blades fly wide away from the terrorists to hit the side of the black mountain, tearing large gashes through the carbon fabric of the radiation bladders--releasing horizontal sheets of high-pressure water at the terrorist formation.

The terrorists staggered and weaved to keep their footing under the sudden blinding torrent. The egg-frame swiveled around to see what was causing the commotion, and was caught off guard when Yoko kicked him hard enough to send him crashing into the XST. Gaspar was able to catch a brief glimpse of the two of them flailing about, the XST frantically trying to avoid getting accidentally sliced up by its comrade's fusion edge, before Yoko turned and sprinted into the cover of the city streets, heading for the next service drone.

Gaspar breathed a sigh of relief, but another part of him despaired. That had been a chance to isolate and eliminate two frames, and it had failed. How many more chances would--

"Grumpy Cat! Go!" Yoko barked at him over the comm. "Go! Go now!"

A golden line glowed on his HUD, circling around behind the terrorists' position. Now it was his turn. He gulped in air and kicked his Longhorn into motion.

"Yessir!" said Gaspar, and charged into battle.

The Longhorn surged into action. Gaspar ran it along Yoko's gold path glowing on his display for a few seconds, turned, crouched behind a building for cover, pointed his targeting reticle at the ghostly figures on his infrared, and pressed the firing stud. Two short, controlled bursts, and the image of his target wavered, obscured by bright flashes. For a second, Gaspar thought he'd actually blown up the enemy frame, but no--the flashes were from the intervening cover exploding or catching fire. Somehow he remembered to keep moving, as the terrorists responded, and the area he'd just left was torn to shreds by the answering shells. 

People were shooting at him! People were trying to kill him! This was really happening. He prepared to turn and return fire again, but the Longhorn jolted and pitched forward. Was he hit? He was having trouble moving his left leg. He looked down and saw his left foot caught on some dark ghostly object. He switched from infrared to starlight amp, and saw he'd tripped over a statue. He scrabbled away on all fours, as shells began to fall all around his position. He pulled up to a crouch behind another building and fired off two more bursts. Targeting was harder now, harder to distinguish the frames from the background, and every round he fired created a chaotic storm of exploding mortar, brick, and bamboo. Still he'd make the tradeoff. He needed to see where he was running.


"That's it, Grumpy Cat!" Yoko's voice rang out in his earpiece. "Just like that. Just keep that up. Check for course changes."

The golden path flickered, changed in front of his eyes, veering off to the right. He followed, trying to ignore the landscape literally blowing up around him. He checked the path on his HUD minimap. Yoko's green blip was heading away from him, with the red icons an angry swarm in the center, and his route taking him to the other side of the swarm. He guessed the idea was to stretch the terrorists out again; give Yoko another chance to pick one of them off. 

Again, he turned, crouched, and fired, though this time the response was practically instantaneous. The building he used as cover exploded, and hideous bangs echoed throughout his cockpit as the Longhorn shook violently. Gaspar held down his trigger and waved his AG-01 wildly in the general direction the shells were coming from, before bolting down the path, desperately clinging to it for salvation. Those shots had hit him! 

"Grumpy Cat! Talk to me! You okay?" 

Yoko's voice snapped him back to himself. Was he okay? He checked his displays. Only minor damage. Oh, good. "Um, yes," he answered. "I'm okay."

"Then do me a favor and save the screaming until something's really wrong," she snapped. "Got my hands full, here."

"Yessir. Sorry." he said. Wait, had he been screaming? He didn't remember--

More gunfire rang out around him, and he scrambled away, returned fire, and scrambled away again. 

The rest of that battle would turn into a blur in Gaspar's memory. After those exchanges, he began to drift into a routine, and a weird type of clarity began to descend upon his senses. Though his fear never truly went away, it sort of faded to the background a bit, and Gaspar felt more focused and alert than he ever had in his life. The whole world shrank down to Yoko's golden path, and his targeting reticle, as he swept it across the landscape, hunting for enemies and obliterating anything keeping him from that goal, even as the terrorists tried to do the same to him. He remembered seeing, at one point, the red HUD icons showing the terrorist group split into two, with four of them chasing Yoko, and two dueling with him.

But despite his weird clarity, worrying things leaked through. It was hard to tell if he was actually hitting anything, what with all the debris flying about. Yoko's pathing seemed to want to keep him at the edge of his AG-01's effective range. He was being danced about, preventing a truly decisive exchange for either side. But he was taking hits, small spikes of panic lancing through his concentration every time a section of his display went red. He kept to his routine. Follow the path, fire. Follow the path, fire. Bang, bang, in return, and more sections went red. 

Despite his concentration, unease began to gnaw at him, more and more. He was starting to get a very bad feeling, a sense that said, "you aren't winning here." Gaspar ducked away after another bang-bang exchange, and it took him a second to realize that last hit hadn't been trivial. His chest armor was cracked. One more hit like that--and he would be dead. He kept going, kept on the path, readying for his next salvo, and a strange euphoria spread throughout his body. He felt like he was made of light. He embraced his destiny, embraced the inevitable. The exhilaration was incredible. He'd never felt so alive, so--

"I've got a lock! Painted up for ya." Yoko's voice shocked him out of his reverie. "Light 'em up, Grumpy Cat--now!"

On Gaspar's HUD, one of the near terrorist icons had a flashing yellow cross hairs on it. Yoko's green icon had managed to circle all the way around, close enough to get a precise lock on it, and was feeding it to him. He turned, and got a brief look at a flashing yellow outline superimposed on his display--a precise image of his target, even though it was ducking behind an apartment complex. The targeting computer autocorrected his aim, and all he had to do was pull the trigger. The solid shells of his gun tore through the intervening structure like it was made of paper, and Gaspar saw the yellow silhouette jerk and spasm, before it fell over, and did not get up.

"Got him," said Gaspar. "I got him!"

"Great, but keep moving," she said, drawing a new path on his screen. 

He did, his bizarre exhilaration fading, replaced by something else--some real hope. Maybe they could win. He checked his HUD--how many had Yoko taken out? His optimism faded when he counted five enemy frames. She hadn't gotten any? He checked her visual feed. It was constant motion, explosions and bright muzzle flashes. It looked like she was using the Shogun’s AG-07 assault gun. It didn’t look like she was getting any more clean shots than he was.

The reality of their situation sank in. Of course she couldn't get any kills—the terrorists were being much more careful now, maintaining their formation, content to play a sniping contest. They had more guns--they were bound to win that match eventually, even with her limited ability to replace armor panels. And there were only two service drones left. Most of Gaspar's armor was shot, and when he remembered to check his ammo, he was horrified to discover his magazine was at fifteen percent capacity.

He didn't have a spare clip of live ammo. All the rest were paint rounds. You hardly ever did live fire while running demos. Nothing he could do about it now, though. He switched his AG-01 to fire off single rounds, and continued on his route.

The battle continued as before, with the two of them dancing about on opposite sides of the mass of terrorists, though Gaspar was finding it a lot easier than before. Then he realized why--there was no return fire. The terrorists were ignoring him. They'd figured out who the true threat was, and were pressing Yoko with steady discipline, all five of them, forcing her to keep fleeing and fleeing to avoid being overrun. He kept to his routine, though he was taking more care aiming now, trying to make each shot count. It was still hard--they were at the limits of his effective range, and constantly moving away from him. He couldn't tell if he was hitting anything. The memory of the ambush and the curving bullets ran back through his mind. That wouldn't affect anything with a target on the ground, right? Both in the same frame of reference. Was that right? Or if it did, it'd be the same as gravity--but there was a spin... Aaah--he couldn't puzzle it out in his head! He wasn't doing any good like this, just pecking at them.

"Yoko," he said over the comm. "They're ignoring me. I need to move close--"

"That is a negative, Grumpy Cat!" Yoko's terse voice cut him off. "You will not allow yourself to be drawn in. You will stay on your course, as ordered. Do you copy?"

"But I'm--"

"NO HUTCHING 'BUTS' FROM YOU, GRUMPY CAT!" Her drill-sergeant cadence made him involuntarily shrink back in his harness. "I gave you ONE JOB, and you'd HUTCHING BETTER WELL--"

A hideous clangor came in over the transmission, and the image from her feed pitched around wildly, mainly showing dust and debris flying everywhere. For a second, Gaspar feared the worst, but then she started yelling at him again. 

"Dammit, I don't have time for this! You WILL follow your ORIGINAL orders, with NO change. That is ALL." And then the line went dead.

Gaspar grimaced and did as he was told, and the battle continued. Things just seemed to be getting worse. They all just kept running around endlessly. None of the five red icons disappeared. This couldn't last forever. At some point one of them was going to get a lucky shot, or Yoko was going to slip up, and he was going to run out of ammo. They had to try to make a decisive move before then, something to force the terrorists' hand. But what could he do? Yoko was the expert here. He had to rely on her.

But did he? Being an expert wasn't the same as being infallible. She hadn't wanted him involved to begin with. He had a wife and kids. Was she subconsciously being overprotective of him? To the detriment of her overall strategy? And he wasn't a soldier. He wasn't under any oath to obey her orders. And, even if he was, being a good soldier wasn't like being a robot, was it? Sometimes you had to use your own judgement.

Gaspar heard a string of curses over the comm. He checked his HUD and watched in despair as the red icons swarmed over one of the blue blips of the service drones, which then winked out. Only one left. Yoko was heading for it, with the five red icons tailing her, almost leisurely.

Gaspar's golden path updated, and he stared at it--a nice, safe, certain path. No-one could possibly blame him for following it. Then he turned and looked to the left, an unmarked street that would take him closer to the terrorists. There was no path there, no route. He'd be making everything up on his own. He'd really be on his own. No safety either. In fact, he'd almost certainly get killed. But it could make a big difference. Actually take one or two of them out, force them to give Yoko breathing room. Or he could completely screw up everything. He'd never know unless he tried.

He reached the intersection, began to turn left, and the whole world went pure white. What was this? He couldn't see. A message appeared on his main display: Starlight Mode Overexposed: Switching to Normal. And then the world came back. Colors returned, vibrant greens and blues and reds, though farther out in front of him it was muted by clouds of dust and smoke thrown up by all the fighting. Daylight had returned to Urashima. The central sun lamps had been switched back on again. The gunfire had stopped. The dead silence of its absence was eerie.

"BROTHERS! SISTERS! WE ARE BETRAYED!" Vicente's shrill, amplified screech made Gaspar jump. 

He whirled around to see the terrorist's bloody face looming over him, grown to monstrous size. Gaspar yelped, pointed his gun, and fired multiple rounds. Vicente shattered into giant shards of black glass. Gaspar had a moment to feel profoundly embarrassed at shooting up a public display screen, but put that aside as the audio message continued.

"Everyone else is dead. I won't be able to hold the helm," the young man's eyes held a fervent conviction to them. It was inescapable, mirrored a million times in all the smaller screens around Gaspar. His route had taken him to the very edge of the blackout zone, the only place free of the terrorist's visage. "But they haven't won! We will still prevail. I leave it to you--you know what to do. Strike at the oppressors! Teach them what it means to defy the APLF-C. Even as you die, you will find glory. Generations from now, the people of Alicanto will look back to this day, and remember--"

Gaspar heard a banging, followed by a loud crash. Vicente's microphone began to pick up other voices, yelling from a distance. Gaspar was able to make out some of what they were saying: "...nds away from the console! Hands away from the console! You have..."

Vicente ignored them, continued his oratory. He looked triumphant. Not afraid at all. Gaspar couldn't help but admire the man's bravery, horrible though it was. Then shots rang out, caught by the mic and carried over the PA system to every corner of the Urashima, a titanic, echoing din that came from everywhere. Bright red blood spattered over the screen, over every working public display screen on the ground and sky, the whole world stained red. Then the transmission cut out, but muted gunfire continued for a few seconds more, echoes from the speakers coming from every corner of the ship.

The following silence didn't last long, as the terrorists resumed their assault. Gaspar turned, again torn between the gold path, and...

Wait, his path had gone. What was--

"Gaspar!" Yoko yelled into his earpiece. "Get the runner! The runner's got the bomb!"

"What? I don't--" he started to say, then checked his HUD. One red icon had separated from the others, heading aft.

"They're going to blow the ship! I can't get to him. That's on you. Stop him, whatever it takes. Go now! Go! Go!"
Runaway Urashima: A short novel set in the Mobile Frame Zero universe.
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Mark Sakura
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Re: Runaway Urashima

Postby Mark Sakura » Wed Dec 09, 2015 2:34 am

"Yessir!" He gunned his Longhorn into motion, moving on an intercept course. He saw the runner right away. So much easier to see in daylight. It didn't hurt that the enemy frame was painted bright lime green with jet black details. Definitely a stolen custom frame. It was that weird lanky frame from before, with the sideways egg for a chest. But in this light, he noticed one section of the frame that didn't match the rest--a grey and white boxy pack extruding the reddish cones of directional thrusters, used for maneuvering in space. If Gaspar didn't stop it, it would fly to the reactor and blow it to bits, killing everyone.

Gaspar gunned his Longhorn's diesel engine, and it roared in response. He came in at an angle, leaping over buildings when he needed to. He was locked in on his enemy, single-minded. The whole world seemed to jump out at him with incredible clarity. He ran until he found the perfect spot to take his shot. He centered the fleeing bomber in his sights, and squeezed off a round. No reaction. A second shot. Still nothing. No--he needed to lead his running target more. Third shot and the egg-frame staggered, stumbled a few steps, but was still going.

But Gaspar had the range now. His aim was true. He could just feel it somehow, could see the shots hitting even before he fired. He squeezed the trigger again and again.

And nothing happened. He stood dumfounded as the bomber fled out of range. A flashing red message at the edge of his vision caught his attention. "OUT OF AMMO," it said.

He screamed in frustration, threw his empty gun away, and took off running after the lime green frame receding into the distance.

Gaspar leaned hard on the throttle, and the diesel engine let out a war cry that rattled every single bolt and rivet in the cockpit, rpm meters hopping in and out of the red zone, dumping every bit of excess energy into the Longhorn's muscle cylinders, testing them like they'd never been tested before. Gaspar had never tried to push this frame to it's limit before. Part of him was curious to see what it could really do.

Gaspar glanced at his HUD, and got a nasty reminder. He saw four red icons advance on one green bleep, completely alone, with no support at all. That was so lonely. It wasn't right. He found himself easing up on the gas a bit.

But no, there wasn't anything he could do about that. He had to stop the runner, or everyone would die. Yoko would scream at him if he turned back, and she'd be completely right. She'd been prepared for this from the beginning. Once upon a time, that had been her job--to be ready to make that sacrifice every single day. Gaspar couldn't wrap his head around it. Who could live like that? As he threw his throttle open and resumed the chase, he couldn't help but feel that he had to say something, anything--to honor what she was doing. But everything he could think of came up short.

"Yoko, good luck!" was the best he could manage. He didn't hear a response. He had a feeling she had her hands full.

Gaspar turned back to the chase. The green frame had already built a sizable lead on him, and it was going all-out, just like he was. Its gangly frame seemed perfectly at home in a race, like a greyhound on two legs. But if the egg-frame was a greyhound, then his Longhorn was like a bulky muscle car, from the heyday of internal-combustion engines in ancient times. The streets and scenery of Urashima whizzed past him in a blur. He stared at the grey and white backpack on his viewscreen and willed it to slow down, to come back to him. And it did. Very slowly. Meter by meter, he began to close the gap. Then he noted the horizon flying forward to meet them. The aft bulkhead. He'd run out of time!

