Hymn of Steel and Might

Chapter IX: The Doctor's Tale

Risona knew what would come next. The Marines would be escorting them into Amfitracks to make landings near the base. They had probably already taken some sort of aerial recon of the site. Of course, landing directly was far more involved than looking at a montage of photographs.

The Marines did indeed start leading him onto the same Amfitrack with Cullen and Lisa. The soldiers sat towards the end of the vehicle, silently cleaning and inspecting their weapons. It reminded Risona of his short tour of duty in the Marines as a combat engineer. While he never saw live combat during his short tour, he had befriended a number of people who did.

Wars with other Triumvirate nations, Xian, and the Hegemony were unlikely and unprofitable. Other than the occasional small pirate flotilla or primitive tribe attacking, large-scale combat had been a memory since the Twilight Wars. Of course, given the potential for infinite destruction that thaumaturgy allowed, Risona was glad that turbulent era was over.

Of course, massive warships, weapons, and other modern weapons were still constructed, though mainly for two reasons. The first was simple deterrence against other nations. The second was for psychological advantage when dealing some primitive angui or Trilo tribe, or scaring a human or Vox pirate fleet into surrendering.

Regardless of their presence in the middle of a group of armed soldiers, the couple sat close as normal. Cullen and Lisa, however, both locked eyes with the soulshell. While normally apathetic to others' thoughts, Risona did feel he owed them an explanation. The Gazer undoubted filled their heads with all sorts of confusing information.

"I guess it's time I tell you two my story," Risona mused. "After all, fair's fair."

Cullen and Lisa nodded slightly.

My story begins back before the Twilight Wars. I lived in the main city in what is now the Mechanopolitan League. To be honest, I don't exactly recall many details of my early life as a young adult named Daedalus, though that's not important. What is important I've always loved technology and machines. Since my family and I didn't have the money to afford the Latini Academy, I joined the Legions as an engineer for a few tours.

As luck would have it, the year after I enlisted was the year the Twilight Wars started. At the time, the Rex Machina was finally completed, though the first version was insane by most human standards. Having a clockwork thinking machine run the affairs of the economy and taxes seemed like a good idea on paper, but didn't turn out so well. The Vox Hegemon at the time was lead by a racist Vox bastard who wanted to beat down the human nations, so Xian and Latini prepared for battle. It was at this time they built the Leviathan, one of the many factors that finally helped cripple the economy.

Also at this time, as luck would have it, many of the first Latini soulshells were being created. The military was extremely interested in this technology, as a metal body powered by thaumechanical devices made a tougher soldier with less supply demands, and one that could operate underwater and in space indefinitely with no need for oxygen.

They created a program where volunteer Legionnaires would be made into soulshells upon death. Essentially, the thaumaturgy was set up so a soul would be transported inside after the fleshy shell was killed off. As a lifetime techno-fetishist, I could hardly resist the chance.

It was a strange dream with the Gazer that first alerted me to the Abomination Machine. As the Twilight Wars dragged on, the Rex Machina's insanity increased. The Gazer told me this was the Abomination Machine's doing, as it was trying to destroy the most powerful nation on the planet from within.

There was nothing the Gazer could do, save warn people capable of surviving the Abomination Machine's physical effects. I had no idea how many others were able to survive, though the Gazer told me he was ensuring he was searching for and warning them. I asked the Gazer what the Abomination's ultimate plan was, and I received a vision from the past.

I was suddenly in the body and mind of a trilo drone, balancing all the sub-personalities in my compartmentalized mind. I was in the far north, helping move what appeared to be a giant, disembodied heart and using it to pump oil out of the ground. It was then I saw the Abomination Machine for the first time. The large heart-refinery started bleeding, and eventually exploded, revealing the Abomination in front of me. The eye on it glowed, and I could feel it staring at me. As an act of defiance in the dream, I grabbed one gear from the Abomination, and awoke.

What followed was exactly like what happened to Cullen. The component I stole from the machine haunted me, and drew me back to the far north. Eventually, my ship escorted the Leviathan to the North Sea on its final, fateful mission. I came to a frozen place I recalled as where my trilo-past life acted defiantly. Deploying a sub-drone out of curiosity, I found frozen tissues in the ice dating from countless eons before humans had evolved. I also found the Abomination, frozen in ice. Soon afterwards, people on the ship started losing their mind, and I was stranded on an iceberg after an explosion onboard the ship blasted me overboard. My artic outfit allowed me to survive long enough to reach a small ice floe nearby, where I knew my time was going to be up soon.

It was then the Abomination struck, and I barely remember anything. All I can recall is the Machine's awakening and me slowly succumbing to the cold, and my determination to die holding that gear and freezing to death. It was sheer willpower that allowed me to last as long as I did in that weather. Realizing I would prevent the Abomination from fully rebuilding itself, I died with a defiant grin on my face.

At least, I died as Daedalus. The next thing I saw was the Gazer saying, "Your time is not finished yet." He explained that when I died, my soul's release from my body had caused the gear I held to end up teleporting to a random place in the world. Until a sapient being found it, the threat of the Abomination Machine waking up was minimal. The Gazer also mentioned the trilo whose memories I had experienced were one of the few trilos immune to the Withering. While he and his civilization died, his species lived. In history, he had attacked the Machine personally, giving time for some of his people to hide undersea, while most were wiped out. In my vision however, I had disrupted the Machine's projection of itself, and by some thaumaturgical theory too complicated to explain, the Abomination Machine hunted me. The Gazer explained that the soulshell program I had signed up for had given me another shot at life.

Now, I was not about to take chance the Machine would hunt me again. So, I changed my name to Giovanni Risona, went to the Academy, and tried to live a new life as a thaumechanical engineer who had experience with Imperial era technologies. However, the Mechanopolitan League I had grown up in was gone, and now run by an insane version of Rex Machina. The computer-king powered society, but rebooted its mood every decade. One decade, it would be wise and benign. The next, it would be sociopathic and insane. Or something in between. I wanted a more stable political system, so I looked to the newly independent nations, the Aquacultures and Eire. While Eire interested me, I wanted something related to the maritime life, so I moved to the Cabral Drift when the Imperial Fleet seceded to become the Drifters. I've tried working as a Marine there, a gunsmith, an Academic, and occasional engineer, but I've always worried that the Abomination would be waiting for me.

"And that's about it," Risona concluded. "We're probably going to be landing soon at Ultima Thule. I recommend you ready your weapons, just in case."

"Gio, is death the only way to stop the Machine from hunting you?" Cullen asked.

"That's one way," Risona explained. "The other way is to fix the Abomination, and the other is to run away for the remainder of your life. Of course, I do find it ironic I'm now escorting you to undo the work I've died for."

"So, no hard feelings?" Cullen asked.

Risona shook his head. "None whatsoever. I'm just glad I've got someone to train in running and hiding."

That response caused Cullen to smirk for a split second. Lisa patted him on the back, and pumped her shotgun. "It's just a slab of rock. How bad can it be?"

Risona knew the answer to that question could only be experienced firsthand.