Scrounger

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vanishing
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Scrounger

Post by vanishing » Mon Aug 08, 2011 10:03 am

This story less ambitious than most of the others here. It's more about atmosphere than delving into future history. I've deliberately avoided any "official" names, using what might be slang terms instead.

---

Beck pulled his mules back into the clearing and tied them off. It had taken him a quarter of an hour to find a good place away from the junkers. Now he collected what he would need from the satchels and trudged back toward the rise.

He'd been tracking this group for two days. They'd wandered back and forth across the rocky hills like they were lost but Beck had tracked a lot of junkers and knew they never got lost. They'd finally stumbled over the facility in the river valley just below the rise. Beck had waited for over an hour before edging back to the forest and found a place to leave his mules where nothing would run across them by chance. When junkers stayed in one place for more than a few minutes it meant they'd found something and Beck was sure that anything the junkers found interesting, the Corp would find interesting.

He pressed his belly into the earth and crawled toward the edge of the rise, staying low. There'd been seven of them when they'd arrived but only two had been visible when he'd gone to hide his mules. As he reached a point he could finally see down into the valley, he saw the same two still patrolling around edge of the buildings. He'd picked this approach after watching those two split up. One was nearby and the other was on the far side of the barely visible fence line.

The junkers were bloody dangerous. Beck had heard stories of times when they were just nuisances. They would appear around old settlements and start pulling things apart and dragging them off. In those times some thrown rocks and maybe breaking a few had been enough that make them leave. It hadn't been that way for a long time. Longer than Beck had been alive, at least. But the same way you followed volfen if you wanted to find lupps, you followed junkers if you wanted to find tech.

He licked his lips. Still only two of them around, with the nearer one barely 100 meters away and the further one a good half a klick off, at least.

The plan was to sneak around the big ones patrolling the area and find the little ones, the ones that broke stuff up and hauled it away. The little ones were easier to disable with his kit, and once one was disabled he could splice in the doctored Haussman. With that done he could just order it to collect whatever he wanted and haul it out for him while he snuck back to meet it. The others wouldn't question its actions; at least they never had. The junkers were dangerous but not very smart.

But the big one, the bodyguard was only 100 meters away and there was little cover to be had in the rocks and bare dirt covering the gentle slope. They weren't smart but they weren't completely stupid either.

He edged slowly back and then lay still with his face pressed into his hands. This just didn't seem like a good gamble. Two of the big bodyguards meant something valuable but they had positioned themselves really well. Better than he'd ever seen with junkers. He'd taken a lot of chances in his time as an independent contractor for the Corp, you had to if you wanted to scrounge the good tech, but this was bad. His brain told him this was one of those times you just crawl away and find a old shipyard or factory to pick over. But something else in him said to stay. That this was worth the risk.

He thought of his liaison back at Border Point. He was slimy little snake but he was as ambitious as any company man and a good liaison, however unpleasant he was. And he'd held onto Beck when others had tried to lure him away. A contractor that worked into a full-timer made the liaison look good, so Beck believed him when he'd told him that only a few more good results would guarantee an offer. It was a motivating thought, but Beck still didn't move.

He thought of his shack back at the Point. It was inside the stockade, sure, but the stockade at Border Point was still almost a hundred klicks north of Company Headquarters, past anything you'd really call civilization. A full-time position meant reassignment, probably, closer to HQ. A bigger room, better food, not wearing three pairs of socks at night. Beck still couldn't convince himself not to crawl back to his mules.

Then he thought of Meryn.

She'd been born in Border Point, the daughter of a company docksman. Beck had been traveling as an independent courier contracting with the Corp, and when he'd arrived in Border Point she'd pestered him for story after story of the different towns he seen and people he'd met. He'd agreed eagerly, of course. Meryn had a smile that, well, you had to see it. It made every iron-tough, foul mouthed dock worker stand up straighter and awkwardly doff his cap when she flashed it their way. He was glad to share his tales when she shared that smile with him. They'd spent a lot of time together in the two days he stayed until a return package for HQ was ready. After that, he'd volunteered for the next delivery to Border Point, and the next one, and then found an excuse to transfer there.

Her family had been difficult. He wasn't a company man, not yet, and the only way to become one was work. Marriage couldn't bring you in, connections couldn't bring you in, bribes couldn't bring you in. The only way to get in was to prove you were worth something. So Beck had worked and done as good a job as any scrounger. A lot better than most. But he still wasn't a company man and he knew he didn't really deserve Meryn until he was. Something her father was quick to point out. Frequently.