But wait--no, he hadn't. Behind the aft bulkhead was the sewage processing facilities--sealed off by airlocks to keep the smell out. The bomber would have to slow to a stop to open the door. He was going to catch him!

But the bomber realized this at almost the same time he did, and the green frame spun and planted the edges of its long feet against the ground, leaning back and skidding along the ground like a hockey player. Everything seemed to go into slow motion then. Gaspar swore he actually saw the blade of the glowing fusion edge emerge from it's emitter as it extended to full length. He wasn't at all rushed--he had plenty of time to realize there was no way he'd be able to stop his Longhorn in time to avoid the slash that the egg-frame was readying, even as he did everything he could to slow its charge. He didn't know any flashy trick sudden-stop moves, and he had never played hockey. He'd been on the high school wrestling team instead. So, even though it had been many, many years since high school, and even though he'd never attempted to use any of his old moves in a frame before, he didn't hesitate.

He eased up on his throttle, trying to slow his onward rush as much as he could, keep slowing... keep slowing, as the enemy pulled its fusion edge back. He could see it clearly, see it readying its swing, could see the precise distance where it would be able to slice him in two. It was a long distance. None of his high school opponents had carried swords. But that couldn't be helped now. He kept his focus on that readied sword arm, waiting for that telltale twitch that would signal a strike, as his frame barreled onward, seemingly out of control. Waiting... waiting... Now!

At the last possible second, Gaspar ceased his braking and threw himself forward instead, in the longest, most desperate wrestler's shoot he'd ever attempted, his existing momentum turning it into more of a diving tackle. He heard the air sizzle as the glowing blade passed over his frame's head. He collided with the enemy frame's knees and wrapped up its legs, bearing it down to the ground.

The green frame hit the concrete with an impressive crash and flailed at him wildly. Somehow Gaspar managed to see its strike coming and get his arm up to deflect it. He felt an odd tingling haptic feedback through his harness, and dispassionately noted most of his Longhorn's severed left forearm clatter across the deck. He scrambled and rolled on top of the green frame, making the best possible use of his weight advantage, maintaining top position, even as he worked to isolate and immobilize the terrorist's deadly sword arm.

He managed to wrap it up, put it in a lock, though having just a stump for a left arm made it harder than it should have been, and cranked it with all of the strength that his dumb, oversized, and much-maligned Longhorn had. 

There was a hideous shrieking of twisted metal as the enemy's arm ripped off at the shoulder joint. Even in his heightened state, Gaspar dropped the severed arm in surprise. That had never happened in high school! The deadly burning blade switched off automatically. Wait--he could use that. Unlike the Shogun's high-end vibroblade, the enemy's generic fusion edge had no ID lock.

He had to sprawl out across the ground to reach the enemy's weapon, trying to keep his legs and lower body pressing down over the green frame as he did. He did not want to let it get up. The fusion edge was just out of reach, just a meter more and he'd have it. Peripherally he was aware of warning lights flashed on his HUD, reporting extensive damage to his diesel engine. The bomber was using its one remaining arm to gouge huge holes in the engine. It was ripping out his guts.

Gaspar grinned. Did his enemy think that was going to help anything? One hour of battery life, you bastard! He'd said it a million times, in a million sales pitches, and no one ever hutching listened! Well, let's see if you hutching believe it now. How do you like this for a demo, huh?

He made one final surge, stretching out to grab the fusion edge, ignited it, reared back to straddle the green frame, and plunged the white-hot blade through its sideways-egg chest and into the floor beneath it. He ripped the blade free, yanking it to one side to cause more damage, which turned out to be a mistake.

Because the enemy frame had a space-capable maneuvering rocket system bolted to its back, and Gaspar's exit slice went right through one of the rocket-fuel tanks. The ground beneath him went up in a huge fireball, and then absolutely everything went black.

*****

The next thing Gaspar remembered was fuzzy, groggy, blurred vision and this persistent ringing in his head. He groaned and tried to take stock of himself. He tried to sit up, but something was holding him down. A harness. He was in a mobile frame. But he was lying on his back. Oh, wait--he remembered now. He'd been a battle. But he was still alive. Why was it so dark in here? He concentrated, and all the weird dim blurry lights came back into focus, mainly blinking red and flashing, "WARNING! WARNING!" But that obnoxious ringing wasn't going away.

Oh, wait--that wasn't in his head. That was his phone.

Who in the hutching hell would be calling him at a time like this? He fumbled around, trying to retrieve it from his front pants pocket, which ended up being a ridiculously awkward operation with this hutching harness in the way. Finally he fished it out, hit the answer button, and tried to hold it up to his ear, only to have his helmet bang against something on the right side of his head. Craning his head around in the narrow confines of the cockpit was tricky, but he managed to get enough room to see the huge, jagged shard of metal that had pierced his Longhorn's chest, shattered the main viewscreen, and had just missed skewering his head by centimeters.

Gaspar leaned his head way over to the left side and held the phone to his ear. "Hello? Hello?" he said, because that seemed like a better option than having a complete panic meltdown, which was the other thing he sort of felt like doing right now.

There was no answer. Gaspar checked the display. Missed Call: Bibi Azoulay, it said. Gaspar stared at it for a second, and then it went off again, ringing and vibrating in his hand. He yelped and very nearly dropped it.

"Hello?" he said, again leaning his head to one side to make room for the phone. "Gaspar here."

"Yes! Thank goodness," said Bibi. "Gaspar--are you okay? Are you hurt?"

Good question. He took a second to do a quick inventory of body parts. He had a killer headache, and felt pretty drained and exhausted. Oh, and if he thought about it, he was kind of starving. But he didn't notice any major holes in his body, and he could wiggle his fingers and toes and all that.

"I seem to be okay," he said. "It's just--"

"What about your frame? Is it operational? Can you get it up and moving?"

"Um, hard to say," he said. "My main display screen has been shattered, and--"

"What about auxiliaries? Do you have backups for it?"

"Uh, I think I can use my HUD," he replied. "Oh, wait--the system's rerouted it automatically. There's a bunch of--Oh! I've been decapitated! I mean, the frame has. I'm fine, though. But all my optics and sensors are gone. I'm totally blind." Which explained why she'd called his cell phone instead of transmitting through his comm.

"Um, okay," she said. "What about general operation? Can you get your frame on its feet and moving again?" There was something about her tone that gave him pause, and then he figured it out; this was the voice of someone who was very carefully not panicking. What was she not panicking about? 

He thought about asking, but realized the most sensible thing to do was to follow her lead and not waste time with any questions about whatever it was. 

"Hold on--let me check," he said, switching his phone to speaker mode and clipping it to his frame harness. He started going through all the various indicators on his HUD, which was more awkward than he'd like, since the eye-motion based interface really wasn't designed for this.

"Don't take too long," said Bibi. "This is urgent."

"Yes," said Gaspar, having his suspicions confirmed. He tamped down on his burning curiosity and checking through the damage reports. All sorts of things were out of whack. Armor integrity was virtually nil. Left forearm missing. Right hand gone. Diesel engine and fuel tank completely gone. Actually, that was a safety feature. The diesel system was attached to the Longhorn's midsection with temperature-activated explosive bolts. It was a simple, foolproof system. Any fire hot enough to ignite the fuel tank would cause it to jettison first. Gaspar wondered if the action of expelling the engine block and fuel tank had created an equal and opposite reaction of hurling his entire frame backwards, away from the blast. It could explain why he was still alive. 

But no time for that now. Battery power still on. Right leg still functional. Left leg... 

"I've total failure of the muscle cylinders in my left leg," he reported. "But it says I can put it in brace mode--"

"Yes, do that," she said, in clipped tones. "Please hurry."

"All right," he said, concentrating hard on the 'Y' on his HUD until it flashed and activated. One nice thing about a mechanical exoskeleton--if certain joints lost their function, they could be locked in position, forming their own brace. He could get the frame to walk this way, but--

"But wait, what's the point of this?" he said. "Even if I can walk, I can't see any--"

"Can you open your hatch?"

"Oh--good idea. Let me see..." Gaspar had his hand on the hatch release, but some instinct made him freeze, at the last possible second. He gazed in terror at the huge jagged saw-blade of shrapnel just to the right of his head. The cockpit hatch hinged upward. If it opened now, that blade would slice downward. He'd nearly sliced himself in half.

"Um... I don't think that's a very good idea right now." His voice came out like some cross between a croak and a squeak.

"What? Why not? What's wrong?"

"The cockpit is... jammed. It's jammed shut," he said, favoring a shorter explanation. Actually, it probably was jammed. Probably wouldn't have moved even if he had pulled the release. He probably hadn't come centimeters away from a gory, horrible death. Yet again. Ha ha. Ha ha.

"Don't you have an emergency option for that?" said Bibi. "Like, explosive bolts on the hatch or something?"

"Um, yes. But..." He stared at the wicked shrapnel blade. The bolts should throw the hatch straight out, away from the frame--if it worked properly. But Gaspar had no idea what the rest of the shrapnel blade looked like, or what other damage the hatch had sustained. If any part of the hatch was obstructed or hooked on in such a way that it didn't fly straight--if it came off at an angle...

An image popped into his brain, of the blade-skewered hatch whipping around like a swizzle-stick in one of Rahul's cocktails, and it was nearly enough to make him faint.

"But what? What's the problem?" said Bibi, relentless.

"Uh... look. Could you tell me what's going on, please?" he said. "Because it sounds like there's something going on, and I kinda... Um, no--I really, really, really need to know what it is."

There was a brief pause on the other end of the line. "Right," she said, all business. "There's a large rocket-fuel fire near your frame. There's been a... we had to reboot the emergency systems. The fire-suppressant drones are still coming on line. Won't be able to get to you for another ten-fifteen minutes, at best."

"Right," he said, though that didn't sound too bad.

"That enemy frame you killed is in several large pieces. And those pieces are on fire. And it's carrying a big huge hutching bomb in its cockpit."

Uh oh. "Wait," Gaspar said. "The bombs are CDX-10, right? Yoko said that's indestructible without the detonator."

Another brief pause. "Yes, that does sound like something she'd say," said Bibi, sounding profoundly exasperated. "Look, it's an explosive. It's a massive amount of potential energy barely held in check by a bunch of chemical bonds. And it doesn't matter how clever you are when you craft those bonds--there are limits. You need to get out of there, right now!"

"Ah." said Gaspar. "Right. I see. Hold on."

Gaspar loosened some of the harness straps on the right side of his body, and tried to squeeze himself over to the left side of the cockpit as much as he possibly could, which wasn't much at all. He found the emergency hatch release, painted up in diagonal black-and-gold stripes, and popped the cover. 

"Okay. Blowing hatch," he said, his voice sounding tinny and strange in his own earpiece. He stared at the blood-red pull handle, and reminded himself he really didn't have time to think this over. He grabbed the handle and yanked, and there was a thunderous boom, and the deadly, menacing blade just disappeared with a whoosh of air, and Gaspar was still in one piece.

Bright daylight from the sun-lamps poured in, along with a wave of heat and an acrid, chemical stink. That was a rocket-fuel fire, all right. He rolled the Longhorn to one side, and got a good view of what was left of the terrorist's frame--scattered arms and legs, and, most prominently, the sideways-egg torso and streamlined shovel-head, lying separated from the rest of its body, like a huge robotic bust. It was blackened and wreathed in flames. Oh dear. He was amazed that the bomb hadn't gone off yet. Well--it was supposed to be really stable. But what was the limit? How hot did that cockpit need to get? And where was the cockpit? Was it in the head or the chest? Who could tell with that bizarre frame? That thought led to another: there’s a human being in there somewhere. Easy to forget that in frame combat, somehow. He tried to push it back down. No time for that.

A loud clanging shocked him to action. His frame hatch had crashed down into a building somewhere. He struggled to put his frame back on its feet, which wasn't at all easy with a non-functioning leg and two stump-arms. He got on all fours, with the left brace-leg sticking out to the side, and scrabbled about trying to get it under him somehow. He had to work quickly, but if he rushed it, he would only make mistakes and waste more time. With Bibi offering anxious encouragement in his earpiece, he finally managed to brace his left foot against the corner of a nearby building and push himself upright.

"Okay, that's it!" said Bibi. "Now, run for it!"

“Running” was a problem, too. It was even worse than having a normal knee-brace, because most of the actual “muscles” in his left hip were shot, or just barely working. Still, after taking the first few tentative steps, he managed to get a decent thump-swing rhythm going, which he pushed to the fastest pace he could. 

He hadn't gone for very long before a massive boom split the air and kicked him in the back.  The whole world pitched around crazily, and Gaspar could tell that keeping his crippled frame upright was a lost cause from the start. He focused on making sure it fell on his side, to protect the gaping hole in its chest cavity. He succeeded, but the impact still rattled his teeth and knocked the wind out of him.

"Gaspar, you okay? Gaspar, talk to me."

"O... ka..." he said, forced to speak in wheezes. He checked his HUD. The diagnostics showed a sea of red warnings, but it had looked like that before the blast. If it was any more busted now, he couldn't tell. He repeated the trick of propping up his left leg in order to stand again, destroying a cafe in the process. In the middle of righting himself, he heard loud, whining sirens and flashing red lights as a pack of fire-suppression drones passed by, heading back the way he'd come. He looked back and saw a smoking crater the size of a city block. It occurred to Gaspar that they were in a spaceship, and this could be very bad. But he didn't see any rushing vortex of air to indicate a hull breach.

"Bibi, how are we doing?" he said. "That blast didn't get anything serious, did it?"

"Doesn't look like it," she replied. "Looks like most of the energy bounced off the true bulkhead and dissipated into the sub-spindle atmosphere." 

The 'ground' in Urashima was an extremely sturdy grid of scaffolding and panels, followed by a gap of about one and a half meters, used for all sorts of plumbing and wiring, and even soil and tree roots in some cases, followed by the true inner bulkhead. Now that he looked at it more closely, the 'crater' behind him was actually quite shallow.

He let out a long sigh of relief. "So it's over," he said. Then an anxious thought took him. "Is it over? What's going on?"

"It's... it's a real mess over here," Bibi said, sounding incredibly tired. "Those bastards made a huge mess of the bridge before we could take it back. But we think we can... No--we ARE going to get this ship turned around and back on course, but... It's going to be close. But we can't... we don't have anyone to spare. We have to keep the bridge secure and bring the ship under control. That's priority number one. We just can't..."

"Bibi," said Gaspar. "What's going on? You sound worried."

"It's Yoko.” she said. "She's not responding to any messages. Not on her phone, not on her comm. I have no idea what's happened to her!"
Last edited by Mark Sakura on Wed Oct 19, 2016 3:55 am, edited 5 times in total.
Runaway Urashima: A short novel set in the Mobile Frame Zero universe.
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Re: Runaway Urashima

Postby Mark Sakura » Thu Dec 10, 2015 3:54 am

“What?” he said, and turned to gaze off into the distance, back to the battlefield of the blackout zone. The clouds of dust and smoke had thinned a bit, but it was enough to obscure the area. The sounds of gunfire had ceased. So the battle must be over, but—

A new thought sent a chill through Gaspar. “What about the terrorists? Are they still… active?” And if they were—he was a complete sitting duck. His Longhorn was a wreck, practically helpless.

