Author : Steve Smith, Staff Writer

The walkway stretched along either side of the manufacturing line beneath it, expanded metal flooring paired with railings of aircraft cable under tension.

Beneath them, nestled snug inside a transparent tube, a spherical rig trundled along, like a massive version of the gyro tops the Major had played with as a child, only this one swinging four coffin shaped pods in a mechanical ballet inside its numerous orbiting rings. The mechanics were mesmerizing; each pod rotating along its long axis inside rings rotating around both short vertical and horizontal axis simultaneously. Each of the four identical units inside the giant sphere were themselves in constant motion while the sphere rolled and corkscrewed its way along the tube. He’d never seen anything so elaborate before in his life.

“Rotomolding,” the voice jerking him out of his reverie, “we find it helps their tissue development during the rapid growth phase, and results in a more uniform distribution of the core buffer polymer and outer skin.”

The Major hurried to catch up to his guide as another unit rumbled by beneath him.

“Mr. Pierson,” the Major began.

“Please, Major Keage, call me Claude.” He smiled as he turned to face the Major and slipped his hands into the kangaroo pocket of his coverall.

“Claude,” the Major began again, “how do these units differ from the units we deployed in Haituk, or Baytang? Those were basic shake and bake soldiers, you were turning them out almost as fast as the Payonese were cutting them down.”

Claude winced at the Major’s apparent lack of tact, removing his glasses to squint at them critically before replying.

“These units are true multiphase construction. Cast and baked chassis, draped and grafted muscular system over a fully integrated circulatory system, multiple redundant systems for command and control, a complex low level reflex system and a highly developed and preloaded reasoning and dataprocessing unit. Each has a…” he paused, searching for the correct word, “personality loaded in, then they are insulated, armoured to spec and skinned before they get kitted out and warehoused.” He’d slowly been continuing along the line, pausing at a doorway which he opened and motioned the Major through. “Please,” he said simply.

The Major stepped past him into a dimly lit but clearly vast warehouse, the door they exited through leading to a raised mezzanine overlooking the space. Claude attended a console in the middle of the platform and slowly the lighting throughout increased in intensity.

Major Keage whistled despite himself. As far as he could see, the floor was lined with row upon row of uniformed soldiers, tightly packed and still.

Claude gestured to the mass of troops standing below. “Each unit is catalogued and retrievable by name and serial number, or specialty.”

Keage turned, his face a quizzical knot. “Name? You give these things names?”

Claude smiled. “Of course we do, for example, there’s probably a Jerimiah Keage out there.” As he typed, he noted the expression on the Major’s face. “Given the numbers, one would imagine.”

Having entered the name, an overhead rig lit up and, navigating the gridlines on the ceiling with remarkable speed, shot out into the warehouse and snatched a lone figure out from a sea of indistinguishable uniforms and hauled it back to deposit it on the mezzanine facing Claude.

Claude stepped back as the Major walked between them staring at his own face on the immobile soldier in front of him.

“What the hell’s the meaning of this?” he barked, turning on Claude.

“Major Keage, meet Major Keage. Say goodnight Major.” Claude backed further away.

Behind the Major, the unit came to life. “Goodnight Major” was all it said before landing a swift blow to the base of the Major’s skull, dropping him like a rock to the floor.

Claude and the new Major walked back through to the manufacturing line as the overhead rig retrieved the limp body from the floor, disappearing with him into the gradually dimming lights of the warehouse.

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