He thought of Meryn and raised his head.

He looked straight into the sensor array of the junker bodyguard. It emitted a series of clicks, then a low whistle. Beck felt his guts flip over inside him as they tried to escape from his paralyzed body.

The junker did something Beck had never heard of a junker doing before. It spoke.

"YOU WILL SURRENDER IMMEDIATELY"

Its speech was perfectly even and sounded somehow both high and low pitched. It was completely inhuman.

"STAND"

Beck found himself on his feet without remembering how he'd arrived there.

"YOU ARE NOT ARMED ARE YOU A CIVILIAN"

The speech lacked the pauses and inflections Beck was used to, and had a very strange accent. It took him a few moments to realize it had asked a question.

"I REPEAT ARE YOU A MILITARY OR CIVILIAN PRISONER"

"Uh... civilian?"

"IN ACCORDANCE WITH THE SECOND ARTICLE OF THE FORTH OSLO CONVENTIONS YOU WILL BE DETAINED FOR YOUR OWN SAFETY FOLLOW ME"

The junker backed very slowly down the incline, the four articulated treads carefully picking out stable surfaces. They didn't seem well designed for this terrain. Beck noted this with a professional eye but most of his attention was focused on the huge barrel of what was obviously a powerful gun mounted over the "shoulder" of the junker. It wasn't the biggest gun he'd ever seen but it was the biggest he'd ever had pointed at him.

He took a tentative step forward, following the robot.

This wasn't good. He'd never heard of anyone being taken prisoner by a junker. The obvious assumption was that no one had ever lived to tell about it. That meant he probably only had the duration of this walk to figure out a way out of this or he was going to die.

The initial shock was beginning to drain from him and terror was starting to seep in. He smoothed over it quickly with an icy calmness he had perfected in dozens of tight spots. Panic would guarantee death right now. He needed calm, clear thought.

He still had his tools: the Haussman, the ductgun and puncher to splice it, and the flash cutter. His usual routine was to find one of the little ones alone and use the cutter to sever a main power feed. It wouldn't completely immobilize it but it would keep it still enough to splice in the Haussman. Then he'd use the ductgun to splice the power cable back together and give the junker new orders.

Well, however big it was, it was still a junker. He carefully looked it over as he followed it slowly down the hill. The upper body looked impressive: covered in think, durable, metallic plating, with sliding sheets of thinner, but still study, slats of metal around the joints where the sensor array and the gun attached to the main body. Definitely military. He wondered if it could withstand a shot from its own gun. He only wondered a moment, though, since the only gun he had was still hanging on his mule's harness and he knew from experience that it wouldn't have helped him much against junkers, especially not this junker. On the right side of the body was a box-like extension, armored similarly to the body, with what looked like fitted panels. But on the left side the armor was torn and discolored plates had been crudely welded to protect an claw-like metal arm extending down from what would be the shoulder on a human. Beck looked lower and saw that the "waist" had also been joined to upper body with welds meant for strength rather than looks. It was likely that the armored upper part hadn't originally been connected to the tracked chassis. A familiar looking tracked chassis.

The vaguest possibility of a plan started to form in his mind.

He spent a lot of time examining the ancient machines he found because junkers made their bodies from the wrecks they scavenged. He'd examined the old factory machines and noticed they often had a obvious button or switch attached to them. From his time meeting Meryn on the docks and talking with the dock workers, he'd seen similar devices on some of the machinery there. Lower tech, of course, but they'd reminded him of those buttons. The next time he was disabling one of the little junkers, he'd taken to opportunity to try a quick experiment and had confirmed what he'd suspected. That chassis had probably been part an ancient factory robot with an emergency shutoff attached in an easy to reach location. It didn't shut down the junker completely but it did immobilize it. Beck scanned the chassis for the switch.

He found it. With a plate welded over it.

He stared at that plate, his heart sinking. Meryn's face came to him and he desperately wished he could hold her one more time. Then he forced the thought away and savagely thought, "Pull yourself together! You expected it to be as easy as an off switch?" He breathed in deeply then let it out slowly and started scanning the junker again.

He looked at the plate over the button. There was a space between the plate and the base but not enough to get his fingers in. Maybe with a tool and some time he could press it but he didn't think the junker would give him that time. It didn't look like it could aim the gun that low but the claw looked capable of ripping him in two. Would the flash cutter be able to burn through the plate before the junker could react with that claw? The plate looked too thick, but it was joined to pegs with poorly applied spot welds. The cutter could cut through five millimeters of steel in a couple of seconds. It might be able to tackle those welds a little faster. Beck liked those odds better than whatever awaited him at the end of this walk. Just one more problem to deal with.

