Karl climbed into the cockpit and allowed himself a single, heavy sigh. His temples were burning and the sun was hot in his eyes, savage, reckless, and churning a troublesome headache that he knew was about to harass him. His armor was heavy and pressing his shoulders, his harness sun-baked and strangling. With a single glance, very quick, routine, to the radar screens, he checked the vicinity, the frequencies, the signal strength. His Iron Kong stretched and shifted position, kneading dead earth, dry sand between the bridge of her knuckles.
Eyebrows still creased, and the heat in his eyes still rising, he took a moment to breathe all alone, shot through with silence and the promise of a bright afternoon. He read the temperature gauge of the Core and then the deck of fluid levels. All was in order. He softened his brace, so rigid and cold, and felt the blood flow in his fingers again. He could still recall the smell of rich alcohol and the stupidity, and the lie-dented words from his own sleepy soldiers.
They’d insisted that they’d been attacked first, the three of them. They were covered in mud and blood and the sheer look of humiliation; one was wearing a broken nose. Karl had spent the rest of that evening walking them to the infirmary, very angry, very serious and engaged in bitter speech. So they’d gone and started a fistfight. With some stranger? A passerby? Oh, he’d been ungenerous and void of pity. “You’re drunk,” he’d said flatly, and lost count of the repeats, withholding his rage from his voice. Unacceptable. Completely uncalled for, disgrace, betrayal!
That had been some time ago, and needless to say, he’d had another talk with that same trio. He was sick with their lack of discipline. And yet… They’re just children. He reminded himself gravely, with another great sigh. His body was tight and depressed; Odilia snorted, aware of his state, and started off on her own, rhythmic footfall. They’re still so young… And he left it there with a shake of his head.
He took the controls and punched in the new coordinates, warm lights on the dash, army-office, welcome home. Odilia relaxed her weaponry and smoothed her usual gait. Their course lead northward to the moors, far from town, pressing into the heart of the wilds. What a place for patrol! What farce. What a waste. It was probably High Command trying to get rid of him, take him off the front lines for a day or two. No doubt, the fall of Fire Bridge and the retreat had reached the upper levels. They were just keeping him busy.
But his silence was uniform and steady. And he watched the horizon as the Kong went on marching, quiet and careful into the inevitable face of a harsh, melting sun.
>growl of alarm
The drifter woke with a start, forcing the empty pot that used to be full of chili to the floor with a clang. A million possible threats raced though his mind which he expressed with a very intelligent “Buh?” When nothing terrible happens within the first few moments he stands up and stretches, arching his arms over his head. He pauses again and listens, no gunfire or yelling or any other sounds that would hint at shit going down, so he looks up at his partner.
“What’s up buddy?”
Oh, seems like someone’s poking around nearby. Irvine climbs up to the cockpit and looks at the radar, just one zoid but it’s a big one. They might as well go check it out. He pilots the Command wolf so they back out of the barn, careful not to knock over the lounge chair or anything else, and starts off at a trot toward the newcomer. When they get close they lean into a crouch and move forward cautiously, making sure to keep the flatlands at their back and a few rock dunes between them and their target.
Holy shit what’s an Iron Kong doing way the hell out here? Judging from the markings it was an Imperial officer in there, but why would someone like that come out here alone? Was somebody looking for him? Irvine vaguely remembered another Imperial Officer who liked to wander around in dangerous areas with no backup.
While both Irvine and his partner were confident they could outrun, outshoot, and outmaneuver whomever it was, Iron Kong’s still weren’t anything you wanted to fuck with if you didn’t have to. They decide to keep an eye on the suspicious zoid, maybe it’ll just wander off and they can go back to the barn without any trouble.