“I don’t know. If they are, they’re keeping quiet, and they’re not moving. I can’t tell you more than that. That whole section has no power, and Yoko shot out all the cameras. I can’t… we have to keep the bridge secure while we run repairs. We have to. We can’t take any chances. It’s hundreds of thousands of lives at stake. I just can’t…”

“I understand,” said Gaspar. And he did. Abandoning the bridge to hunt down enemies running around the hab was the terrorists’ mistake. Bibi would be a fool to do the same thing—especially if their defense was a bunch of labor frames with improvised weapons. If there were terrorists around somewhere, the only smart move would be to be to fortify the bridge and force them to attack it.

But then, what about Yoko? Gaspar tried to calm his nerves. Think this over rationally. What were the possibilities?

Possibility One: Yoko was dead. If that was true, there was nothing he could do for her, and the smartest thing he could do was go hole up and hide somewhere until everything was over.

Possibility Two: Yoko was alive, but she was hiding from the terrorists. If that was true, and he blundered into the middle of that… Gaspar eyed the scenery all around him, noting all the places a sniper could be hiding. Despite being encased in a huge metal machine, he felt horribly vulnerable with the wind whistling though the open hole in his Longhorn’s chest. Any terrorist with so much as a handgun could take him out. If Yoko was hiding and he charged in to “rescue” her, he could easily ruin whatever plan she was running. She might end up endangering herself to rescue him. The smartest thing he could do was go hole up and hide somewhere until everything was over.

And then there was Possibility Three: Yoko was hurt very badly and needed help. If then… if then…

Aaaigh! Everything hinged on what was true and what wasn’t, and he had no good way of knowing that. Everything hinged on blind guessing. No, there was another way to think of it. If Possibility Three was true, and Yoko died because he ran and hid, how would he feel when he looked in the mirror the next morning? The next time he faced his wife? The next time he told his daughter to be brave about something, be it facing a test, or a bully, or anything? How would those words taste coming out of his mouth, knowing he had a chance to save someone—a hero, no less—and done nothing.

But… that wasn’t true, was it? He hadn’t done nothing. He’d already done quite a lot, hadn’t he? More than a lot of people would, to be sure. Surely he could tell himself that, right? It made sense, didn’t it? Wasn’t that right? Wasn’t that right?

“Okay,” he said. “I’m going to go check it out. I’ll let you know if I find anything.”

“Oh, thank you,” said Bibi. “Thanks for everything. You just… you be careful, okay?”

“Oh, don’t worry about that,” he replied. “I’m all about being careful. Careful is what I do. Just a plain, boring, regular frame salesman. That’s me, haha.”

“Hah, yes,” she said. “Well, I’ve got a ship to stop. See you on the flipside.”

“Flipside, yes,” he repeated. As his wounded Longhorn lurched into motion, he reflected that at some point he was going to have to get someone to explain to him just what the hell that meant.

*****

He was already queasy by the time he found the first corpse. A side effect of the wounded Longhorn’s thump-swinging gait was that it caused the entire cockpit to pitch and roll like a boat being tossed in a high storm. What's more, running the Longhorn like this wasn't good for it. Even though the right leg had escaped severe injury, it had taken some damage, which he was now exacerbating by forcing it to do twice the work that it had been designed for. Gaspar tried very hard to ignore it all, pushing the Longhorn to move as fast as it possibly could, ignoring the flashing warning lights and increasing whine from the damaged muscle cylinders, keeping his gaze fixed on a steady point on the horizon, as much as that could be done on this crazy ship. Even so, he still had to stop halfway for some dry heaving, followed by some long, deep breaths. Then, images of a gravely wounded Yoko filled his head, covered in blood and crying out for help—help that needed to get there right this second, or be too late, and Gaspar was off again.

He ventured into to smoky haze of the blackout zone, and it wasn't long before he found his first dead body. He was spared the horror of actually seeing the corpse itself, as it was still inside its frame, but there was no mistaking what had happened. A tight group of cannon rounds had punched straight through its central optics and distinctive armored cowl and blown out the back, leaving a spattered trail of muscle-cylinder fluid and cables spilling out like entrails. Gaspar recognized this design, a B-025 Razor, though it had been customized with a longer armored cowl than normal, and gaudily decorated with a bright neon paint job. A stolen custom frame, but Gaspar realized there was another reason he found it familiar. The last time he’d seen this frame, it had been outlined in yellow on his viewscreen. This was his handiwork. He’d done this.

He had to keep going. He had to find Yoko.

He found the next body a good ways away. It was an utter wreck of a frame, barely recognizable as anything. Practically every centimeter of it had some type of hole, dent, or other damage. It was lying halfway on the remains of a temple, arms and legs splayed out, but the head and most of the chest were just gone. Actually, they were scattered throughout the wreckage of the buildings behind it.

Gaspar marvelled at the damage. It occurred to him that watching the sanitized blips of light on his HUD hadn’t given him a proper sense of the ferocity of the battle. This had been a war of attrition, each side relentlessly chewing and chewing at each other. The terrorists had superior numbers, and Yoko had the ability to do some basic fast field repairs. He pictured each side limping along, fighting while wounded—and his HUD hadn’t been giving him that level of detail—until finally, something gave; somebody made a fatal mistake. And then their fight would be over, and not in a small way. He really needed to find Yoko.

He figured his best bet was to follow the devastation, which wasn’t hard. Just look for the flashing red lights of more of the fire-supressant drones, spraying jets of white foam everywhere, sending columns of thick black smoke up to the sky. The columns made it all the way up to the central spindle, arcing to the aft of the ship as it did, forming black spirals around the sun stretching all the way to the rear of the ship. This place was so weird.

He turned his attention back to the ground. He really wouldn’t want to be the one to assess the property damage here. The ordered, carefully managed skyline of the blackout zone now looked like a mouthful of broken teeth. When giants get into an argument, the ants had better run. Gaspar remembered back to his orientation. A colony ship had to practice strict population management. As the Urashima had consistently hit or exceeded its resource production targets throughout its long journey, some growth had been allowed, but not by much, especially in comparison to a planetary colony. So there had never been much need for new housing, which meant that nearly every residence on the entire ship, no matter how plain, was an historic three-hundred-year-old-landmark. A lot of history had been killed today, and a lot of residents would be forced to stay in their biowells for some weeks to come, he imagined, their ancestral homes reduced to rubble and kindling. It was enough to make him think that maybe he was in the wrong business. He helped sell the machines that did this to people, after all. But he’d already decided to quit, that was right. And beating himself up wasn’t helping him find Yoko.

The third corpse was sliced in two, shoulder to hip. The line went right through the cockpit. Gaspar tried to avoid looking at that particular section of the wreck. From the other parts, it was obviously one of the Urashima XSTs, and oddly enough, it was carrying one of the Shogun’s vibroswords, or rather, the remains of one. This must have been that melee unit that Yoko had disarmed at the beginning of the fight. It must have run back and grabbed one of the swords that Yoko had thrown, just to get a weapon. Well, the sword wouldn’t have activated, not with its ID function. Had the pilot thought that a non-functioning blade was better than nothing? Gaspar remembered one of the Shogun’s video tutorials: “Please note that both the K1 and K2 combat vibroswords are specifically designed to be used as vibroswords. In the event of damage to or failure of the vibration function, PLEASE DO NOT ATTEMPT TO USE THE SWORDS, as this may cause complete structural failure of the composite blade, and is NOT RECOMMENDED.” Gaspar sighed. Hardly anyone ever watched the tutorials. And their media team had done such a good job with them, too.

But, in a way, this was giving him hope. Yoko had been fighting four terrorists when he’d left the battle. But now he knew she’d taken at least two out on her own, and turned the fight into a matter of two against one. That didn’t sound so bad. Surely a pilot of Yoko’s caliber could win that matchup, right? But then, why wasn’t she answering Bibi’s calls? Gaspar hurried on.

He found the last three corpses at the same time--a bulked-up custom Hi-Leg, another stolen security XST, and the Shogun. He could barely recognize it as the brand-new, showroom-perfect, gleaming piece of machinery he'd unveiled that morning. Most of its armor panels were cracked, bent, or missing altogether. Naked wiring, hoses, and raw muscle cylinders lay exposed among the skeletal metal framework. The right leg below the knee was completely gone, and the right elbow had been bent back and was pointing the wrong way. The imposing black glass faceplate had been sheared off, and the left grill was dangling by single metal strip, leaving the primary optic lens staring out, uncovered. It was lying mostly on its stomach next to the dead XST, left elbow braced against the enemy frame's "throat," left hand clutching the hilt of her shattered vibroblade in an overhand grip. 

The XST's chest was a ruined mess. its signature circular chest piece pried off to the side, and the remaining, thinner metal had been punched through several times, leaving long shards of matte black composite material jutting out of the buckled, crumpled waves of steel. Yoko's blade had shattered? And she'd stabbed the XST with the broken hilt? How had that happened? That shouldn't be--

Never mind that. That wasn't important right now. 

"Yoko!" he called out. "Yoko, are you all right? Can you hear me? Yoko!"

There was no response. The Shogun was lying face down. He couldn't see what condition her cockpit was in. She could be trapped in there. He needed to get her out. He hobbled over and reached out--with a useless stump of a hand. And his left arm was in worse shape. And, come to think of it, he had very little confidence in his Longhorn's ability to bend over far enough in its current state. He'd muted all the normal warning klaxons, but the visual warning messages were now blaring deep red: CRITICAL. Maybe he could get it down to one knee, but he doubted he'd ever get it up again. 

Was there another option? Try to bang into it with his feet, nudge it over? No, if Yoko was seriously injured, the last thing she needed was to be violently jostled around. He'd have to be careful, make the turn as smooth as possible. He positioned himself above the XST, preparing to put his knee in the gap between the XST and the Shogun, and try to hook his stump under the Shogun's armpit. Hopefully he could apply controlled pressure to get it on its side.

He was about to start the maneuver, when an image flashed in his brain, an image of him hauling a wounded Yoko out of her frame, not noticing the bloody, machete-wielding AFPL pilot sneaking up behind him. He'd better check on that Hi-Leg first.

He needn't have worried. The Hi-Leg was riddled with black composite vibroblade shards, with an especially large one piercing the cockpit. So no worries there, though Gaspar was beginning to notice a weird sick numbness from witnessing all this death. Was frame combat normally this vicious? And what was the deal with the vibrosword shards? Now that he was looking, he was seeing them everywhere, buried in the street, in nearby buildings, and in the XST, as well--it had a large one sticking out of its ruined optics array. He turned and felt a jolt as his foot clanged into something, nearly causing a nasty fall.

He looked down and saw a long section of the K1 vibrosword sticking out of the ground at an angle, pointing slightly towards the Hi-Leg. It had been jammed down hard enough to break through the street and into the solid bulkhead below. What was going on here? The K1 was supposed to be practically unbreakable while it was powered--he'd seen the stress-test videos. He hadn't been lying when he'd told Yoko...

Oh. She'd been concerned about it shattering. Because then the shards would fly everywhere at "hypersonic speeds." And he'd reassured her that if that happened, the sword was designed so the shards would all go...

A picture appeared in his mind, of the Shogun's leg getting blown off, of it crawling across the ground, seemingly helpless as the terrorists stalked up close, only to see it, at the very last second, jam its sword into the floor, and crank it back to an extreme angle, torquing the blade until it exploded in an arc like a claymore mine. The Hi-Leg was killed instantly, but the XST was only blinded. It staggered back, unable to see Yoko crawl and lunge at it with the jagged remnants of her weapon, and then--

Enough of this. He'd wasted too much time already. He went back, stood over the XST and the Shogun, and tried to carefully lower his frame between them. Immediately he ran into problems. Normally, going down on one knee meant putting your weight on the other leg. Something you didn't notice until you couldn't do it. Gaspar had to let the bad leg stick out to the side again and put all the frames weight on the 'ball' of its foot, while bending both the knee and the ankle, putting tremendous pressure on both of those joints. Klaxons screeched in his ears, as the computer overrode the mute he'd placed on them. He grit his teeth and ignored it. It didn't seem like he could go any lower without crashing, but maybe now he was low enough to try this. Carefully, he bent the Longhorn forward at the waist and reached out with his right stump. As he got closer, he saw the Shogun's chestplate wasn't completely closed. The Shogun wasn't lying completely flat; it was up at a bit of an angle. There was enough room for the hatch to have opened just a little. Maybe wide enough to--

There was a sudden lurch, as the foot of the dead braced leg lost its purchase against the ground, followed by a high-pitched twang of snapping cables as the Longhorn's base leg finally gave up in protest. Gaspar couldn't stop his fall, could only watch as his stump-arm punched the Shogun in the shoulder, violently flipping it over. He got a brief glimpse of the Shogun's hatch flying open to reveal an empty cockpit, before his own frame crashed to the rubble-strewn ground.

Gaspar was jerked around, and nearly bit his tongue, but his harness tensed around him, and spared him from the worst. His HUD was filled with red, and the warning klaxons sounded like they were trying to harm his ears deliberately, in revenge for all that he'd done to his frame. Gaspar just lay there for a minute, before bowing to the inevitable and initiating the shutdown sequence, knowing that this was the last time he'd be doing this on his trusty demo model. He had no doubt that he'd driven it beyond repair. He watched all the various lights and indicators go dark, and said a little goodbye to each; for none of them would ever light up again.

Extracting himself from the cockpit was another chore. The Longhorn had fallen between the XST and the Shogun, its torso at forty-five degree angle, pointed between the XST and the sky. The quick-release harness was a blessing, but trying to haul himself out of the dead Longhorn's sunken chest cavity was sheer hell. He hadn't realized until now how utterly exhausted he was--practically no strength left. Every muscle hurt when he tried to use it. And the narrow confines of the cockpit didn't give him much room to maneuver. Eventually, he found that he could make progress if planned one particular motion ahead of time, concentrated on doing it with all his remaining strength, and then rested afterward. Proceeding in this manner, he managed to twist around to get his knees beneath him, on what used to be the back of his chair, and hoisted his head and shoulders out of the lower edge of the cockpit.

He rested there a bit, when he saw something that made him wish he hadn't. Through one of the gaps of the enemy frame's ruined chest, he saw the remains of the pilot. He'd seen plenty of death that day, but it had been obscured by armor panels. This was his first direct look at a human corpse. Reflexively, he looked away, then forced himself not to. These were the consequences of their actions. He had to face up to them. 

It wasn't as grisly as he feared. From where he was, he could only see the terrorist's head and shoulders, which didn't have any obvious wounds. The rest of the body receded into the deep shadow of the wrecked cockpit, and Gaspar had a feeling he should be very glad of that. The dead man's head had tipped to one side, so he was looking straight at Gaspar, blue eyes frozen in a wide-eyed accusation. Gaspar shuddered and felt the stirrings of some primal wave of fear and disgust, but he made himself stay with it, ride it out. He gazed at the dead man, noting the features, and realizing, with no small surprise, that this man was a foreigner. He hadn't been wearing a helmet for some reason, so his blonde, blood-matted hair was easily visible. Gaspar couldn't remember the last time he'd seen anyone on Alicanto who looked like that. What had this person been doing allying with a group like the APLF-C? A mercenary? No--that didn't make sense. A merc would never go on a suicide mission. Some idealist? A Free Colonies agitator? Or maybe he was local--there were small numbers of families that had come over after the first wave, and not all of them came from Chile, though the recruiting channels established by the Trapananda company, and the family connections of the existing Alicanto families tended to reinforce the existing population dynamic... But no, he shouldn't stereotype. It was a wide world, after all.