He looked up at the gun. Beck was pretty sure there was no off button on that. He needed to distract the thing but what could distract something as inhuman as a junker?

It had talked about something when it captured him. The something convention? It sounded political, or maybe military. Beck had heard the old stories. Of the star empire with a military of thousands of men, with rules for their wars. War fought by rules? The idea was ridiculous to Beck. But the machine looked like it had once been an ancient weapon. Well, half of it, at least. And perhaps, if those illogical rules existed, it had to obey them?

Beck stopped walking. The junker stopped at seemingly the same moment.

"YOU WILL FOLLOW ME"

"I... have information I need to give to... your commanding officer."

"YOU WILL FOLLOW ME OR LETHAL FORCE WILL BE USED"

"I came here because I was running from them, the ones to the south, lots of men with guns." The words spilled out in a rush.

The junker paused and clicked twice.

"HOW MANY MEN HOW FAR AWAY"

"I... I must speak to your commanding officer."

The junker paused again and began clicking. The clicking didn't stop as it resumed speaking.

"MY COMMANDING OFFICER"

The statement trailed off. Beck looked at the unmoving junker. He took a very slow step forward.

"STAY WHERE YOU ARE I AM"

The junker stopped speaking again. The clicking had not stopped. The metallic voice made it hard for him to tell when it was making sense and when it wasn't, but he thought it might be getting confused.

"I need to convey this information to your commanding officer. Take me to him immediately."

The junker didn't respond this time. The clicking continued. Gathering his courage, Beck took a confident step forward and continued.

"Look, this is a matter..."

The gun swung level with his head, barely a meter away. Beck was so close to it, it needed to tilt its entire body forward to align the gun.

"STOP WHERE YOU ARE MY COMMANDING OFFICER MEN IN THE WOODS"

"Yes, men in the woods in the woods. Right there," he said, turning and pointing. It was the oldest trick in the book, but then junkers aren't that smart.

The body tilted back up as the sensor array scanned the woods. Beck launched himself at the emergency shutoff, yanking the cutter from his jacket at the same time. The giant body surged down and slewed left as it tried to aim its gun at the human now directly beneath it. The cutter ignited and Beck jammed it hard against the welds. The robot recovered and sliced its claw down and the right, trying to defend itself from the human hidden beneath it, but it had turned its body out of position and the claw crashed against the metal waist above Beck's head. The welds popped free and Beck grabbed the still hot metal, tearing it off the shutoff. The torso spun right, bringing the claw to bear on Beck. Beck flattened himself against the metal housing and stabbed blindly at the button. Half of it had been sheered off in his hasty application of the cutter but enough remained for his fingers to press. Beck rolled to his left as the claw snapped closed where he had been moments before.

Beck lay on the ground, panting. He could hear the whine of servos above him but the treads remained motionless. He started laughing. Then he brought back the icy calm. He wasn't finished yet.

He carefully raised his head above the treads, ready to duck back down if the claw could reach him. The claw was hovering close to the emergency shutoff on the tread cover. It snapped menacingly but, without power, it couldn't turn at the waist. From the looks of it, the claw probably couldn't reach much more than halfway across its body. If he stayed on this side of the junker he was probably safe. Hopefully a control system was accessible from this side.

Feeling confident, Beck pulled the toolkit and Haussman from his jacket. As he did, he looked back across the slope. No more than 300 meters away the other bodyguard junker was slowly trundling toward him.

Beck's mouth hung open. Then he turned back to the disabled junker, frantically searching for a control junction and swearing at his luck.

The forth panel he tried proved usable. He dialed the power down on the cutter and flashed away the insulating plastic layer then primed the splice with carefully applied dots of conductive plastic from the ductgun. He stole a quick glance at the junker closing in, probably still 200 meters away but looked a lot closer, then set the Haussman and punched it down. Beck stepped back.

"Alright you, understand me now?"

The junker didn't respond. The claw waved in seeming defiance.

Beck shot another glance at the approaching junker, another 150 meters. He jumped back to the Haussman. The splice looked clean but it wasn't taking. What was wrong?

The treads. He'd spliced the Haussman into the tread control system but he'd shut that down. He thought faster than he ever had before. The Haussman was smart. It was designed to work in adverse conditions. And this Haussman was smarter than most because it had been modified by Brinker, probably the smartest man Beck had ever met. All it needed was access to any control system and it would somehow feedback into the system. He'd never followed all of it but he'd understood enough to know that he just needed to get power to the Haussman, just for a moment, and it would transfer itself into the main control system.

