Saturday, 29 September 2012


More flash fiction from Terrible Minds with one from each of 3 lists of required elements. I chose dieselpunk, a lover's quarrel and flying monkeys. Kinda politically incorrect, but this is war.


  “Robotnik, you’re such an ass!”

   Lieutenant Gale slapped the steel of the mech’s turret just above the white star stenciled a little aft of the Whirlwind 44’s starboard coaxial machinegun. Sergeant Robotnik looked up at her furious face; uncomprehendingly as usual.

   “What did I do wrong?” Kodak Golem irises spiraled wide to let the maximum visual information pour into a puzzled positronic brain that could generate no useful Decision Program. Also as usual. She glared down at him for a bitter moment and then disappeared into Auntie Dot to mutter barely within the android’s hearing range but outside the comprehension spectrum of his aural membranes. ‘Toks can’t sigh; not having breathing apparatus, but as he tightened off the starboard hip’s feedback assembly his frame paused as if resetting after combat or maintenance down-time. Or lovemaking.

   He scrambled up onto the mech’s top deck. He recharged a moment, staring out across the countryside. Fertile and formerly prosperous, the last untouched continent showed too many signs of newfound war. Smoke rose in five separate places north of the city where Jap night bombing had been going on for a week. On each side of Route Yoke Baker the scarecrow, skeletal water tower shapes of burned-out mechs loomed over the blood-soaked land of America’s newest ally. A pair of Zeros lay blackened and ripped apart after attracting the attention of a squadron of US Marine Hellcats.

   Robotnik calculated briefly; oblivious to the fuselage decoration of a farm girl wielding an ax hand-painted on Auntie Dot’s hatch. What had he done to offend her so? Why was a human being’s commissioning date such an important datum? What utility could its anniversary have at any time; let alone during a break for frantic repairs in this campaign across a tortured land in the spring of 1947? Was the Lieutenant’s commissioning date an occasion for a regular maintenance procedure that he should have initiated himself?

   His ruminations were interrupted by the approach along the buttery paving stones of a single-seater Chrysler Roadrunner reconnaissance bipod.

   “Ahoy there,” called the Navy Captain to Robotnik. Who are you guys and where are you bound?”

   After checking the beep-beep-jeep’s markings with his Service Identity Registry and confirming the sailor to be of the eggplant hue unavailable to Japanese recruiters, Robotnik’s probability matrix decided that it was 89% likely to be correct action to provide limited truthful data to the human. “Sir, we’re the Second Platoon, B Company of the 1st Battalion, 161st Mechanized Artillery Regiment, Kansas National Guard. We just flew here from Germany via the Philippines and this vehicle is down for repairs. The rest of the guys are heading north to support the Marines at the edge of the desert. You want I should call the Lieutenant to give you any more intel, Navy?” The manufacturers of Service model ‘toks’ had been ordered by the Pentagon to provide human-seeming voices to soften the experience for human soldiers obliged to serve alongside ‘soulless machines’ in the long, grinding war against a resurgent Japan. Robotnik’s programmer was from Kansas City.

   “That’s okay, ‘tok Sergeant. I guess the goddammned yellow monkeys’ airforce snafu’d your radio with jamming like all the others.”

   “We ain’t been able to contact higher command for three hours now, since the Battalion headed out, sir.”
   “Well you just turn it around, soldier boy, an’ hightail it back to the city ‘cause the Japs have just landed airship infantry outside the gates an’ are closin’ in on the jewel mines in the outskirts. It’s gonna be a pick an’ shovel war in the tunnels to get the gems back under Allied control. Shag it, Sergeant. There’s a counter-attack to mount.” The Roadrunner strode off towards the north.

   A meteor shower in 1945 had destroyed the city of Los Alamos, incinerated its environs and spread something like bubonic plague into the atmosphere; killing a third of the US population between Southern California and the Gulf Coast until a vaccine was discovered in 1946. Since then the Allies had been obliged to struggle on against a revitalized Japan in a war that Washington had expected to finish off by Christmas 1945. Means of reducing casualties included constructing mechanical walkers to overleap Japanese armor and using android servicemen as bunker-busters against entrenchments where fanatical Imperial soldiers would fight on until they died of thirst rather than surrender. The electronic brains of the ’toks and the walkers’ complex feedback systems were reliant on gemstones. When the Imperial forces attacked this country, the US was obliged to leave its British allies to fight alongside French  troops in Western Asia and sent the bulk of the fleet southward to defend a country ignorant of mechanized warfare but that was the Free World’s foremost supplier of diamonds, rubies and - most crucially - emeralds. If the mines were not recovered, the Pacific Fleet might have to abandon island hopping and revert to hellish foot-by-foot human-led blockbusting engagements and a butcher’s bill inspiring almost irresistible calls in Congress for peace negotiations amounting to surrender.

   “Dori, I’m sorry I forgot your birthday,” Robotnik called down to the turret’s undercabin, “but we have new orders to relieve the city.”

   The Lieutenant’s beautiful face smiled wryly up at her mechanical lover. “I wish you meant that, ‘Nik, I really do. But the ruby and emerald thing controlling your hydraulics can’t truly be called a heart. Back home, a gentleman would have made it a point of honour to remember his lady’s birthday.”

   “But, said the ‘tok, climbing into Auntie Dot’s control harness and steering it towards the City of Emeralds, “as your Auntie discovered back in that WW1 thing, we ain’t in Kansas no more.”

Picture from here.

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