Chapter One – Bear Trap

There’s another radiation leak inside my cockpit, and I’m the pilot of this broken machine.

Situation normal…SNAFU. The mech’s computer shoots more anti-rad meds into my neck. The radiation will eventually kill me if the meds don’t kill me first. Mech pilots are not known to survive long. My heart rate is up, my blood pressure is higher, my vision is keener, and I think my sense of smell is even better. If I don’t kill more targets, I’m going to be toast. A dead mech. I know what burnt toast smells like; it’s going to smell like me.

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There’s another radiation leak inside my cockpit, and I’m the pilot of this broken machine.

Situation normal…SNAFU. The mech’s computer shoots more anti-rad meds into my neck. The radiation will eventually kill me if the meds don’t kill me first. Mech pilots are not known to survive long. My heart rate is up, my blood pressure is higher, my vision is keener, and I think my sense of smell is even better. If I don’t kill more targets, I’m going to be toast. A dead mech. I know what burnt toast smells like; it’s going to smell like me.

Sniper. The icon flashes on my Heads-Up. I’ve found him, and he has found me. Shit. Our artillery was supposed to destroy him. The infantry was supposed to flush him out. The air strikes should’ve pulverized him. But the Smokey-Slash-Sniper has somehow survived them all. Mech versus sniper? On paper, the mech wins every time, but that’s on paper.

“Bear trap. Saigon Sally. Reverse.”

My mech understands me. The mechanical voice of my mech says, “Reverse. Fire. 10-4.”

The Army calls us mech Pilots, but we call ourselves: Truckers. Drivers. Long-Haulers. Lorry-Handlers. All mech pilots get the dirty work. We are the workhorses of any skirmish or battle, and none of us walk away from any fight with clean hands.

“Emergency, 10-33,” I say calling out. “Faster. Full Speed.”

My mech starts to fire the Vulcan machine guns in its arms. Laying down cover fire while finding someplace safe to park. I need shelter to get away from the greasy stuff. The M-91 guns quickly try to conserve ammo and now they only fire in spurts. Low ammo flashes in my Heads-Up. Along with the sniper and radiation symbols. All the flashing lights are giving me a headache. My vision is starting to blur. “Stop firing the guns!” I only have ten percent left on the ammunition. The Smokey hasn’t fired. I was full frontal and giving him my best money shot. I should be dead. I should be toast. I smell smoke. “Georgia Overdrive.” The walking gears disengage, but the momentum of the heavy machine keeps it moving backward. A fourth light is flashing in my Heads-Up: fire. It’s the power plant and it’s on fire. That means more radiation in here. “Disengage the reactor.”

“10-4,” says my mech. “Mech 214 approaching. Fifty meters away.”

Now I know why Smoky hasn’t fired. There’s another mech. Two against one. Odds in our favor. But my mech is broken.

“Reactor temperature is critical. China Syndrome. Core dump in ten seconds.”

“Wait. If we dump the core, Mech 214 will be toast. Greasy side up.” My legs are getting warm. I think blood might be coming out of my eyeballs. The reactor is only a meter from my backside. “Wait. One minute.”

“10-4.”

Mech 214 has Cledus Snow inside. Snowman. I say, “Snowman…Snowman. We’re in a bear trap, and it’s about to snap.”

214 stops. Raises its own M-91s. Too late. Smokey has an RPG. Uranium tip. It hits Mech 214 in the groin. That’s gonna hurt. Dead Mech. Snowman has ejected. He’s safe, but his mech is toast. It’s greasy. Odds are now even. Time to play an old-school video game. “Big M, let’s put the hammer down.” The Smokey is exposed. He’s made a mistake. My mech is now running. I don’t know how many meters she will go before she breaks down. I see Smoky. He’s exposed. He’s a lot lizard. Engine lights are flashing in my eyeballs. “Ramming speed.”

The Smokey is trying to reach for another RPG. Too late. My mech, she’s a big girl, and she likes to play Frogger. Dead Smokey. Her oversize feet squash the bear.

All the bells and whistles are flashing on my Heads-up. Everything has failed. I say, “Eject me and dump the core.”

“10-4, good buddy,” says my mech before she loses all of her power. Mech 118 has shut down. She’s a deadhead.

End of Chapter One

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Author: Chuck Anderson

Chuck Anderson is an art-student, baker, runner, publisher, and writer who lives in Colorado. https://madcow.press

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