He looked down the slope. 100 meters.

The power supply on the cutter was simple. He could flash the insulation off the main power circuit, create a ground with the ductgun, and short the power cell directly into the control system. But would that power up the system long enough for the Haussman to gain control or just burn everything out?

He looked down the slope. 50 meters.

Beck worked faster than he would have thought possible. He flashed away the insulation while simultaneously building up a grounding point against the shell. Then he popped the cell out of the cutter, letting the case fall to the ground, and jammed it against the main power circuit.

The circuit sparked, then popped and smoke poured from the panel. Beck's face fell. He looked up at junker, now absolutely still.

"Did it work?" he asked, hopelessly.

"Yes," came the immediate answer.

He stumbled back from the junker, then whooped and jumped in celebration. Just as the second junker trundled around its brother.

"Destroy it!" Beck screamed and threw himself to the ground.

The report from the gun was far quieter than Beck expected but anything it lacked in volume it made up for in destruction. His earlier curiosity about how well that gun would penetrate its own armor was answered: extremely well. When Beck looked up he saw that most of the top of the junker had disappeared in shredded metal. The gun had been tossed a good 10 meters away. The treads tried to interpret the damaged control signals coming to them and jerked forward and back in a short rocking motion.

Beck stared at the wreck, then sat down and began shaking helplessly. He knew he didn't really have time for this but even his icy calm had limits. He stayed like that, curled tightly against himself, for what felt like a long time before he could stand again.

"You understand me now?" he asked the junker.

"Yes," it replied in a stern, female voice. All the Haussmans Brinker modified spoke with female voices. Beck suspected he thought it was funny.

"I've never seen bodyguards like this on a junker expedition. What are you looking for?"

"A sixth generation harmonic controller."

Beck was at a loss.

"What's that?"

"A pre-war device of critical importance in control of potential conversion."

The shock was less primal than what he'd been through immediately before, but what it lacked in reptilian terror it gained back with the slowly dawning realization of what he'd stumbled into.

"Pre-war? There's a piece of intact pre-war tech down there?"

"Yes."

Beck thought for a moment, "Why only seven of you for something that important?"

"There are 233 units in the area searching for the exact location of this item. The clues to its location were vague and required covering a large area. The chance that it even existed was considered small, hence the low number of total units committed to this operation."

Beck slowly placed his face in his hands. He should have known. It was Lady Fate playing with him for sticking his nose where it didn't belong. Giving him all those breaks then making him pay for them with this. An army of junkers, probably dozens of them armed like this one.

"Are they coming here?"

"Yes. They were informed of our find as soon at it was confirmed. The first of them will likely arrive within two hours and thirty-five minutes."

"And the, whatsit, the controller. Recovered it yet?"

"No. We have located it and are in the process of extracting it. It is a delicate operation if damage to the harmonic controller is to be avoided. Extraction will be completed within fifty minutes."

Beck thought hard. An army of hundreds of junkers with military weapons. An ancient device of power. An hour and a half lead time.

His brain was screaming at him to just turn and run. Just head back to the mules as fast as you can and get out of here. This is ancient magic. This is stuff that makes you hope the worst that can happen is you get killed. Just turn your back on all this and go back to your shack at Border Point. Just get yourself back to Meryn.

But something else was tugging at him. Something was telling him to take the device and the lead and use it. That it was important. He thought of Meryn and, for the first time since he had met her, he thought he might need to risk losing her.

"When the device is recovered, have it brought to the top of this rise."

---

I have an idea of where the story goes from here. If there's any interest, I'll continue it.

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trooogdooor
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Re: Scrounger

Post by trooogdooor » Tue Aug 09, 2011 2:41 am

vanishing wrote:"IN ACCORDANCE WITH THE SECOND ARTICLE OF THE FORTH OSLO CONVENTIONS YOU WILL BE DETAINED FOR YOUR OWN SAFETY FOLLOW ME"
Haha :mrgreen:

I think you'll get more responses if you divide your fic up into parts, BTW. ;-) Too bad if this excellent piece doesn't get read.

vanishing
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Posts: 91
Joined: Sat Jul 23, 2011 12:35 pm

Re: Scrounger

Post by vanishing » Wed Aug 10, 2011 3:10 am

Thanks. I'm lazy, so I'll leave it as is for now. If it deserves attention, I'm sure it will get it. If it doesn't, well I have a good piece of advice now.

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