Gaspar began to gather his strength, preparing to haul himself over the side, when one final detail caught his eye, made him catch his breath. The dead man's left arm had been jolted out of the cockpit, and was lying outstretched. There were markings across the knuckles--letters. Put together, they spelled out HARD. The man's other hand was lying palm-up on the side of his forehead, as if he'd thrown it up to ward off a blow. Gaspar felt an overwhelming desire to examine the knuckles on that hand. He could sort of see them, but they were in shadow. With shaking hands, he retrieved his phone from where it had been clipped to his harness, switched it to camera mode, and activated the zoom.

It was still a bit dark, but it was enough to confirm his suspicions. The right hand said SHOT. He'd seen this man before, in a photo, only he hadn't been a man. He'd been a boy, barely into his teens, and he'd had Yoko Reinhart's arms around him. For this was Kostya Zhukov, Yoko's long-lost childhood love, and she'd just stabbed him to death.
Last edited by Mark Sakura on Wed Oct 19, 2016 4:45 am, edited 4 times in total.
Runaway Urashima: A short novel set in the Mobile Frame Zero universe.
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Re: Runaway Urashima

Postby Blorf » Thu Dec 10, 2015 10:27 am

I was going to wait until the end to comment, but since you've specifically brought in one of my frame designs I guess I'll jump in now.

So, first and foremost, this is really well done. Your writing is evocative and compelling, and I've appreciated the attention to detail in so many places. You've made this thread one of my favorite stops along the morning check-in. I'm looking forward to seeing where it goes from here.

Second, thank you. Using my frame in your piece, even in such a simple nod, was greatly appreciated. I'm glad that I was able to earn a place to inspire your imagination.

Finally, a comment of much less significance. I'm interested in the story of how that frame got where it is. Since the rest of your piece seems so well researched, I assume you're aware of what was written about that frame in its introduction thread. Any typical modder couldn't hope to get their hands on one, ever. Most outside the military would never see one in person in a lifetime. (Gaspar's familiarity doesn't strike me as odd, though; he'd be well informed about the military frame market.) Any non-military example would almost certainly have been illegally obtained. Its owner would most likely want to keep it hidden until it was needed for battle. A neon modded version would be a complete oddity! We are talking about well-funded terrorists here, though. Also, the Razor's heavy armor is designed to keep the pilot alive when the frame is incapacitated. There would be very limited circumstances in which the pilot would be killed. I suppose all bets are off if you're modding it. Maybe the heavy armor was stripped off so the stronger engine makes the frame faster and more agile? Or maybe there's a weak point with an extremely lucky front-to-back shot through the optics? I don't know. Don't feel like you need to revisit this on my account—tell the story you want to tell. It's fine with me if you bend my fluff text or leave it to the reader to speculate just as you've left it right now. I noticed that for what you wrote and what I wrote to both be considered true, there would have to be pretty interesting story in between. I thought I'd let you know that how it came to be is a story I'd be interested in having you tell.
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Re: Runaway Urashima

Postby Mark Sakura » Thu Dec 10, 2015 8:29 pm

First, thanks a lot for the compliments. I'm really glad to hear that you're enjoying the story.

Secondly, whoops. I've just been picking out some of my favorite frames for the enemies, and I grabbed yours without double-checking the fluff.

But that's Ok--I can make this work. I envision the Custom Frame Exhibition as being something started out by enthusiasts and small custom shops, that became huge over the years. When something gets huge, it attracts big corporations, interested in the PR. Even a pure military contractor will sometimes do things for targeted promotion, or to just raise their overall profile.

In this case, the company that makes Razors decided to have a presence at the show, which meant creating their own unique version of a B-025, done up in a "hot-rod" style.

So of course the terrorists jump at the chance to steal something like that, not realizing that this purely promotional frame has significantly weakened cockpit armor compared to a regular Razor.

Does that work for you?


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Re: Runaway Urashima

Postby Mark Sakura » Fri Dec 11, 2015 4:19 am

Gaspar hauled himself over the edge of the cockpit. He really needed to find Yoko right away. Even if she hadn’t sustained any physical injuries, what would her mental state be like? He couldn’t even imagine it. She would be heartbroken, to be sure. Suicidal, even? Whatever the situation, she shouldn’t be by herself right now.

Gaspar felt his knees and thighs scream at him when he jumped down from the cockpit. He was getting too old for this kind of thing. He limped over to the Shogun. Lying on its side, the empty cockpit was just above his head. What was he even looking for? A note? Some clue as to…

Wait—there it was: a reddish-brown spatter at the cockpit’s lower edge. Blood, and a lot of it, rivulets running sideways across the lip of the cockpit. She was hurt. But now what? The stain seemed to be isolated in that one spot. He didn’t see a trail—but of course he wouldn’t. He’d knocked the Shogun out of its original position. He scanned the dusty, rubble-strewn ground and found what he was looking for: a series of droplets that formed a trail. He followed it away from the battlezone.

He huffed and wheezed as he hobbled along, although his soreness began to recede a bit as his muscles went into motion. Walk it off. More problematic was the trail itself—it became very sparse in a very short time. Well, that was good news. Yoko had mostly staunched the bleeding. But it wasn’t helping him find her. He was fortunate that the deserted Urashima sidewalks were paved with such pure white concrete, or he’d never be able to pick any of her trail out. It had thinned to a drop or two every two meters, if that.

Gaspar hurried block after block, fighting down a growing sense of unease. The streets were empty, all the houses and storefronts were vacant, and nothing had suffered any kind of damage. A perfectly preserved ghost town, the sanitized cityscape seemed to mock him, to deny the truth that a great battle had every happened. He almost found it offensive.

The drops were redder, but more spaced out, until Gaspar reached the last one—with no Yoko in sight. He had a minute of desperate panic. Had he even been following the right trail? He could have easily been sidetracked onto something else—old drops of paint, or even ketchup or something, that hadn’t been cleaned up before the lockdown. What if he had really been tailing some messy eater for who knew how many blocks? What would he do then?

Gaspar rubbed his face with his hands, and then noticed something he’d missed, being as focused on the ground as he was—a bright flash of red on a hand-rail leading up a series of stone steps. He followed it up to a plaza for a small shopping arcade, and saw another clue--a bloody handprint on a glass door. He ran inside the building, which turned out to be a very large department store. What was she doing—of course!

He didn’t bother to look for any more bloodstains. Instead he used the store signage to direct himself to the first aid section. So prosaic. Walking through the aisles of brightly-colored, carefully-organized merchandise began to annoy him, for reasons he’d never thought about before. After the heart-stopping intensity of combat—of explosions, of lethal bits of metal flying at him, of lunatics trying to skewer him with swords of blazing plasma—everything here just seemed so trivial. Fake, almost. Like walking through a level in a video game, one where nothing was happening. It was missing monsters, or other enemies—something to force you to make sudden, life-or-death decisions. To make important decisions, that mattered. In the absence of that, what were you left with? Deciding which one of the twenty or so different pens or pencils on display to pick out? Why did there need to be twenty different versions of the exact same hutching thing? What were people doing with their lives?

He passed aisle after aisle of useless junk until he reached the first-aid section. Sure enough, the section containing bandages, medical tape, and antiseptic wound-sealant foam had been rifled through, various packages lying scattered about, along with the most amount of blood spatter he’d seen since he’d started tracking. The fresh trail led to the end of the aisle, and down a ways to a refrigerated glass case containing various drinks, in their labeled ship-standard reusable bottles. The floor was cluttered with discarded medical packaging and an empty water bottle, and the floor was wet with a pinkish liquid that had a few bits of white foam floating on top. There were a few wet footprints leading away and…

Wait, what was he doing, still playing detective? There was a much simpler solution here.

“Yoko!” he called out, or tried to. His voice came out hoarse and strangled. He cleared it and tried again. “Yoko! Are you here? Answer me if you can. Yoookooo!”

“That you, Grumpy Cat?” came the answer. “I’m over here.”

Gaspar let out a long breath, that he hadn’t realized he’d been holding. A wave of relief washed over him.

“Stay where you are!” he yelled. “I’ll come find you. Where are you?”

“Toy Department.”

Toy Department? Ah, whatever. He broke into a jog, following the signage. He turned a corner into the Toy Department, or rather, the girls’ section of the Toy Department, judging from the aggressive amounts of pastel pink and purple coming at him from all directions.

Yoko was squatting down on her haunches, chewing an energy bar and examining one of the pink boxes intently. Her right forearm had been wrapped up in layers of pure white gauze and medical tape. She’d removed her shirt to reveal a simple black sports bra underneath. No—she still had her shirt, but it had turned into a blood-soaked rag, which she’d tucked into her belt. The right side of her cargo pants had turned reddish-brown, with spatter patterns criss-crossing the rest of it. She’d taken her wig off—actually as he looked closely, he saw reddish-purple strands sticking out of one of the lower pockets in her cargo pants. Her real hair was jet-black, tied back in a short pony-tail. And she was still wearing those hutching Neko-Chan mechanical cat ears.

She glanced at him as he turned the corner, then went back to studying the box.

“Heya, Grumpy Cat,” she said, without really looking at him. “You pulled through all right. Figured you had, since the whole ship didn’t blow up, and we’re not being cooked alive by the reactor core. Good job with that, by the way.”

She took another bite of her energy bar, Gaspar noted several more discarded paper wrappers on the floor, as well as the resusable tin they were sold in, along with a mostly-empty energy drink bottle. He tried to catch a glimpse of her eyes. They didn’t look red, like you’d expect from someone who’d been crying. Her cat ears were… how were you supposed to even read that? They looked… pensive? Anxious, maybe? This was—Gaspar wasn’t sure what he’d been expecting, but it certainly wasn’t this.

“Thank you,” he said. “And how are you… how are you feeling? Are you hurt, or…”

“Well, I’ve been better,” she said with a shrug. “But I’ve been worse too. Though I’ll tell you, that had to be my narrowest escape ever. Seriously, skin of my teeth. When they blew my leg off, I swore that was it—arm the kill switch, say my prayers, the whole deal. But then, they decide to walk up close! They must have been really committed to the whole ‘open the cockpit and kill you slow’ thing. Idiots. If they’d stayed back and kept shooting, I woulda been done for. Good thing I pissed ‘em off so much, huh?”

“Ah yes,” said Gaspar, feeling very odd and awkward. “And then you deliberately shattered your vibrosword.”

“Hey, you figured that out?” she said, turning to look straight at him for the first time, and grinning. “Good for you. And you weren’t kidding about that sword being tough. It was practically U-shaped before it finally gave. Shards everywhere!”

“Is that when you hurt your arm?”

Yoko held it up and grimaced. “Nah, I gashed this on a piece of shrapnel when I was squeezing my way out of the cockpit. Crazy, huh? A full solid forty minutes of people trying to murder you with military hardware—nothing. Exiting your frame—grievous injury. But that’s always how it is. It’s the little things that get you—the things you never see coming.”

“Is that—“ Gaspar eyed Yoko’s field dressing. “Do you think you should get a doctor to look at that?”

“Yeah, probably,” she said, turning her gaze back to the box in her hand. “Pretty deep, real gusher. But there’s no rush. I’ve had worse before and I’m still around. Just slap some tape on it, no big deal. Had my shots, too. No worries about Space Tetanus or whatever. Probably be a while before the hospitals are up and running again, anyway.”

“Yes, I see,” he said, to the side of her head. “Well that’s… that’s… Just what are you looking at that’s so important? And why are you camped out in the toy aisle, anyway?”

“Well, I was just going to rest up a bit, but then I saw this!” And then she held the box up to show him. Clearly produced outside of the Urashima, the non-reusable brightly-colored cardboard and clear plastic contained a figure with a garish black and red slit-skirt, and some type of stylized jacket-vest, and a very distinctive set of cat ears on the top of its head.

“What…” he said.

“It’s a limited-edition Neko-Chan,” she said. “Or, rather, it’s Neko-Iyan—from that one episode from Season Two, where she and the other Senshi had to go undercover and infiltrate the Negaplane, so she’s wearing the school uniform for Baroness Anti-Star’s Academy for Aspiring Young Demonesses. And it was a seriously limited edition, and they didn’t really announce it beforehand, and they released it for like, a week or two, and that was during playoffs. So of course I wasn’t paying any attention, and then they were all gone. You can’t find these anywhere. Or if you can, it’s some online seller who’s jacked the price up through the roof. I mean, well, I could afford it—but I really hate rewarding those vultures. Kinda the principle of the thing. And here I finally find one, just lying on the shelf in a hutching department store, of all places, but it’s just this one left. And of course there’s no way I can buy it with the all the cashiers gone, and I know, I just KNOW, that if I leave now, and come back later, of course somebody else will have snatched it up already, and then I’ll be kicking myself for—“

“What the HUTCHING HELL is WRONG WITH YOU?” Gaspar felt all his reserve snap, his patience stretched to the breaking point.

“What?” Yoko’s eyes went wide, and she actually flinched back, but he wasn’t done.

“LISTEN UP, YOUNG LADY,” he said. “You haven’t been answering your comm, you haven’t been answering your phone, and Bibi and I have been WORRIED SICK! Here I’ve been, running around following your hutching BLOOD TRAIL—no idea what state you’re in—and THIS is what you’re worried about? A HUTCHING TOY? I don’t believe it! After all we just went through, how is it you could still find any of this…” Gaspar swept his arm across the toy aisle. “…Any of this worth your time. This trivial, cheap, fake, plastic garba—“

“NO, NO, NO, NO!” Yoko seemed to blur, and Gaspar found himself seized by the lapels and pressed up against one of the shelves. “No, that’s wrong! You can’t think like that! You CAN’T.”

Gaspar felt a surge of panic. With Yoko’s slight figure it was easy to forget how strong she was, or that she was actually a trained killer. But he looked in her eyes and didn’t see rage. They were wide open with fear, but there was something else…

“You said it was fake. It’s got you too, doesn’t it? It all seems fake, doesn’t it?” Yoko seemed on the verge of panic, but then he realized what it really was. She was scared for him.

“This whole store, this building, anything normal and everyday—none of it seems real, does it? Like something a kid would make, a school diorama, made of paper cutouts, and… and those little plastic bricks.”

Gaspar felt a jolt of recognition, and nodded.

“You felt it—that’s what war does to you,” she said, fixing him with the most intense gaze he’d ever seen. “That’s what happens when you get out in the ****, and people start shooting—people start trying to hutching kill you—and you know every moment could be your last. Every moment is filled with such pants-shitting terror, until you get so scared that you just… you go through the fear, and come out the other side. And then it’s just the hugest high you’ve ever been on. The exilhiration—you feel like you can do anything, and then you do, and it’s wonderful and awful and it’s the most alive and real you’ve ever felt in your entire life.”

“But that’s a trap! That’s how they get you. That’s how they get you coming back, again and again. Because when you come off deployment there’s nothing—there’s nothing like that in the normal world. And you know if you go back, if you keep going back, you’ll wind up dead—just so you can feel alive. Because nothing else feel real any more. And you don’t have a job, there's nothing to do, and you wake up one day in a pile of soju bottles and you realize it’s been two months since you’ve drank water.”

“So you know what you have to do? You have to look all that fake stuff right in the hutching eye and you need to learn to love it. To love all of it. All that mediocre, trivial, cheap plastic garbage. It’s great! It’s hutching amazing! It has to be—because reality is sharp and hard: it’s you and a bullet and a gun and an enemy and it’s going to hutching kill you.”

