Author : Julian Miles, Staff Writer
The workshop echoes like a rendition of what the forges of the damned sound like. Amongst noises so loud they seem to have presences of their own, little figures scuttle in rituals of maintenance. Our gods are demanding and we have to comply, otherwise the threatened apocalypse will roll across the land.
In reality, the apocalypse arrived eight-four years ago. It came from the stars in ships of heart-rending beauty to turn our cities into canvasses of horror. They still argue about how many died in the initial attack versus how many died because shock rendered them unable to escape.
“Red!” My screaming order makes the apprentice jump, before he hands me the pot.
When the alien ships disgorged war-machines fifty feet high, with defences that rendered all but the crudest weaponry useless, we nearly became extinct. Then we built bigger war machines. Some went for the giant robot approach, but the sheer impracticality of that design – limbs come off too easily – cost us more resources.
In the end, the venerable war-wagon returned. Using the Victorian ethos of just scaling things up until they were effective, we ended up with the biggest all-terrain vehicles ever made.
Six thirty-foot wheels, steel-treaded, underpin an eighty-foot frame that mounts twin twelve-inch guns. We use an armour-penetrating dense shell around a high-explosive round because their defences render energy and external effects useless. Solid shot penetrates. Explosions inside their defences seem to work.
“Dryer!” He’s ready for me this time.
Our war-wagons are constructed from whatever we can find. The reactors that power them are high-output and internal shielding is minimal to allow more armour. The crew provisions are likewise minimal. Very few crew members endure more than eighteen months or survive longer than two years, even if the battles do not kill them. But by duty rotation, they serve until they die. They will not quit, because they are the last line.
I lift the dryer away. Wagon forty-four has just got its one hundredth poppy. We do not have time or space to bury our dead, even if we are lucky enough to have anything to inter. So the wagons have become rolling memorials. It suits us. No monument that stands alone under grey skies, visited infrequently. Our epitaphs roll out to fight the same enemy the men and women they commemorate died fighting against. Our oriental crews loved it immediately and everyone else has taken the belief to their hearts.
As walls shake and radiation burns, as shatterbeams and slicers howl against your armour, as primitive fear fills our rolling, man-made caverns, knowing you have the spirits of every fallen crewmember with you is the salvation of your sanity.
Victory will come, of that we are sure. Not one of us will see the second anniversary of it. We have already stated that there should be no memorial beyond the war-wagons. Let them rust where they stand on that final day. We will need no edifices, for we will be the ones who you feel beside you when you walk battlefields restored to be meadows or towns.