This thread contains various fiction stuff. And things. Maybe.
Remember earlier this year when I said I might start writing fiction again despite being terrible at it? And how I said I was working on an original-content-do-not-steal universe to set it in? Yeah, well...
Anyway, this is a short...thing... that I threw together to try and help me better conceptualize said fictional universe, set in an airborne city over a planet that humans haven't actually set foot on in over two decades. Resource collection is done primarily by drones, and concerns over radiation have made it illegal for citizens of said airborne city to go groundside. Those who attempt to go anyway don't return. The story thus revolves around a female drone mechanic and engineering maven in her mid 20s whose curiosity has resulted in her modifying her own collection drones with reconnaissance sensors to explore the planet below. Those drones have also been disappearing, until a single, badly-damaged example manages to return. The following scene occurs shortly afterwards.
“Tower to Nest One-Four, come in. Melanie, you there?”
Melanie yawned as she sat upright and stretched for what seemed like the first time in days. Her worn office chair groaned in protest as she kicked her feet onto the desktop. She smacked the hangar’s intercom button with an open palm, never taking her eyes off the sensor analysis terminal. A near-dead bird and now an unsolicited call, Melanie thought. Wonderful day, really. She began idling twirling a dyed violet hair tip around her fingers.
“Nest One-Four to Tower, lovely miss Mel Clarke speakin’. What are you bothering me for now, Robert? I’m pretty busy today.”
“You’re always busy, I know. You logged an emergency retrieval this morning. How many birds did you send out today? I’m showing just the one.”
“I’m not in the habit of lying unless we’re playing poker, you know that. If you’re showing one bird, it was just one bird.” Melanie ran her hand across the leg of her flightsuit, wiping a globule of oil from the Nomex. “One horribly mangled bird, but I digress. Why?”
“I’m showing a BVR contact burning hard for your tarmac that’s squawking your identifier freq, unknown classification. I’d appreciate it if you’d stop screwing around with your drones’ hardware so we can tell our ground crews what to expect.”
Melanie’s blood ran cold. “Rob,” she said, “One bird. I sent out one bird.”
“Wait one, Mel.” Rob’s voice became muffled as he cupped his hand over his microphone. “Radar, far out is that contact? Bearing zero-six-zero, right? Our cameras should’ve had visual by now.”
Melanie tensed and upright. “Rob, listen to me. You need to get everyone out of that tower, right now.”
“Wait - there, you see that? What the hell is...Shimmerer! DOWN, GET DOWN!”
The sound of shattering glass followed by the crack! of a hypersonic projectile echoed through the intercom as the Shimmerer’s railgun tore clean through the tower. Melanie bolted out of her chair, grabbing her portable terminal from the workbench.
“Rob! C’mon Rob, answer me! What’s going on up there?”
“Shimmerer! It’s mimicking your birds; put a goddamned railgun shot right through ATC! It’s headed your way!”
Melanie spun to glance through the hangar’s open door as she strapped on her wristcomp and grabbed her headset. A distorted, translucent shape approached quickly from the horizon, followed by the distinctive three contrails of a Shimmerer. Squinting, she saw a soft, electric blue glow emanating from beneath the craft.
The deafening scream of a ferromagnetic slug ripping through the air filled Melanie’s ears as she was thrown across the room, her work area torn cleanly in two and set ablaze as the round passed through the hangar. She coughed and groaned, pulling herself out from beneath a pile of smouldering debris. Her damaged bird, still on the workbench, rotated its camera towards her and flexed its manipulator arms as if to beg for help.
Melanie’s headset crackled to life. “Mel, you need to go, now! Civil Defense is on the way - they’re tasking a pair of Switchblades on intercept.”
Melanie yelped slightly as she stood back up, yanking a small piece of shrapnel from her arm as she turned back to the hostile craft. The Shimmerer had deactivated its optical camouflage as it vectored towards the hangar, its mottled blue and gray finish glistening in the sunlight. A pair of limbs ending in robotic claws deployed from the fuselage as it rotated its engines forward and decelerated. Melanie tapped her talk button as she ran from the room.
“Rob, call the Switchblades off! The Shimmy isn’t making a strafing run, it’s trying to get into my hangar!”
“What do you mean?”
“The Shimmy - it was getting ready to go into a hover landing,” Melanie said as she hopped down the staircase to the hangar’s emergency rescue storage. “It’s going after my bird! If those Switchblades of yours attack, they’ll be launching missiles into the hangar itself!”
“So what do you expect us to do? And since when did these things hover?”
Melanie barreled through the door to the storage bay. A single light illuminated a man-shaped mass of steel, long left collapsed in the center of the room. On top sat a handle set into a worn, armored orange plate marked “EMERGENCY INGRESS”. She yanked hard on the handle, and the plate flipped outwards, exposing the controls of her rescue exoskeleton. She made a mental note to thank whoever had suggested leaving it deactivated on the emergency lift later.