“So you’ve got to snap out of it,” she said, eyes pleading. “You need to come back, Gaspar. You need to… to…“

She grabbed an object by her feet an shoved it in his face. “YOU NEED TO LOOK AT NEKO-CHAN’S OUTFIT AND TELL ME IT’S CUTE!”

He caught a glimpse of her face around the edge of the garish box. It was the most earnest that he’d ever seen her, cat ears radiating concern. She wasn’t kidding.

“Yes, it’s very cute,” he said.

“No, No—that’s not good enough,” she insisted. “You have to mean it. It won’t work if you don’t mean it.”

Oh, dear. Gaspar forced himself to look at the doll, and his first thought was that if he ever saw his daughter dressed like that, it would, at the very least, necessitate a Conversation—about clothes, fashion, public perception, and the types of attention these things can draw. Well, this was supposed to be an evil school uniform, wasn’t it? He supposed, if he looked carefully, quite a lot of effort had gone into the doll’s manufacture—the way the joints blended into the sculpted muscles of the anatomy. And there were significant levels of detail in the outfit, as well—actual tiny red lace elements sewn into the skirt, and repeated at various other points—and those looked like real buttons on the “blazer.” All right.

“There’s a lot of intricate detail in this doll,” he said. “It’s very well made.”

“Well… good,” she said, releasing him. Apparently that had been enough to pass her test.

“Sorry for yelling at you,” he said, feeling a bit embarrassed about it now. This woman had just been through literal hell. So what if she felt like she needed a toy to calm down? It had to be better than getting drunk. Who was he to judge her for that?

“Nah, don’t sweat it. Actually…” she paused a bit. “It was kinda nice. That you guys were worried, and all.”

Huh? Well, of course he’d been worried. Anyone would be. Especially after…

“Yoko,” he said. “I, ahh… I saw the terrorist pilot. The very last one, in the XST. Saw his face, I mean.”

“Yeah, what about it?” she said.

Gaspar paused. Yoko’s non-reaction baffled him. Just when he thought he was starting to understand her… Another awful possibility crossed his mind.

“Yoko,” he said. “Did… did you see his face? Get a good look at it?”

“Oh yeah,” she replied. “That last hit popped a hole in the chest plate. So what?”

“You didn’t recognize him?”

“Recognize who?”

“Kostya Zhukov,” he blurted, and immediately regretted it.

Yoko went still. “That wasn’t Kostya. That’s impossible.”

“Yoko, listen—“ Gaspar hesitated a second, wondering if he should even continue. But this was important. It was important that she know the truth. “I saw his hands.”

“His hands?”

“Yes, I saw the tattoos. The pilot had SHOT HARD tattooed across his knuckles,” he said, as gently as he could. “I’m very sorry, Yoko, but it was him.”

Yoko just stared at him in silence, for a moment that felt like forever. Then she made some kind of strangled noise and doubled over, clutching her sides as her whole body shook. He reached out to her, but she staggered away, collapsing to the floor, to end up hunched up in a ball, leaning back against a nearby shelving unit.

“Yoko,” he said, kneeling down next to her. “Yoko, are you okay?”

Gaspar felt a surge of guilt. Why in the world had he gone ahead and told her that? He should have kept it to himself, should have kept his big mouth shut. What good was knowing about something like that, something unfixable, something that could never be undone, no matter—

“You!” she said, pointing right at him, her breath coming in gasps. “You did research… For our meeting… you read… that article. That hutching article… in the Southport Beacon.”

“Uh, yes. I just—“ and then Gaspar saw her face. She was laughing.

“And you saw… the photo. That old photo, with the… with the… the tattoos! And you thought… Oh my god…” and then she was off again, her whole body shaking. Was this hysterics? It didn’t really look like it. This looked like the laughter of someone who has heard something truly funny.

“What…” he said. “Why are you laughing?”

“Because,” she gasped. “That is really, really not Kostya.”

“What?” he said. “How can you be so sure?”

“Because Kostya Zhukov works as a labor frame operator at the Eden spacedocks in Shanxi Prime, which is where I found him, like a year and a half ago. Got a wife and three kids. And, y’know, his… tattoos have kinda wore off by now,” said Yoko, snickering.

“What?” said Gaspar. That hadn’t been in her file. And… “Tattoos don’t wear off.”

“Yeah, they do,” she gasped. “When you DRAW them on. With a PEN. And you thought they were REAL?”

More waves of laughter took her. “Oh, man. We were like, thirteen in that photo. Who tattoos a kid? And knuckle tats, too. ‘Cause, y’know, something like that can seriously limit your future employment prospects.”

“Yes, I didn’t consider that,” said Gaspar, sourly. Of course, that should have been obvious. And now he was going to have to endure this until Yoko tired of the joke. Which didn’t seem like it’d be anytime soon.

Yoko wiped tears from her eyes. “Ahaha, and all that aside, I can’t believe you thought that dude was him. Because, seriously, they don’t look like each other at all. Kosy’s way cuter. I can’t—Oh, wait.”

She turned to him, with a huge smirk on her face. “I just realized it. There are like, no Caucasian people in this system, are there? Since I’ve been here, I’ve maybe seen a dozen, total, and they were all tourists. Can you actually not tell them apart? They all look alike to you?”

Gaspar felt his face grow hot. “N-no, of course not. It’s just… you know, it was an old picture, and with the hair and the eyes and the tattoos—“

“Oh, wait! Wait!” Yoko grabbed his arm and leaned in, eyes glittering and fuzzy ears twitching. “Are you telling me that the terrorist really had knuckle tattoos? And they really said SHOT HARD? You’re totally hutching sure that’s what they said?”

“No, I triple-checked,” he said. “I wouldn’t take chances on something like that. They definitely said SHOT HARD. What is the deal with—“

But Yoko wasn’t listening, for she’d fallen back against the shelving, laughing even harder, to the point where she was barely making any noise, just shaking and gasping. Eventually she recovered enough to speak a little.

“Oh, that’s amazing (hic). Ahah… look, I’ve got hiccups now—it’s so funny. It’s from a show. This old (hic) super cheesy old space opera show. ‘Zen (hic) Blastoff and the Galaxy Rangers.’ Well, the orphanage had some pretty limited (hic) media selections on the TV, so we watched it a bunch. And there was this one (hic) recurring villain, ‘Arcturus Kane: Intergalactic Bounty Hunter.’ Real tough guy, and master (hic) of disguise. Except for the SHOT HARD tats on his knuckles. It was a thing, some new, suspicious character comes on and he’s wearing (hic) gloves, and then it gets tense, and gloves come off, and it’s like, ‘Oh, no! It was Arcturus all along!’ Super (hic) cheesy.”

“And you’re telling me (hic), that the blonde dude—Mr. Tough Guy, Mr. Terrorist Extremist, ‘I’ll-Die-For-The-Cause-Raarrr,’ a fully (hic) grown-ass man, ACTUALLY had SHOT hutching HARD tatooed on his knuckles, JUST LIKE ARCTURUS KANE from ZEN BLASTOFF AND THE GALAXY (hic) RANGERS?”

It occurred to Gaspar that she was one to talk, being a fully grown-ass woman wearing toy cat ears from a kids’ show. “Yes,” he said. “that’s what—“

But Yoko was on another laughing jag, It was a solid minute before she could regain her voice. “Ahh—that’s amazing. You think the other terrorists all made fun of him behind his back? Oh, they must’ve. They’d be like, ‘whoa, don’t mess with Frank—he’s an intergalatic (hic) bounty hunter. Oh, no—he’s taking the gloves off! Everybody run for it!’”

Gaspar felt an urge to snap at her, say something nasty, and fought it down. Wait, why was he even upset? Shouldn’t he be happy that Yoko wasn’t going to be traumatized by guilt? Was it possible that there was a part of him that hated the ruthless, nasty way she’d gone about dealing with the terrorist threat, and had secretly hoped for some karmic payback for that? That was awful. He grimaced, and reflected that maybe he wasn’t as nice a guy as he thought he was.

“Yes, wonderful,” he said. “Nobody we care about is dead. It’s hilarious.”

“Ahh… Sorry, Grumpy Cat,” she said, taking deep breaths to regain control of herself, and to kill her hiccups. “It’s just… you looked so concerned, when you were telling me, and when I realized…” Yoko snorted, and had to bite her lip to keep from going off on another laughing fit.

“Well, I didn’t know you’d found him, did I?” he said. “Wasn’t in your file. At least, I didn’t see it.”

“Yeah, well—that’s because that Beacon interview is from way back, when I was young and stupid,” she said, sobering visibly. “Ever had a reporter tell you something was off the record?”

“Well, that’s a lie, obviously,” he said, remembering his media training from IHI. “You never tell a reporter anything unless you’re prepared to see it plastered all over the front page—“

“Well, I know that now,” she said, with flattened ears. “I didn’t then. Now I know how to keep private things private, which is why it’s not in your file. And for the record, I never told that reporter that Kostya was ‘my long-lost-love.’ I just said I thought he was cute, and I missed him, so I was kinda looking for him. That’s it. She just took that and made the rest of it up.”

“I see,” said Gaspar. He’d seen his daughter say things to that effect about particular boys at her school, while making that very same face. He suspected that reporter had some pretty good instincts.

“Man, I got so much ribbing for that when I finally caught up with him. ‘Don’t fall into my arms, “long-lost love.” I belong to another—it was not meant to be.’ Jackass. And the whole time Wifey is hovering over us, giving me this look, like: ‘****, you make one wrong move and I’mma gut you with this serving spatula.’ Kids were cute, though.” She smiled at the memory, but it had a bittersweet cast to it. She shook it off.

“But even without that—there’s no way in hell Kosy’d ever join up with these hutching assholes. No way. Kosy’s a sweetheart. Wouldn’t hurt a fly.”

“Yes, well—good. So, are we all set, then?” Gaspar was about to recommend they turn in, but he remembered something important. “You should call Bibi. She’s been worried.”

“Oh, yeah,” Yoko pulled out her phone and turned it on. “Sorry, I switched it off before the fight so it didn’t distract me, and then I forgot, what with all the bleeding and everything.”

“Understandable,” said Gaspar, as Yoko’s phone beeped and buzzed in response to the torrent of missed messages.

“Oh—that reminds me.” With her other hand, Yoko pulled the hefty Shogun remote out of another of her cargo pants pockets and gave it a brief once over. It looked like the external camera function still worked. Yoko panned it about while bringing up another app on her phone. Not messaging—something else.

“Reminds you of what?” said Gaspar.

Yoko gestured for him to hunker down next to her. “The other reason I came out here. Cover your ears and open your mouth.”

Dumbly, Gaspar complied, but he couldn’t help asking, “What other reason?”

“Minimum Safe Distance,” she said, and tapped an icon on her phone.

A deafening thunderclap ripped through the store, a sound so intense he felt it in his chest, followed by an answering shriek of shattered glass. Everything shook and the shelving unit they were huddled against coughed out all its contents, burying them under an avalanche of pastel containers.
Last edited by Mark Sakura on Wed Oct 19, 2016 5:10 am, edited 1 time in total.
Runaway Urashima: A short novel set in the Mobile Frame Zero universe.
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Re: Runaway Urashima

Postby Blorf » Fri Dec 11, 2015 9:53 am

Mark Sakura wrote:Does that work for you?

Haha... perfect. That definitely sounds like something each side would do.
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Re: Runaway Urashima

Postby Mark Sakura » Sat Dec 12, 2015 5:08 am

"Whoo! Real kick to that one!" said Yoko, as she stretched and brushed off all the toy boxes that had landed on them. "C'mon, Grumpy Cat--let's go check the damage."

Gaspar followed in dumb silence, as she strode past the toppled shelving units and tiptoed around all the shattered glass of what used to be the storefront, out to the steps exiting the shopping arcade. From there they had an excellent view of the smoking crater in the spot where all their mobile frames used to be. If anything, it was even bigger than the one Gaspar had escaped from earlier that day.

Yoko whistled. "Wow--that really was a serious load of ordinance. I mean, I was expecting a boom, but not that big. Can you imagine three of those things going off in the reactor at once? This whole place woulda cracked right open. Good thing we stopped 'em--right, Grumpy Cat?"

Gaspar stared at the carnage, feeling weirdly light-headed. He heard a distant chorus of wailing sirens as flashing red lights winked on at various points across the cityscape. Yes, the fire-suppressant drone system was definitely up and running.

"You set it off," he said. "The bomb. You blew up the Shogun."

"Yep."

He turned and stared at her. And stared some more. His mind didn't seem to be working very well.

"But that's dangerous," was the best he could come up with.

"Eh, not really," she said with a shrug. "Everybody's still in lockdown, and none of the biowells are anywhere near us. Believe me, I checked. The ship has these huge triple-bulkheads, so there's no worry about a breach, and insurance should pay for your frames and everything, so it's all good."

Gaspar kept staring at her, at a total loss for words. He did succeed at unnerving her a bit.

"Um," she said. "Those frames were insured, right?"

"OF COURSE THEY WERE INSURED, YOU HUTCHING LUNATIC!" Gaspar yelled, the dam inside finally breaking. "LOTS OF THINGS ARE INSURED! HEY, YOU KNOW WHAT? I BET THAT DEPARTMENT STORE IS INSURED! WHY DON'T WE GO BLOW THAT UP, TOO? WE CAN BLOW UP ALL THE INSURED THINGS! BOMBS AWAY! WHEEEEEE!"

His tirade only managed to provoke another laughing fit from his mad bomber companion.

"Oh man, Grumpy Cat--I'm so glad you're here," she said. "You crack me up."

"THE ONLY CRACKED THING HERE IS YOUR HUTCHING HEAD!" he replied, but of course, that just made it worse. It took her a minute or two to calm down.

"Okay, look--I'm really not crazy. It's just... how can I explain this?" She thought for a second, and began to visibly sober up, start to get pensive.

"Right--y'know, when I started this mission, I didn't expect to win. You remember that, right?"

"Yes," he said. "But then you realized you could use the service drones, and--"

"That was a long shot," she said, with a dismissive wave of her hand. "Was never sure it'd go according to plan. And even so--the best case was I'd take most of them out. Getting all of them was almost too much to hope for. But even then, I was thinking maybe I'd be able to take them out with me. Actually surviving myself... I hadn't really thought that far ahead."

"I see," said Gaspar, temper cooling as he was reminded of this woman's courage.

"And it shouldn't have gone so well," she continued. "But I saw that stolen vibroblade shatter, and it reminded me about what you told me about them earlier. And those last two terrorists walked up close instead of just shooting me, like they should've. So I tried this crazy thing, and it actually worked, and I'm lying in my harness, still alive, and I can't even believe it. And then it hits me--they're going to turn me into a hutching hero."

She said the word 'hero,' the way most people might say the words 'fungal infection.'

"That's a bad thing?" Gaspar said, confused.

"It's awful!" she said. "Look--I'm already famous. And you know what? It sucks. It totally hutching sucks."

She noted his shocked expression and made a face. "Yeah, I know. You don't believe me. Nobody ever wants to hear that. Because, it looks fun, right? Everybody thinks they want it, but believe me, you don't. Everyone staring at you, making up stories. And all the fame whores--people looking to get close so they can sponge off you, bathe in your reflected limelight. I get invited to these celebrity events, and I see it all the time--these actors, vid personalities, they walk around with a dozen, three dozen, over a hundred hangers-on, running around--and you look in their eyes and you can see they're just miserable. Even, like--even some of my old UMFL buddies, they come to me, they're out of the service and they're on hard times, they say. And can I help them out, for old times sake? Well, of course I can. For someone who had my back when the shells were flying and nobody else gave a hutching damn, and... and then they come back next week and say they need more! Hackers got their account info, they say. So you give more, but you also hire a PI, who comes back and tells you your good buddy is blowing everything on mah johng and hookers, and... And there's just a limit! You have to... you have to set boundaries! You just have to!"

