Author: Steve Smith, Staff Writer
The two technicians parked the ArVee down a side street and covered the last hundred meters on foot. They took up a position in the shelter of an alley behind a battered wall with a clear view of the square.
The combat frame they had the open trouble ticket on was seated on the broken rim of the fountain in the square’s center, its heavy weapon laid across its feet between its legs and a hand cannon gripped in its right hand. Behind it, a pair of concrete dolphins hovered in the air, part of some forgotten water feature now run dry.
As they watched, the humanoid frame raised the pistol to its temple, and a fraction of a second before it pulled the trigger, it jerked the barrel just enough to one side so the round missed its head completely, tearing noisily into a building in the distance.
“What the absolute fuck is it doing?” Zune, the more junior of the two gaped in disbelief. “Do these things even get depressed?”
The frame reloaded the hand cannon, paused, then repeated the motion exactly, pulling the barrel off target at the last instant so the round didn’t impact its cranial casing.
“It’s a troubleshooting indicator, it’s designed like that so that critical failures are conspicuous.” Dek was scrolling through pages of documentation as he spoke. “Same reason your cabin rebreather leaks onto your bunk when it backs up so you fix it. Stops you from ignoring a stuck pressure relief valve until the unit explodes and vents you and the contents of your cabin into space you while you sleep.” Not finding what he’d been looking for, he scrolled back to the top and began searching more slowly. “It can’t hurt itself, so the indicator’s not terminal. Love to meet the dumbass that didn’t think through the collateral damage on this thing though.”
Zune tried connecting to the frame from his console without success. “Remote diagnostics is down.”
“Of course it’s down, if remote dee was up, we wouldn’t be here, would we?”
Dek could swear these techs got thicker skulls every tour.
“Send the shutdown codes, then we can take a closer look. I don’t see that behaviour anywhere in the maintenance code list, I have no idea what failure that’s indicative of.”
Zune dialed up the frame overrides in his HUD, and sent the shutdown codes.
The frame turned to look in their direction, then placed the hand cannon on the fountain rim beside it, and rested both hands on its thighs and stopped moving.
Zune stayed in the alley watching the thermals on his HUD until the frame had been absolutely still for a full minute.
“Got it, stupid bucket’s a brick now, I’ll go jack in and see what it’s got to say for itself”
Dek turned to respond as Zune stepped out of the shelter of the alley mouth. The frame kicked its heavy weapon up off the ground into its waiting hands, and in a deafening barrage of slugs, Zune and most of the brickwork near where he’d just been standing disappeared into a cloud of dust and mist.
Dek didn’t wait to see if the frame was ambulatory, he dropped his gear and sprinted to the ArVee, reversing at full throttle until he was sure he was safely clear of the area.
“Control this is TK two one nine, that twitchy frame you sent us to check out? It’s got a faulty remote shutdown, and a faulty loyalty subsystem. I’m going to need an orbital strike with extreme prejudice. Frame is off-leash, asset irretrievable.”
Dek paused, trying to will his heart rate back down to something bordering mildly terrified.
“I’m going to need a new tech too,” he added after a few minutes, “and a day off.”
He turned the ArVee around without stopping, braking, steering, and hammering the gas again in one smooth practiced motion, then continued racing clear of the strike zone, glancing nervously skyward in anticipation of the hand of god railing down.
There was going to be hell to pay with the documents division when he got back to base.