Author: Julian Miles, Staff Writer
The sky is lit by colossal energy beams throughout an otherwise murky afternoon. Most of them originate from the monstrous shape that looms on the far horizon like a mountain cut from steel.
The outpost on the hill had been deserted since a war over a century before. Now it’s crammed with officers, staff, and equipment. All the people with weapons are on the outside, and are happier there, despite the foul weather. Even standing upwind, they can still hear the General shouting.
“What do you mean we’ve got no tanks left? We had over a thousand last month. I saw them from the Glory Day Overflight.”
Inside the outpost, the quieter reply comes from a bespectacled giant of a man.
“She destroyed the last of them yesterday.”
The General brandishes a cane at the giant’s chest.
“What do you mean, ‘she’? It’s a machine! A damn big one, I’ll grant you, but still a machine. Just because it’s as big as a bloody battleship there’s no need to get soppy about it.”
The giant removes his glasses and massages his temples. That done, he puts the glasses down and speaks with a hand over his eyes.
“Excuse me. Headache from the lights. Tell me, General, what do you know about the Oni-Class Fortresses?”
The General chews a stray bit of his moustache.
“Sodding great wastes of time from a few decades ago, weren’t they? Somebody got a bee in their bonnet and built a couple before it came to light the computers required didn’t exist?”
“Neat summation. Well, times change and computing power increases. I got tasked with seeing if the repulsor-lift fortress dreadnought called the Western Oni could be activated with current technology. Took me a few years, and the co-operation of the AI Research Unit, but we cobbled something together that addressed the shortfalls of the original project and added a few new ideas. We took a Therbithi cryobrain, flashed it into a vegetative state, then loaded seed mnemonics and the whole Oni suite. Like the Therbithi recommend: wake one up, then give it something complex to do. The intelligence will stabilise quicker that way.”
“You lazy bastards put alien technology in my hoverfortress?”
“No, General, us overworked bastards put alien tech in the repulsor-lift fortress because your people insisted we succeed at any cost.”
The General points as the looming threat ploughs through another city, explosions illuminating the angled slabs of its lower armour.
“Well, you certainly did that. Now, how do we call it to heel?”
“Her name is Tabitha. She’s in total rage because I made the mistake of using emotional attachment to reinforce her control routines.”
The General steps closer.
“I don’t understand.”
The giant grins.
“That was my second mistake. Things were going well. We were just preparing for you to be introduced as another authority figure when I cheerfully told Tabitha I was being sent to activate the Eastern Oni.”
The giant colours up.
“Embarrassing as it is to admit, for all intents and purposes, the hoverfortress with enough firepower to level a continent is in love with me. Finding out I was intending to go off and fire up what she perceives as a rival, and giving it all the improvements I’d got from working with her, Tabitha feels I am betraying and insulting her.”
“The hoverfortress is jealous?”
“More like a woman scorned. I might be able to talk her down after she’s levelled the Eastern Oni. Until then? Not a chance. Best stay out of her way.”
“Oh my God. You idiot.”