The last bit was almost a plea, tinged with anguish, directed at him. "Of course," he said. "Enabling isn't helping."

"Yes, that's right, though of course they don't see it that way. They just curse you, and..." Yoko paced and crossed her arms, cat ears going flat. "And then there's my 'long-lost birth parents.' Don't get so many of those any more. Down to just one or two sets of those a month. They get soooo indignant when you ask for a DNA test, too. They think I'm stupid? But some of them actually try--'Hey, let's roll dice with DNA. Maybe it'll match.' Or something. If you're that hutching desperate, why don't you just buy a lottery ticket and leave me out of it? It's better odds and more money. Only worthwhile part of that was running the test on myself. Hey, didja know I actually am Japanese? Thirty-Eight percent. Surprised me. And twenty percent Malay, and the rest is this crazy mashup of like, everything. Crazy stuff, like Maori and Native Hawaiian, Romany, Armenian--but no Chinese. What are the odds of that, huh?"

"Huh," said Gaspar, at a loss for anything else to say.

"My favorite are the ones who call themselves 'Mr. and Mrs. Reinhart.' I just laugh at them. Seriously, if you're going to exploit me, you could at least give me the courtesy of doing the most basic research first. I'd appreciate the effort. Assholes."

She looked up at him, shook herself a bit. "Yeah, listen to me whine--lots of people would kill to have my problems. It's not that big a deal."

Gaspar was starting to recognize 'no big deal' as a recurring Yoko mantra. He found it less convincing the more she said it.

But she wasn't done. "It's just--I wasn't even looking for fame to begin with. I was... I was just looking for something, y'know. Something I was good at, besides killing people. So I see this silly game with these wheel-foot frames banging into each other on a figure-eight track, and I'm like, 'I can do that.' So I try out and it was... well, actually, it turned out to be way harder than it looks, but I guess Coach saw something, because I made the practice squad, even though I'd spent the last two hours getting my ass kicked up and down the track. And after a while, you know, something just clicked, and I got the hang of it. And the next time I went out to get eggs, there's a mob of hutching reporters and fans and... it was just nuts."

"But anyway--after a while, I got the hang of that, too. There's a bunch of tricks, and also, people kinda calmed down, I guess. And Coach helped me with the other players, y’know, dealing with that mess.”

“Mess? With the players?” he asked.

“Oh, yeah—we kept that in-house, thankfully. It’s just natural, if you’ve been dedicating your whole life to something, and this know-nothing rookie shows up, blows past you, and gets practically all the media attention, it’s not gonna sit that well. Especially if she’s got a mouth on her, goes around calling it a dumb game because nobody gets killed…. But anyway, we’ve got past that. And the fame stuff, too. Nowadays I can mostly run out to get a sandwich on my own, without having it turn into a Thing. Most of the time."

"But after this--" Yoko waved her hand at all the carnage of the blackout zone. "People call me a hero already. Because I play a game. I throw a ball around and bang into other frames at high speed while I'm cocooned in layers and layers of cushy shock padding. So if they call me a hero for that, you know what they'd do for this? For actually fighting real terrorists who are really trying to kill people and really almost..."

She crossed her arms tighter and shuddered. Gaspar figured the question had been rhetorical, but he had to say something.

"What do you think they'd--"

"I dunno, but I'm NOT finding out. I didn't do this," she jabbed her finger at the devastation. "That wasn't me. I was never here. Somebody else did it. Somebody else busted into your warehouse and stole your frames and heroically blew themselves up to stop the terrorists. Not me. Bibi can cover it up, alter the records. We never made it to your frame hangar--we got routed to some other biowell, where we cowered in fear like sensible people, and--"

The urgent ringing of Gaspar's phone cut her off. It was Bibi again, and he felt his conscience jab at him. He really should have called her earlier. He pressed the answer button.

"Gaspar! Are you okay? There's been another explosion. Have you found Yoko?"

"Ah, yes," he said. "She's fine. And... um..."

He trailed off, not sure how to explain the destroyed frames and the second bomb.

"Is she there? Can I talk to her?" the relief in Bibi's voice was palpable.

Gaspar held his phone out to Yoko, glad to get rid of it. "It's for you."

"Hey, Hellcat," said Yoko. "Sorry I didn't get to you sooner.... Nah, I'm good--got a scratch, but it's no big... Oh, no--they were all dead already... Well, it was one of their bombs, but it wasn't a timer, it was a remote. I set it off intentionally... No, really, I’m the one who set it off. I was getting rid of the evidence... Hello? Hello, you still there? Bibi? Are you... Oh, good... What? Well--no, it's just because I don't want to be any more famous than..."

A stream of invective came pouring out of the receiver, making Yoko wince and hold the phone a good twenty centimeters away from her ear, waiting for the torrent of abuse to subside. She made several aborted attempts to approach the earpiece, only to get hit by another wave. Gaspar could hear it from where he was. He recognized all the English, Spanish, and most of the Chinese curse words, but Bibi had a vast multilingual vocabulary that well surpassed his.

Eventually, Yoko was able to resume the conversation. "Okay, well--yeah, that would be true if this was a normal ship, but this place has triple bulkheads, and the biowells aren't..."

She had to flee the receiver for another minute before returning. "What's that? What... Oh." And then Yoko had the decency to look chagrined, fuzzy ears drooping comically. "Um--no, I actually hadn't thought of that... Yeah, but--I got to tell you, Bibi, that whole neighborhood was pretty much wrecked even before I--"

She winced at the following wave of screaming, but made more of an effort to ride it out. "Oh, come on, don't exaggerate," she said. "It's not that bad--they've got the biowells... Hey, you know, I lived for two years without a house, and I survived--"

Yoko had to make another strategic withdrawal from his phone. Gaspar was starting to worry about permanent damage to his device's speaker from all this.

"Okay--Bibi, Bibi, Bibi..." she said, wading in. "We could sit here all day and argue about the whys and hows of blowing up a city block, but that's not exactly going to un-blow up anything, is it? What's done is done, okay? Hello? Hello? Yes, that's right... I already told you... Because I don't want to be a hero, that's why... Because it sucks!"

Yoko grimaced and tapped her foot impatiently. "I know there are records for everything--that's why it's so great that I've got such a good friend high up in ship security…. Acting head now?... Yeah, that's a rough way to get a promotion…. I am sorry, but still... Well, I gotta insist. You owe me one... Eight and a half frames, is why--those are frames your people didn't have to fight... Hello?"

Yoko waited on the line for a bit, then smiled triumphantly. "Yeah, that's right. Yes, and Gaspar--oh, wait..."

She covered the phone mic with her hand and turned to him. "Hey, Grumpy Cat--you want to be the hero who saved the entire ship?

It was if she'd just picked him and dropped him on his head. "What?" was all he could manage.

"Well, I figure that you deserve it," she said. "I mean, if you hadn't stopped that runner, we really would all be dead. I mean, I think fame is awful, but maybe you don't agree. So you've got the credit if you want it. The only catch is: you have to take all the credit. I was never there. So you beat all those frames on your own, single-handed. What do you say?"

A hazy, golden image poofed its way to the front of Gaspar’s mind. He was standing on a float in a ticker-tape parade in honor, waving to the crowd as it roared its adulation. Then he was on a stage, right by the Capitol building in New Santiago, as the Prime Minister presented him with his medal, as May and Fu stood off just to the side, gazing up at him in adoration and wonder…

Then his common sense returned, slamming the door shut on his fantasy world with a prison-door clang.

“No one would ever believe that story for a second,” he said.

“Hah! Good call,” said Yoko, returning to the phone. “Yeah, hide Gaspar too. Easier that way, right… No, I’m not implying it’s easy. I know there’s a bunch of stuff: location data, video records… Oh, and we have to figure out who to give the credit to… Either make someone up, or give it to one of your people, y’know—one of the ones who… Yeah, I know it’s kinda creepy, but it might be a bit nicer for their families—Mommy or Daddy was the great hero who saved everyone, I dunno… Well, whatever you think is best—I know you’re good at this stuff. You’ve got this… Uh huh… Yeah, sounds good… What was that?… Well, since you brought it up, yes I would like breakfast in bed for the next month, but aren’t you a little busy to be—“

Yoko flinched away from the phone, giving Gaspar a brief exposure to Bibi’s exasperated scream, before the call ended, and the line went dead.

Yoko solemnly handed Gaspar’s phone back to him. “She’s under a lot of pressure,” she said, nodding sagely. “I’m sure she’ll calm down. Eventually.”

“So I guess that ties everything up,” said Gaspar. He felt ready to go back to his hotel room, raid the liquor selection in the mini-fridge, and not think about anything that had happened over the past few hours. (Only a few hours? That was insane.)

“Mmm… not quite, but nearly, yeah.” Yoko’s tone drew his attention. It didn’t match the nonchalant attitude she’d been projecting into the phone just a few moments ago. Oh, those ears—those sad, droopy ears. But they’d won, right? Total victory, no serious injuries for them. What was there to be sad about? Yoko glanced down, and he noticed she was still carrying that collectors-edition doll. She looked a bit surprised by that, as well.

“Is it something to do with—“ he said, pointing.

“Oh! No. I forgot I had this,” she said, tucking the doll under one arm while she pulled the Shogun’s remote out of her pocket. “I meant this. Last bit of data logs. Sayonara, sucker!”

She dropped the remote on the concrete and stomped down with her heel. And then stomped again. And then a couple more times. Then she glared at it, stomped twice, and then tried jumping up and down on it with both feet until she was breathing heavy. Finally she picked it up and handed it to him. The display glass had a few minor scratches on it.

“Could you take this and get rid of it or wipe its memory, please?” she said.

“Of course,” he said. He did not try to hide his smirk.

“I swear, if there’s one thing your hutching company is good at, it’s durability,” she said, grinning back.

“Oh? Can I take that as an official endorsement?” he replied.

She just stood there, staring blankly at him. Then she began to chuckle.

“Man, you’re just relentless, aren’t you? I gotta admire that. Sure, why the hell not? You got my endorsement. Have your sharks call my weasels.”

Gaspar blinked. He hadn’t even been thinking about that. He’d just said it as a joke.

“I mean, don’t get me wrong,” she continued. “I still say it’s too hutching huge. Still not my style. But it definitely saved my ass a bunch of times out there, so yeah—I got no problems saying it’s good. Because it is.”

“Well,” he said. “That’s fantastic, isn’t it? Thank you.”

“No problem,” she said, staring off at the wreckage where the Shogun used to be. “Least I could do, y’know?”

Gaspar stared as well, watching the fire-suppression drones do their thing. It was so strange. He’d succeeded. He’d won. And at this point, he hardly even cared. He tried to remember how he felt at the start of the day, when the whole endorsement deal thing had been everything—a matter of life or death. Now it just seemed trivial, especially after facing a real life-or-death situation, to show him what really mattered…

No. He remembered Yoko’s admonition from earlier: “No, that’s wrong! You can’t think like that!” The bizarre, heightened world of deadly combat, the highs and lows of exhilaration and terror—it was a trap. It made the rest of the world seem fake, so you had to love the fake stuff. He should exult in his endorsement deal. But he’d already decided to quit his job anyway.

Wait, was that really such a good idea? Wasn’t he supposed to get a significant bonus if he landed the deal? How much had it been again? The fact that he couldn’t remember was a pretty telling sign of his lack of self confidence. He’d never really believed he could do it. He really should double check on that before quitting. He’d really feel like an ass telling Fu…

Oh. Actually, it wouldn’t be very respectful to make a major decision like quitting his job without at least discussing the idea with his wife first, would it? He couldn’t help envisioning the conversation in his head—explaining to her how he hated the long hours, his boss, and all the selling, while she nodded patiently, and asked what he’d rather do instead. And he… umm… he could flip burgers? He saw her nod again, and ask him if he would really find such a job more satisfying than staying at IHI. Which was a good question. And did IHI actually require those long hours, or had he been staying late because he felt he had to? Well… actually he didn’t have set hours. He was salaried. He could even come home early, if he wanted. Hmm…

Fu was right and Yoko was right. The fake stuff was important, because it helped provide for his family. He had his family, and Yoko had…

Yoko had a doll? Gaspar looked back at her, squatting at the top of the concrete steps. A doll and a TV show? And Smashball? The apparent disparity between their lives, and the things they could turn to for comfort, made him very nervous. He could never think of his family as fake, but a TV show, even a really good one, was just…

But that was ridiculous. The whole “fake stuff” was just her ritual, or something. She had to have more than that. She had to have some real friends. After all, she was young, beautiful, rich, and famous. Of course she’d…

Gaspar felt himself go very still, as events of the day, snatches of conversation, and all sorts of little things snapped into place, lining up like pieces in a jigsaw puzzle:

“…Never let anybody become your entourage…”

“…fame whores--people looking to get close so they can sponge off you…”

“…next time I walk in, there’s like, twenty people or more, and I just want a goddamned sandwich…”

“…Trust me, you want something done right, you gotta do it yourself…”

“…Do you have any idea of what I went through to not die a hero? Do you have any hutching idea how hard that was?…”

“…wake up one day in a pile of soju bottles and you realize it’s been two months since you’ve drank water…”

“…if you're going to exploit me, you could at least give me the courtesy of doing the most basic research…”

“…even some of my old UMFL buddies…”

“…if you’ve been dedicating your whole life to something, and this know-nothing rookie shows up, blows past you…”

“…hovering over us, giving me this look, like: ‘****, you make one wrong move and I’mma gut you…”

“…When they blew my leg off, I swore that was it—arm the kill switch, say my prayers…”

“…Well, you know what mine did? You know what they did? My parents hutching THREW ME AWAY!”

Gaspar stared at the woman in front of him, with her ridiculous and melancholy toy cat ears, pensively turning the boxed doll over and over in her hands, and tried to put himself in her shoes, really tried to imagine it.

Imagine being a young child, abandoned by her parents. Who knows why they did it? Circumstances beyond their control, perhaps? Who could say—it very well could’ve been the best decision for everyone. But you’re a child. You take it personally. A personal rejection—how could you see it as anything else?

Imagine being a young teenager, turned out on the streets, separated from your friends somehow. Everything that could be taken from you has been taken. What do you have left? Pride. What are you proud of? Being tough. The very toughest. Tougher than anyone. No matter how much you’ve been ripped and torn, and no matter how many broken bits spill out of you, you can’t really be hurt. Because you’re tougher than all of them. You take your broken pieces, shove them back in, slap some tape over it, and keep going. No big deal, it’s just what a tough girl does, in order to survive. And you keep on doing that, over and over. Of course the military loves you, loves your attitude.

And then you discover combat. And you’re good at it—accepted, praised, elevated to the highest levels, where you’re thrown into the toughest missions all the time, experiencing that pulse-pounding adrenaline high, dancing on the line between life and death.

Gaspar had felt that high just once, in one battle, and he was still reeling from it. Yoko had done it all the time, for years. It had been her job. Keep on going, keep shoving the broken pieces back in, keep taping it up, until that was practically all you were: layers and layers of broken pieces held together with tape.

So what happened when you quit? When there was no mission, no desperate struggle for survival to force you to keep going? If you allowed your tape to come undone, and all your broken parts spilled out at once, how could you put it all back together again?