Melanie settled into the exoskeleton’s body and hit the ignition, sending a cloud of dust floating into the cockpit. The engine purred to life, and a warm white glow enveloped the bay as the machine’s maneuvering thrusters hissed and began to burn.
She activated the emergency elevator and slipped her arm into the control sleeves as she closed the exoskeleton’s hatch. “My birds, my property, my problem. Get a firefighting crew up here - this is probably going to get messier than it already is.”
“Mel…” Rob began.
“You’re going to tell me not to do this,” Melanie said. “But there’s a lot of things I’ve done in my life that people told me not to. Always works out okay in the end, yeah?” She ripped her headset plug out of the radio jack and connected it to the exoskeleton’s external speakers. Sorry Rob, gotta focus.
She flexed the machine’s armored hand and activated its mounted plasma cutter as the elevator hissed to a stop outside of the hangar doorway. The Shimmerer continued skating towards the damaged drone, its railgun crackling with energy. Melanie screeched her siren once as she opened the throttle and stormed across the tarmac.
“HEY, SHIMMY! GET AWAY FROM MY GODDAMNED BIRD!”
The alien machine’s thrusters flared and flexed sideways as it spun around, a bright orange box grasped tightly in its claws. Its fuselage became enveloped with an azure glow while electricity danced across its gun, ready to tear the air asunder. Melanie tapped her foot pedal sharply and the armored suit fired its thrusters, throwing itself sideways. Artificial lightning erupted from the Shimmerer’s railgun as it fired, a sharp *crack!* singing through the hangar while a slug passed where Melanie had been a moment prior.
“Not this time, Shimmy!” Melanie accelerated, crashing into the Shimmerer’s side at full power with a steel-plated gauntlet. The Shimmerer twisted through the air as its mauled railgun spat sparks from a cracked housing. The orange-painted black box clattered to the floor. Melanie kicked her deceleration thrusters on, sending a plume of flame forward and throwing her back against the seat. She pirouetted back towards the hangar doors and laughed. Her exoskeleton skated between the Shimmerer and the exit like an steel ballerina, floating just above the floor on a cushion of superheated air. “Velocitas eradico, huh?” she said, taunting the machine. “Well, speed ain’t killin’ me tod-oof!”
The Shimmerer’s engines roared as it collided into the suit’s hardened chest, claws outstretched. The shriek of grinding steel filled the air as it dragged Melanie across the tarmac. Melanie smashed her exoskeleton’s arm repeatedly against the Shimmerer’s nose cone as its momentum continued carrying them forward. An alert frantically began flashing in her HUD. She turned her head slightly and felt a wave of fear pass over her as she glanced over her shoulder. A few more seconds, and the only thing below her would be miles of open sky. Her industrial-grade suit had no recovery system - if she went over, there would be no coming back.
Melanie raised her left hand and jabbed the burning plasma cutter into the Shimmerer’s belly, cleaving through the machine’s critical components with a jet of white-hot gas. The Shimmerer let out an otherworldly shriek as the torch slashed through its engine intake. Its steel claws went limp as it fell, bouncing and twirling across the ground while its remaining engine tore itself apart.
Melanie’s exoskeleton crashed to the runway, tumbling end over end before breaking through the safety rail. Sky and pavement flashed past her viewport as she rolled, then abruptly gave way to the terrifying sight of an ocean churning miles below.
Her arm shot up and out by instinct, and the suit’s hand grabbed onto the edge of the tarmac. Pieces of loose concrete pinged off the suit's faceplate. Carefully diverting power into the arm actuators, Melanie slowly clambered back over the ledge and let the exoskeleton collapse on its back.
A pair of Civil Defense Switchblades passed low overhead, causing her world to briefly hum with the sound of their massive engines. The manned fighters ascended as they passed and banked away from the city, their payloads unreleased. At least he did me that favor, she thought, breathing a quick sigh of relief.
Melanie plugged her headset back into her wristcomp as she opened the exoskeleton’s hatch and propped herself up against the door. The downed Shimmerer’s wreckage sparked and twitched a few meters away, its once-fearsome main gun reduced to little more than a twisted heap of metal that continued to buzz with energy. Rob’s panicked voice burst back into her ears.
“Mel, what the hell did you do? Civil Defense saw you nearly take the long fall! Everything alright? What happened to the Shimmerer?”
Melanie brushed her hair out of her face, stopping to examine a few loose strands. The ends had become split and singed. She frowned slightly as she realized she would need to have the damaged tips trimmed and dyed again the next time she was in town.
“Hello? Mel? Mel, answer me! Mel!”
Melanie tapped her talk key. “I’m here, Rob. Just peachy - bagged me a Shimmerer,” she said, her voice beaming with pride. “You tell your crews I get first dibs on salvage for this thing. I want a reward for doing what Civil Defense couldn’t. Now then, what was it that you were going to tell me?”
Rob paused. “Well, I was going to ask you to try and bring it back in working condition.”