Author: Jae Miles, Staff Writer

When I crash-landed here, I thought my life was over. Sure, it might take a while to actually end, but nobody would be looking for a freak-chance survivor from the Fourth Battlegroup, who only avoided sharing their grisly fate by a twist of luck.
I’d been testing modifications to my jump wings: all the Conqueror-class powered walkers have them. There I was, skimming along parallel to the hull of the Shiva when something massive blew holes clean through it, nearly killing me too. By luck, I made it to clear space. From there I watched the Verbt, the Shango, and the Kresnik suffer the same fate.
I couldn’t even see the enemy! Either they were using a new type of long-range weapon, or they actually had the cloaking technology the high-ups had been having nightmares over.
As I watched the fighter squadrons from the Fandango and the Tarantella fall foul of some smaller varieties of whatever had taken out the big ships, I set my tactical computer to monitor and learn, then waited for an opportunity.
Watching a hundred thousand people die without chance of retaliation was the worst four minutes of my life. The enemy weren’t even assisting life skiffs. Everything of ours was blasted without mercy.
Until my dying day, I will swear that the creature who piloted my Conqueror out of that slaughter was some divine ghost possessing my body. I have never been that good, nor will I ever come close.

Something catches my eye, interrupting my reminiscence. There’s a little flag waving down below. I give a thumbs-up and stomp my way towards the mountain range in the distance. As I step across the gorge, I give the slack-jawed troops manning the barricade halfway across the single bridge a jaunty salute.
Stepping up the butte to loom over the fortress that controls access to the pass far below, I casually backhand the roof off of the tallest tower, then cross my arms and wait.
The Kalashdig had been losing a genocidal war against the armies of Mastilig. Then, one night at the end of a long story-circle, petitioning the spirits for aid, a gigantic meteor fell from the heavens and plunged into the lake beyond their hills.
By the time they got there, I was sitting next to the campfire I’d made on my Conqueror’s chest plate, grilling some of the fish stranded on the shore by the tidal wave of my arrival. In a world where a big man is 20 centimetres tall, a 180-centimetre woman who pilots a 10-metre-tall war machine is something that can only be comprehended as a gift from the spirits above.

Gashdy reminds me of my grandpapa. He’s an irascible old elder who leads the surviving Kalashdig with a heady mix of cunning and bravado, backed by coarse wit and courage. We spent weeks drawing pictures on the side of the Conqueror and laughing while I learned their language.
The fortress lowers its flags and runs up a single black pennon. Another surrender. I pulverised the first fortress and it’s army. Ever since then, they roll over every time.
Returning to camp, I leave the Conqueror with its solar panels deployed and swing down to join everybody.
“Crazy granddaughter from the stars, they are finally sending envoys to sue for peace.”
“Have somebody barbeque me a steer, Gashdy. I better eat or I’ll be in no mood to be polite during negotiations.”
He cackles and calls for food. I turn to watch the sunset. Of all the places to find a home.

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