Smashball? A TV show? Gaspar was sure he didn’t have the whole story, but somehow she’d done it—but he doubted she’d actually fixed anything—any of her broken pieces. Looking at her now, he just saw someone who’d replaced her old tape with fresher, newer layers. And it was coming unraveled, peeling apart at the seams while he watched. Returning to combat had done that to her. And she knew that going in. What the APLF-C had forced her into… what he and Bibi had talked her into… it was like taking a sober ex-junkie, holding them down, and jabbing them with syringe of opiates. And she knew that, knew what it might do to her, and she’d done it anyway. Because there hadn’t been any other decent choice. And she knew what would happen again, saw in advance her inevitable disintegration, knew she’d be forced to find a fresh batch of tape, to sort through that hideous mess yet again, to touch every part of herself that was broken and never fixed, every part that was hurt and never healed, and put it all back inside, in some type of order that wouldn’t rip her up too much, just enough so she could function again. What would that process be like? How would it feel? He didn’t think he could fathom it—the willpower involved. It would be far easier to just blow yourself up instead.

And finally, Gaspar understood Yoko’s actions: her ruthless tactics, her viciousness in her fighting, her nastiness in her speech. It had nothing to do with the terrorists’ politics, their ethics, their tactics, or even that they used their orphan status to justify themselves. Yoko’s hatred for them was a bottomless well, for forcing her to quit soldiering a second time.

But they’d done it nonetheless, and there was no going back. So the question was, what now? Yoko’s tape was peeling back, frayed. She was headed towards another meltdown, like before—but this time, she’d get to do it under the spotlight. A messy public spectacle, as her illness caused her to break all of her careful fame-managing policies, to become tawdry entertainment for all the tabloids and gossip sites that had previously avoided her for lack of material.

That was no good. How could he stop it? What could fix a person who became unable to fix herself? Friends and family, he supposed. But Yoko was an orphan—no family. So what friends did she have? The more he thought about it, the more convinced he became that it was a very small number. She hated being famous, was scornful of entourages. But how could you tell the difference between a potential friend and a potential leech? If you were rich, famous, and beautiful, how could you ever know that the people around you cared for you, and not your wealth, fame, or beauty? And what type of person could honestly say they weren’t attracted to those things, at least a little bit? Gaspar certainly couldn’t.

So what about the people she knew before she became famous? At least some of her smashball teammates had deeply resented her rise to superstardom. She said it was resolved, but how true was that? And how much did she trust them? Pro sports on her level was a huge business, and any business on that level had a tendency to become cutthroat and cynical. If she could function well enough to produce on the track, did they care if she quietly went to pieces off it? They could enable just as easily as they could help.

And most of her military friends? The ties formed in battle were supposed to be some of the strongest ever. Bands of brothers and sisters. When they risked their lives, they did it for each other, because they each knew that everyone else in their unit would do the same for them. Everybody said that. But she wasn’t with any of her old units any more. Her old buddies were either still active in the service, or scattered across multiple systems in the Solar Union, most likely. And besides that, as he thought about it, it seemed that the glue in these military bonds was the existence of an enemy that was trying to kill you. That was what caused the trust, the pulling together. But what if that went away, and now no one was trying to kill you? How strong would those ties be then? Perhaps you might look at your brothers and sisters and discover you didn’t have much in common, and never really did to begin with. Maybe some of them might take your money and gamble it away. Maybe you might find that so disillusioning that you became afraid to reach out to other old friends in your old unit, lest the same thing happen, tarnishing even more of your memories.

Before the military? The only one he knew of was Kostya, who worked in a far-off system. Logistics aside, that was a messy tangle of unresolved and unrequited feelings, and Gaspar didn’t see any practical way for Yoko to try to rely on Kostya that wouldn’t potentially wreck his marriage.

“Hey, Grumpy Cat, you okay?” Yoko’s voice shook him out of his reverie.

“Eh?” he said, “Oh, yes. I was just thinking… I was just remembering that I still have a reservation for two at La Belle Terrasse the evening after the next. Never got around to cancelling. Assuming it’s back up and running by then, would you like to go?” He really wasn’t sure what prompted that—it certainly wasn’t a particularly slick transition. But it would give him an excuse to check up on her in two days.

She arched an eyebrow at him. “Well, what brought that on? You got more endorsement deal stuff to you wanna hash out, or did you just like the sight of me without a shirt that much?”

Gaspar sputtered at her directness, though he supposed his dinner invitation could have been easily misinterpreted that way. “Ms. Reinhart! I am a very happily married man. And as for business, my job was purely to sell you on the Shogun itself, and get you to agree in principle to an endorsement deal, which I’ve done. All the rest is up to the ’sharks and weasels,’ like you put it. I just—well, actually, I don’t know anybody else on the ship, and eating alone at a place like that is just no fun at all.”

The corners of her mouth tugged up. “Don’t blow a fuse, Grumpy Cat. I was just yanking your chain. And places like that aren’t fun, generally. Too stuffy for me. Though I’ll tell you what, there’s this street cart in the west quadrant that makes these great pork buns—“

“Actually,” he said. “What I said about being done with business isn’t quite true. My bosses gave me a corporate credit card, that I’m supposed to use to win over important new clients. And, even though you’ve already agreed to the deal, it’s going to look odd if I don’t use it in the normal way. That means treating a guest to something a bit more impressive than sandwiches and pork buns. And also that restaurant looks really amazing and I really want to go.”

Yoko blinked. “Oh. Well, that makes sense. You should’ve just said that to begin with. Okay, I got a little black dress I travel with for emergency formal occasions. I clean up pretty nice, too. But, just so you’re warned, I’ll be taking camera pictures of all the food. I’m gonna be extra obnoxious about it, too.”

“Yes, that’s fine,” he said, his gaze wandering towards the terraced pastures off in the distance. He’d saved all the cows from a horrible death, so they could receive their proper, tasty one. All was right with the world.

“Hmm…” said Yoko. “Y’know, I think I remember Bibi talking about that place. About wanting to go, but also about the strain to her budget and the difficulty getting reservations.”

“I can’t imagine a two-person table that wouldn’t accommodate three.”

“Ahh, good,” she said. “That might help her get over the whole bomb thing. And we can all conspire to get our cover-up stories straight. Though, I tell you, there’s one person who ain’t gonna be avoiding credit for any of this.”

Gaspar saw the glitter in her eye. He was being prompted. “Who’s that?” he asked.

“Bibi!” said Yoko, cackling. “She’s the one who really beat the terrorists. She organized and coordinated everything—including us. The media’s gonna turn her into a darling. They’re going to give her soooo many medals and make her sit through soooo many ceremonies. From now on, “Hero of Urashima” is going to be her middle name. Bibi “Hero of Urashima” Azoulay—she’ll never escape it.”

“This is funny because…”

Yoko scowled. “She gives me so much crap when I complain about being famous. Says she’d love to have my problems. Well, now she will! I can’t wait to hear her first complaint about reporters and autograph hounds. Oh—sweet, sweet payback,” she murmured, rubbing her hands.

Bibi Azoulay. Gaspar thought that over. An old friend of Yoko’s. Someone who’d shown genuine concern for her, but who also wasn’t a sycophant. She definitely wasn’t afraid to yell at Yoko when she felt she needed to. And she had her own successful, stable, non-military career. Only it kept her cycling through space endlessly.

And Yoko had just so happened to be visiting Alicanto, at just the right time to ‘spontaneously’ hop on a six-month cruise, even though it meant she’d be missing a big chunk of her own training camp. Funny how that worked.

“Well,” said Gaspar. “I’m a bit worried about her. It sounds like the bridge crew weren’t as lucky as we were. They had some serious casualties. That must be affecting her, right?”

Yoko’s face fell, and her ears drooped down instantly. “Oh, that’s right—I didn’t even…”

“And on top of that—to be hit with a media blitz,” he continued. “You said that sort of thing was awful, and I think I believe you—since you blew up a city block to avoid it yourself.”

“Uh, yeah…” she said, looking very chagrined.

“I think the next couple of months might be very hard on her. But you know… well, I don’t know Bibi nearly as well as you, but she strikes me as generally being a very tough, independent person.”

“Yeah, that’s right,” said Yoko.

“And the thing about tough people,” he said, “is that they can be so tough that they have a hard time asking for help when they need it—or even admitting to themselves that they need help in the first place. Now, I may be off-base here—“

“Oh no—you hit the nail on the head,” she said. “That’s Bibi. Totally clueless like that.”

Gaspar held back a smile. “So, I think that it’s very good that you’re here. Because you know all about being famous. You can give her all sorts of advice on how to manage it—guide her through. In fact, I don’t think it would be a good idea to let her spend much time alone.”

“Whoa, you think it’s that bad?”

“Well… I don’t know for sure,” he admitted. “I admit I’m speculating. But, I think it would be much better to be overly protective and be wrong, than to not do enough, don’t you?”

Yoko thought about it, ears twitching. “Yeah, that makes sense. Better safe than sorry.”

She perked up noticeably. “Yeah, I’ll do that. I’ll be on her like a barnacle. Thanks, Grumpy Cat!”

“No problem,” he said. After he got back to his room, he was going to have to write Bibi a very long and detailed letter explaining his reasoning, about everything that had happened, and Yoko’s state of mind, and the fix he’d thought of, along with profuse apologies and thanks in advance for her patience. He just hoped this was enough.

Although, as he composed the letter in his head, large parts of it began to sound presumptuous, or even downright silly. He’d only met Yoko a few hours ago. He actually didn’t know her that well. He wasn’t a psychologist and he couldn’t read minds. He could easily be taking a bunch of general gripes and things she’d said under extreme stress, and using those to paint a very warped picture of her. She didn’t sound like someone on the verge of meltdown when you talked to her. She could just be tired. He remembered his mistake with the Kostya who wasn’t Kostya. Perhaps his letter would end up provoking more gales of hysterical laughter.

Well, that was fine. There were worse things in life than being laughed at, so they could do that if they wanted. If he was even thirty percent right, or even ten percent, it would be worth it. Better safe than sorry.

She was staring off in the distance. “Looks like they killed the thrusters. Check the smoke.”

He did. The columns of smoke from the various fires of their battle weren’t drifting aft any more. They were going more or less straight up and down. It meant they weren’t accelerating out of control any more, but they hadn’t slowed down any, either. There was more work to be done.

“Well, that’s good.” he said, stretching and yawning. He wanted to get started on his letter. “I don’t know about you, but I’m starving. And exhausted. I think it’s time to turn in.

“Oh. Yeah,” she said, expression turning forlorn again. She looked down at the toy box in her hands, then back to the department store. “Yeah, I guess I should…”

“Yoko,” he said. “If you want that doll so much, just keep it. No one is really going to notice or care right now.”

She stared are him, wide-eyed, then averted her gaze to her shoes. “But I hate looters. Looters are the hutching worst.”

In a way, it was funny. Yoko had shown no hesitation about causing massive property damage, and looting vital supplies like food, water, and bandages—but stealing a doll was just over the line. Apparently that got filed in a separate category in her moral universe.

“Yoko,” he said again, as gently as he could. “If it hadn’t been for you, there wouldn’t be anything left here at all, or at least not for long—no ship, no store, and no doll. I think it’s okay to bend the rules this one time. You’ve earned it.”

“Um, well… If you say so, Grumpy Cat,” she said, and grinned a little. “Well, since we’re all thievin’ now, you see anything back there you want? You deserve a treat, too.”

Gaspar sighed. “You didn’t see any of those Neko-Chan ears, did you?”

“Nope. Not a one. Which is kinda weird,” she said, pointing up to her own ears. “These things are a huge fad back on Mars. Like, half the girls in Southport are wearing ‘em. And some of the guys, too. But out here, everybody keeps staring and doing these double-takes and asking where I got ‘em. Guess it hasn’t caught on here yet?”

“They’re insanely expensive,” he said.

“Huh? I didn’t think they were that bad. I mean—“

“Shipping fees through the Transit Gate.”

Yoko’s eyes widened and her mouth made a round ‘O.’ “Oh yeah—I remember that. Living in Sol, it’s just so easy to forget—what it’s like for everyone else in the galaxy.”

“Yeah, it’s a thing,” he said, staring off at the smoke and trying to guess at the size of his bonus. If it was really big, and if he could find a decent deal in Jiguang—

“Hey, catch,” said Yoko, as something fuzzy hit him in the side of the head.

Instinctively, he reached up to grab it, bobbling it a few times before catching hold of it—the Nyan-Nyan Nekomimi. What?

He stared at her. “This is…”

“Take ‘em,” she said, facing him with a normal, non-cat-eared head for the first time since he’d met her. “They’ll be way easier for me to replace than for you to get. Why fork over all that money to the TTA, right?”

He couldn’t take his eyes off the object in his hand. Just like that. So easy. “Thank you. Thank you so much.”

She waved him off, looking a bit embarrassed. “Hey, don’t worry about it. It’s no big deal. I’m re-gifting anyways.”

That was right. These were used, not new—used by the famous Yoko Reinhart. The exact same ears she’d been wearing on her head. May would be able to say that. She’d have pictures as proof. Something like this—you couldn’t buy it for any amount of money.

“She’s really going to love these,” he said. “Thank you again.”

“Hey, us Nyan-Fans got to stick together,” she said, and chuckled at his confused reaction. “I meant your daughter.”

“Of course,” he said. “Although, given all that’s happened, perhaps I should start watching it as well.”

Yoko perked up. “Oh, you totally should! Everybody I’ve got into it always comes away impressed. It’s way deeper than you think. Seriously, there’s no problem too tough for Nyan-Nyan Neko-Chan and the Hoshizora Senshi.”

“Even terrorism?” he said. It just popped out his mouth, somehow.

That sobered her up a bit. “Ah… well, probably not that. It is still a kids’ show, kinda. I mean—it can get serious, but… I don’t see how they could tone it down enough for the show. I mean, aside from the head villian—that’s Baroness Anti-Star—most everybody else is just a regular person. Not like these seriously murderous terrorist nuts. They’re not like them at all.”

Gaspar hadn’t realized how used he was to reading her moods through her toy cat ears until they weren’t there any more. But he could still tell that this topic was making her twitchy. Some instinct made him press on.

“What are they like?” he asked. "These adversaries in the show?"

“Well—mostly they’re just regular people who get infected by the Baroness. Infected with darkness from the Negaplane, then they turn into monsters, and rampage around a lot until Neko-Chan shows up and hits them with her Starshine Miracle Blast, and then they go back to normal.”

“And that’s it?” Gaspar wasn’t really seeing much depth in her description. It sounded pretty simple and formulaic.

“Well—not exactly. I mean, that’s what happens, but there’s more to it. Like, the infected people, they don’t just randomly go wild—there’s always some setup, something that’s going on in their lives that’s stressing them out. And that issue is what determines what type of monster they turn into, and the type of havoc they cause. Mostly it’s just normal kid stuff, like they’re being picked on, or they’re fighting with their friends—but sometimes it can go heavy, like divorce, or something. But anyway, Neko-Chan doesn’t just use the Miracle Blast on its own—usually she or the other Senshi figure out some practical way to help with the original problem, or at least deal with it. The Starshine Miracle Blast just, y’know, gets rid of the evil magic and sort of helps the advice sink in.”

“Stress that turns people into monsters,” said Gaspar. “Would having your parents die be an example of that?”

