Smitty thought it was a daft idea to begin with. Sure, there was trouble at the Eastern Rim mine, something about the natives getting restless (there were natives?) as well as reported instances of Taguchi Corp. crews dropping in and poaching N-Stone. But still, strapping a rail gun to a Replicator? That was madness, surely?
Replicators. Named such because the monster machines replicated their pilot’s every move. Originally regarded as the most stupid things ever conceived, they were overblown versions of the much smaller R-Suits used in asteroid mining operations back in the Sol system; but after 20 years mining this sandy rock, and loosing countless crews in the process, someone thought miners needed something…. better. So some old schematics for the ‘antique’ R-Suits were dug up, along with a few operational relics, and the whole lot was injected with a serious dose of ‘bigger is better’. What they ended up with some deemed monstrosities - ‘frankenmachines’. Others saw them as the solution they had been waiting for. Smitty, well, he was a driver so didn’t really care, as long as it didn’t get him killed.
The exact configuration of a Replicator came down to who made it and what it was used for. The ‘driver approved’ options were the quad units - they were stable, never fell over and could navigate most terrain without fuss. At the other end of the spectrum were the bipeds. Nimbler in small spaces, sometimes faster – though that’s not saying much, they had a nasty habit of falling over when the terrain became off kilter and the pilot was not on his game. Smitty had piloted them all but now had his own ‘R-Quad’ he contracted out; he was one of the best pilots going which, he suspected, is why he’d been roped into this caper.
The rail gun was a bit of a relic, supposedly brought to the mine back when it was being established to protect it from any… ‘fuss’. It though had sat in its crate since being unloaded and no one was even sure it still worked. What’s more, everyone was pretty sure the EMPO rounds were well past their used by date… if they had a used by date. No one wanted to find out. Still, being a rail gun, the machine shop was able to whip up some suitably shaped slugs it could fire against whoever and still make a mess; armed conflict was just not a thing as there was enough on this rock that killed crews, killing one another seemed like a wasted effort. Instead everyone simply resorted to harsh words and ‘machine beating’, so no one was ready to be shot at personally, not even by a slingshot.
They mounted the gun to the top of the 'R'; an easy job since there usually would have been a bucket, or exo-arm on the hardpoint. The bigger issue was squeezing in the gunnery position, Replicators were strictly single pilot affairs. They did it but looking at the position, Smitty was glad it was not him n the ad-hoc cockpit slung under the barrel. Anyway, he was paid to drive, not think, so he didn’t put too much thought into it. With any luck, the whole thing would be for nothing, he’d grab his cash and get on to the next, more ‘normal’ gig.
The R was shuttled out to the eastern rim mine early morning, even with Smitty at the controls it would have taken a full day to walk there and apparently things were more urgent than that. Once there though, Smitty’s R blended in nicely, if you discounted the fucking big gun strapped to the top. By midday the mining crews were getting jittery. The briefing said that’s when ‘things’ happened, if they were going to happen, so Smitty got the coils hot and the weapon’s guy primed the rail gun - it hummed into life with a rather unsettling crackle. And then, as if on cue, the proverbial hit the fan.
In hindsight, Smitty realised they didn’t have too much of a chance. It happened so fast most of it was a blur, but he does remember seeing what seemed like at lest three different kinds of R’s cresting the ridge. The weapon’s guy, what was his name? He got off a few rounds, missing everything, before the R was hit with EMPOs and the whole thing fried. Smitty was lucky and yanked the eject lever before the reactor white flashed, but the weapon’s guy… Smitty had said he was happy not to be in that cockpit.
That was 8 years ago now. Smitty was grilled for a time but there wasn’t much to say and as soon as he could, he got off Scamander and headed back through the Rift back to Mars. Within two years he’d set up Dyne6, specialising in the design and production of CORs, Combat Operations Replicators, and was doing exceptionally well for it – things back on Scamader had taken a turn for the strange after his encounter all those years back…
© 2018 G.Thomas/Play Forest
Other things related to this tale...
More tales from a time yet to be forgotten...
Soo remembers the last time a crew she was working with was not so ‘ready’. The storm came from the south east and the rain slammed into them before anyone realised what was going on.
It took five tries but Colonel Spires was finally on the bridge of the TS5 Hammersmith, the first successful Transverse System ship to negotiate the Magellan Rift.
But still, strapping a rail gun to a Replicator? That was madness, surely?
For months Jones had been messing with trying to get a small Fusion plant to work. Not as a commercial idea mind you but as a one up on his racing competition.
On a clear night it’s like being on the inside of a crystal ball looking out, it’s a view that never gets boring and certainly not something you ever quite get used to.
‘Scamander.’ That’s the name they gave this desolate rock. Was that a piss take? ’Scamander’, the river god that wove his way outside the walls of Troy. Geezus, did anyone have a look around before they named it?
The drone had spent 6 months making deep level scans of the three most obvious candidates. Every metric collected, extensive feature graphing made, and every byte of information relayed back to the base ships that had been in rift orbit for the past 9 months.
At first they seemed random, anomalies, background noise lost to the throb of the mechanics of business. A mishap here, a crew vanishing there. Not enough to warrant investigation but more than enough for rumours to thrive.