“What, like Vicente? That’s bullshit!” Yoko snarled. “I already told you I am not listening to a word of that’s hutching asshole’s pitiful self-justification—“

“Yoko, Yoko, Yoko!” Gaspar said, throwing up his hands. “I’m not arguing with you about that—about the terrorists. I just wanted to know if that might be something they’d do in the show. Having the monster be a child who’d lost their parents.”

“Oh. Sorry,” she said. “And that’s, um… that’s pretty serious. So, I don’t think… well… Actually—they probably could do that. I bet they really could pull it off.”

Gaspar wasn’t sure how, but he felt they were on the edge of something important.

“How would they do that?” he asked.

“Uh, like normal, I guess,” she said. “Sad kid is sad, because his parents are gone, Baroness zaps him with darkness, he goes around terrorizing all the—all the normal kids with happy families. And Neko-Chan and the Senshi show up, they find out stuff about him, they have a magic battle, and it ends with the Miracle Blast, and then it’s like, ‘Your parents weren’t really dead. They were…’”

Yoko stopped, shook her head. “No. No—they wouldn’t do that. They wouldn’t cheat like that. It would be… The Starshine Miracle Blast would hit, and he’d go back to normal, and out of all the sparkles would be… it’d be the spirit of his mom or something. And he’d say, ‘Oh, mommy—I’m so sorry. I’m sorry for all the people I hurt, and… and scared. I’m sorry for… for all the bad things I did. I never meant to turn into a monster.”

“A-and she’d say… she’d say, ‘Oh, my darling little boy—of course I forgive you. B-because you’re my son, and no matter wh… no matter what happens, I will always l… will always love…”

Yoko had to stop, draw a ragged breath, wipe at her eyes. She stared at the tears staining her palms in abject disbelief.

“W-what? Over this? After all that I… Over this? I can’t…”

She turned to him, the most baffled and helpless he’d seen her.

“But it’s… it’s not even real,” she said, almost pleading with him. “It’s just a stupid TV show!”

“It’s your favorite show,” he said. “And I don’t think it sounds stupid at all. I think it sounds wonderful.”

“Uh… yeah. Yeah, I guess it… it…”

And then, Yoko Reinhart put her face in her hands, sat down on the white concrete steps, and started bawling.

It went on a while. Gaspar stared at her for a few moments, a bit hesitant to cross any boundaries, then sat down at her side and put an arm around her. She flinched, then leaned into him. Gaspar was reminded of the last time he’d needed to comfort his daughter. It hadn’t felt so different from this.

He looked out over the majestic, surreal looping landscape of the Urashima. The black cones of the radiation shields had all deflated, and began to sink back into the ground. The Hanging Gardens emerged, glorious colors popping out from where they’d been hiding, from behind the matte black protective covers. Below them was the beautiful and complex Urashima skyline, now marred by two clusters of ugly wounds, dark smoke still bleeding out from some of them—all of the damage they’d caused. But they would fix it all in time.

An invisible man came along and shoved Gaspar’s back. He saw ripples in the smoke, saw it begin to drift aft again. Accelerating? No—braking. The Urashima—the entire titanic monstrosity that was the ship—must have flipped around, swapping end for end, and was now firing its thrusters again, slowing their mad rush and putting them back on course. The whole world had flipped around without them noticing.

Yoko’s crying had lessened its intensity. He wasn’t going to ask her what was wrong. He doubted she could understand it herself, at least not yet. He could make his own guesses for now. Imagining words of love and forgivness from a mother-spirit might’ve reminded Yoko of her own reality: neither of her parents had ever been around to say those things to her, and they never would be. Probably that was a big part of it.

But there was more to it than that. Saying those things had brought up a clear contradiction, a sharp dissonance from the values she truly admired, and the actions that she’d—that they’d taken. It was funny—many of the most profound truths of life were surprisingly simple. Forgiveness, love, kindness—there were so simple that you could put them all in a kids’ TV show. So why was it, then, that adults had such a very hard time actually putting those truths into practice, especially we’re threatened, when we’re angry, when we’re afraid—when we’re a collection of loosely-bound up broken pieces, jagged edges tearing at our deepest wounds.

Gaspar sat there, together with Yoko, waiting until she was ready to talk again. He could wait a while. It could be tomorrow, the day after, the next day, the next week—whenever she was ready. He knew she was going to be okay, whatever her problems. Because she wasn’t alone. She had Bibi and she had him, and he wasn’t going anywhere. He was going to stay right here, and everything was going to be just fine.

***Fin.***
Last edited by Mark Sakura on Wed Oct 19, 2016 5:51 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Runaway Urashima

Postby aurlaent » Sat Dec 12, 2015 6:35 am

Woah! That was powerful stuff.
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Re: Runaway Urashima

Postby Mantisking » Sat Dec 12, 2015 11:51 am

It's getting dusty in here. Nice job.
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Re: Runaway Urashima

Postby spacemonkey » Sun Dec 13, 2015 12:15 pm

Oh, right in the feels. :cry:

Seriously, seriously well done story and I'm glad to have been along for the ride. You have some real writing talent and I hope you keep doing it. :D
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Re: Runaway Urashima

Postby Mark Sakura » Tue Dec 15, 2015 8:38 pm

Thanks everybody! Glad you liked it.

This isn't the longest thing I've written, but it is the longest thing I've written that is basically complete. It's a little less than 56,000 words total, so that's a very short novel. I didn't win Nanowrimo, though. I actually quit that pretty on, after a syncing error with my iPad cost me 2 hours of work, after I was already a day or so behind. Trying to meet specific word counts each day was giving me anxiety attacks anyway. Deciding to just work for a couple hours each day, and not pay attention to my word count at all, went much better for me.

Bunch of challenges with this series--it's the first time I've tried to write anything like hard sf, so there were a bunch of challenges there, most of which I solved by being vague about actual sizes and weights, though a link I found in this forum to Atomic Rockets really helped.

Well, sort of. Actually trying to deal with real physics, and specifically the real physics of space travel, is a serious challenge. Also, there were a number of potential plot holes that nearly made me give up before I started. The realization that the TTA could try to move the Transit gate out of the way of the Urashima's path threw me for a while, but I reasoned my way through it okay. What really threw me in despair for a while was the that the centerpiece of the action was a battle on the inside of the ship, but then I realized the terrorists could've just gone around the outside of the ship instead, and had no good reason to come fight our heroes on their terms. But eventually, I managed to cook up a plausible explanation for this. (At least, I hope it was plausible.)

And there was one really big problem I got from reading Atomic Rockets--that a ship the size of the Urashima could never have gotten to Tau Ceti using conventional means in just 300 years. Even without running specific numbers, I had to figure that it should have taken tens of thousands of years to get there. In the end, I decided that the ship just made it in 300 years because of a "mysterious, unexplained phenomenon of deep space," that has been baffling scientists ever since the Urashima arrived. It's not too far out a dodge, since, aside from the Urashima, no-one in the SU would ever venture out into deep space. The existence of Transit Gates means everyone stays in the gravity wells of large stars, so who really knows what's out there? I had planned to mention this in the story somewhere--"Urashima Truthers": people who use the existence of an unexplained phenomenon as evidence for whatever nonsense they really want to believe. Ship residents tolerate them sometimes--there are a number of businesses that cater to them. On the other hand, some of the Truthers can make real nuisances of themselves--trying to sneak or break into places they shouldn't be, in the interest of uncovering the "conspiracy." I ended up not mentioning any of this, because I was finding early chapters to be really exposition-heavy enough as it was, and none of this really had anything to do with the story I was telling. Probably nobody even noticed this plot hole until I brought it up just now.

Another big problem--the requirement of MF0 materials to depict factions that have to be willing to retreat or surrender, and I had a hard time thinking how a committed squad of terrorists on a suicide mission would ever consider surrendering. Although, looking back at it now, the requirement specifically said factions, and not individuals--and I did say the APLF-C split off from their larger group when that group decided to negotiate. Plus I did some other stuff as well--and I'm pretty confident I managed to address the spirit of the rule, which I took to be: "Wars of extermination are bad: don't glorify them in your fiction."

I got the germ for this idea when I was creating the fluff for my Shogun frame. I had the notion of the company hiring a top celebrity spokesperson, so I invented Yoko Reinhart. The name is a reference to the manga/anime series Battle Angel Alita/Gunnm. (The series started back in the late 80's/early 90's, so a lot of the names were localized in way that wouldn't be done today.) In that series, the main character Alita/Gally is a cyborg who is found in a scrapyard with no memories, but later on learns her original name was Yoko. It came to mind because the mobile frame martial art of Sokokunst is a clear reference to her cyborg martial art of Panzer Kunst. Reinhart was something I picked because Gunnm loved to make various German references. Also, one arc of the story has Alita/Gally becoming a top star on the Motorball circuit, which somewhat resembles the Smashball frame sport invented by Red Robot.

The actually characters didn't end up being all that similar, although Alita/Gally was sometimes compared to a cat in the manga. Likewise, Motorball was a vicious bloodsport in a post-apocalyptic crapsuck setting, while I assumed "layers and layers of cushy shock padding" for an SU collision-sport.

Anyway, coming up with this character, got me to wondering exactly how an obscure company like IHI managed to convince a major celebrity to sign on, and this is what I came up with: a post-911 colony drop, of sorts. It kept rattling around in my head until I finally decided to write it all down, which I've done.

Some of the stuff I've used in this fic are:
Shogun and Longhorn. These were the 3rd and 2nd frames I'd ever created, when I was still grappling with building at proper MF0 scale, and had mostly mixel pieces, and it shows.
The custom Commisar that gets foiled by Coriolis forces and blown out of the sky is this, but with a fancier paint job.
The bomb-carrying sideways-egg torso frame is my version of Mantisking's Egg Walker. Only the one in the story would have a fusion edge and a backpack with directional boosters for space.

Some other people's stuff
I already mentioned Red Robot's Smashball, but that was a big deal, so I'll mention it again.
And Blorf already linked to his B-025 Razor, but it bears repeating.
I think I only mentioned it in passing, but one of the other frames Yoko picked off in the first ambush was a customized version of a OMF Betty Sue.
And for the ship security frames, I decided to use mraichelson's XST-407's, for being my favorite "chub mods." I thought his "put the torso on backwards" trick was so clever, that I later swiped it when modding my Gunjin into Allys.
Also, it was just a passing mention, but I did use Mwoods63's Shangxi system for the real Kostya's current home, mainly because I needed a system name, and it looks like the link to Soren's errata is broken again--so I couldn't get to the official starmap.

I'm kind of tempted to build official story-versions of all these frames and post pictures. I've already made Yoko's Fury-mod Superchub for smashball. Actually, I was looking at the Creative Constraints for Publishing and saw this:

1. You must own the copyright to the thing you're creating, or, if someone else owns it, you must have non-exclusive rights to publish it. That is, the original creator can do whatever they want with it, including selling it to someone else, who then will also have a non-exclusive license.

I'm not sure that I'd ever do this, but does this mean that if I compiled this story into an ebook, maybe with photos of Lego scenes for illustrations, and put it on Amazon, I could--but then Josh, Soren, or any of the above people whose stuff I used could then download it, and would have the right to copy and sell their own versions of it themselves? Or am I totally misreading it?

Also, looking back, I realize that'd I'd used a placeholder tag for the name of the chef who came up with La Belle Terrasse, and never got around to actually giving him a proper name. Anyone have any suggestions? I suppose I could be really lazy and make some Food Wars! reference, although I actually don't like Food Wars that much.
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Re: Runaway Urashima

Postby Blorf » Wed Dec 16, 2015 9:53 am

I for one would enjoy seeing the illustrated version.

Mark Sakura wrote:I'm not sure that I'd ever do this, but does this mean that if I compiled this story into an ebook, maybe with photos of Lego scenes for illustrations, and put it on Amazon, I could--but then Josh, Soren, or any of the above people whose stuff I used could then download it, and would have the right to copy and sell their own versions of it themselves? Or am I totally misreading it?


You can sell material you create.
If you're using material that someone else created, you need permission to include it.
If the person who owns the material you included wants to give permission to someone else to also use the same stuff, you can't stop them.

Nobody can use the material you create without you saying so. The original creators don't automatically gain rights to use your work. (Though a caveat here might be in the license terms you agree to when including someone else's work.)
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Re: Runaway Urashima

Postby Mark Sakura » Thu Dec 17, 2015 4:54 pm

Thanks, Blorf.

The more I think about it, the more I'm not sure how much more effort I'd put into photo illustrations. Right now my photo setup is pretty limited. I've got a lightbox that works well for taking close-up pics of one or two frames at a time. Squeezing more in there is possible, but gets kind of awkward. I take all my pictures with my iPhone, and then adjust them in Photoshop so you can see all the detail in the lego model, but beyond that I don't know much about photography. Also, trying to recreate some of the things I described for the Urashima background may be beyond my building abilities/parts count right now. We'll see.

Like, most of the action scenes happen at "night," and I'm sure there are ways to light everything clearly, but make it look like nighttime in a photo, but I'd have to look them up, and it might require equipment I don't have. And my budget is kind of tight. Maybe I'll just do the custom frames and leave it at that.

Oh, and I've gone back and removed all the placeholders I found: [Disneyland] replaced with "Jet Coaster Adventure Park," and [Chef] replaced with "Joichiro Totsuki."
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Re: Runaway Urashima

Postby Cake » Fri Dec 18, 2015 5:16 am

Thoroughly enjoyed reading this - thanks for posting it :D

Mark Sakura wrote:The more I think about it, the more I'm not sure how much more effort I'd put into photo illustrations. Right now my photo setup is pretty limited. I've got a lightbox that works well for taking close-up pics of one or two frames at a time. Squeezing more in there is possible, but gets kind of awkward. I take all my pictures with my iPhone, and then adjust them in Photoshop so you can see all the detail in the lego model, but beyond that I don't know much about photography. Also, trying to recreate some of the things I described for the Urashima background may be beyond my building abilities/parts count right now. We'll see.

Like, most of the action scenes happen at "night," and I'm sure there are ways to light everything clearly, but make it look like nighttime in a photo, but I'd have to look them up, and it might require equipment I don't have. And my budget is kind of tight. Maybe I'll just do the custom frames and leave it at that.


On option you have here, is to use a digital LEGO builder (probably not LDD, it's rather limited, but something like mecabricks) rather than trying to photograph the scenes you want. Take screen shots (or run everything through a renderer first) and then composite things in Photoshop.
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Re: Runaway Urashima

Postby Hackjob » Wed Dec 23, 2015 5:38 pm

Wow, just wow. This was very well done, I really enjoyed reading it. Great characters, gotta root for the self-demeaing salseman, and you made the heroine fun without being a cartoon. There were times I was on the edge of my seat, times I was slammed by the weight of it, and times I laughed. I snickered at the Lego reference and laughed out loud when Gaspar reflected on the cows. Keep up the good work, I look forward to seeing more!
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Re: Runaway Urashima

Postby Mark Sakura » Wed Dec 30, 2015 1:36 pm

Hack job: thanks, I appreciate it. I think I might return to these characters some time in the future. The real trick would be figuring out an action story for them that wouldn't involve throwing Yoko back into life-or-death combat again, or do it in a way that wasn't repeating the same emotional beats.

But next I'm going to be working on my own original story set in my own universe, so I'll be busy with that.

Cake: Thanks for the suggestion, but every time I try something besides LDD, I end up getting really frustrated. I quit mecabricks after it refused to attach a vertical clip to a Travis brick stud, lining it up to the edge instead.


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