A Fight Amongst the Ruin
By: Josh Poole

How the hell did I use up my missiles? Ryder Farley shook his head, and the giant mech that he was inside mirrored his frustration. The robot stood in the rubble of a city long ruined by war, its foot planted in a school bus like it was a slipper. Only blocks away, another Gundam, one that was much bulkier than his own with an enormous shoulder-mounted cannon lined up its shot. His entire squad had been slain, leaving only him to continue the good fight.

"Oh hell, it's a goddamn Tyger-III," Ryder's eyes widened as he crossed his arms, activating the deployable shield that would retract into the mech's forearms.

The shield fell, a fifteen-ton curtain of titanium, carbon nanotube, and ceramic composites built to withstand anything up to a 355mm armor-piercing round. What Ryder knew, however, with only a brief glance, was that the shoulder-mounted cannon currently eyeing him from a few streets down was a 501mm bunker killer, a weapon that could not only remove mountaintop bases, but remove the mountains themselves.

Ryder's mech hid entirely behind the shield as he waited. There was a flash of light across the HUD, but he felt no impact.

Systems critical! The kind, female voice of the mech's systems informed.

"I didn't feel impact! Negative impact!" Ryder yelled back at the computer.

Reactor compromised. Resorting to auxiliary power cell. Auxiliary power cell at 77%, approximately seven minutes remaining in current combat engagement.

Ryder looked at the HUD and realized in an instant the damage he'd just taken. There was a 501mm pinhole through the shield and a hole the size of a train through his mech's torso, right in the vitals.

That's no good. He thought, retracting the shield quickly into the mech's forearms only to see that other mech barreling towards him. He shifted his feet, knowing if he tried to brace and survive the blow that the compromised mid-section would fail and the mech would fall into a crumpled heap to be stomp-terminated. The Tyger lowered its shoulder, preparing to bulldoze Ryder into the pavement with its heavier build. A second before impact, however, Ryder rolled out of the way, slamming into a nearby building as the other mech tried to slow itself down.

"You're big, but you aren't fast!" Ryder yelled as he whipped an arm around and actuated the internal weaponry.

The mech's fist broke into several smaller pieces, forming a muzzle-brake with its digits before an enormous bombard fired from within the arm. A projectile the size of car lobbed through the air no faster than a thrown football, its warhead making contact just as the larger mech finished turning around to engage. The explosion obscured Ryder's vision with a flash of instant rubble, and pushed his own mech deeper into the building until pieces of the structure hung over the mech itself. He lowered his arm, exhausted after three days of constant combat in the city, and exhaled.

Warning! The computer managed only the one word before a giant fist smashed into the face of Ryder's mech.

"Shit!" He yelled; his body flung all around the inside as the safety mechanisms struggled to distribute the G-forces in a way that wouldn't turn his organs into pudding.

He crossed his arms, deploying the shield in the middle of the melee just as the Tyger was throwing a body shot with a hook. The curtain dropped down, slicing right through the other mech's arm at the wrist, severing its hand like a guillotine. Ryder retracted the shield, anticipating that the Tyger would take a step back to regroup. The other mech, however, had other ideas.

The severed hand crawled up the leg of Ryder's mech while, with its intact hand, his foe palmed his face with a crunching sound that surrounded the cockpit. The hand locked against his leg exploded, blowing out his mech's knee as the other mech slammed Ryder down face-first into the rubble.

"Damn outmode," Ryder groaned, staring at the rubble his mech's head was buried in.

There was a heavy pressure from behind as the other mech stomped the back of Ryder's head. Rather than panic, however, Ryder simply laughed, activating the transport thrusters on the back of his mech and blasting nearly four million pounds of directed thrust into the air. The force buried his own mech deeper into the rubble, but blasted off the entirety of the Tyger's damaged arm and shoulder-cannon along with disintegrating the upper half of a nearby building.

Ryder rolled his mech over, just in time to look up as the Tyger swung down with a heavy fist than forced its way into the gaping hole in his mech's abdomen.

"Activate the reactor at full capacity!" Ryder yelled.

Reactor is compro—

"Activate it!" Ryder yelled again as he grabbed the Tyger's arm by the wrist.

The computer obliged, activating the reactor for only an instant. There was a huge flash at Ryder's mech's abdomen, a small-scale uncontrolled nuclear reaction before the systems redirected everything back to auxiliary to avoid a complete meltdown of the core. The Tyger pulled its arm out, ripping itself from Ryder's grip with no more than a molten nub for a hand.

Ryder sprung to his feet, his mech following suit in a slower shadowing of his own movements. The Tyger took several steps back and regrouped. Ryder looked at the disabled shoulder-cannon and at the Tyger's ruined hands, feeling his confidence return. The bombard round had done a number on the other mech as well, with a giant black stain of damaged armor and internals covering most of the mech's torso and shoulder. Ryder motioned as if he were unsheathing a sword from his hip, and the sheets of metal that had made the shield slid out of his mech's arm and formed a rigid, single-edged sword complete with a large handle. The Tyger took another step back, firing out countless flares that filled the street with dense smoke.

"Oh no you don't!" Ryder yelled as he charged into the unknown, gripping the sword with both hands and swinging wildly through the ether.

He didn't make contact with any of the swings, and he could see nothing. He paused, listening intently to his surroundings, trying to catch the movements of the enormous Tyger. In an instant, however, the Tyger emerged from behind him and wrapped him up in its lumbering arms. The force began crushing Ryder's mech at the chest, compressing the armor plates and breaking the dense outermost layer of ceramic composite.

"Wrong move," Ryder smirked, spinning the sword around, and plunging it through the hole in his own mech's abdomen until the blade shot through the Tyger.

He released the sword, pulling his mech away from the Tyger. Without the added weight of the shield, his mech was faster than ever. Ryder spun around, swinging a heavy hook into the sword, spinning it around inside the Tyger and slicing through an entire half of the mech's torso before the blade clattered to the ground.

"80% thrust to the right foot!" Ryder yelled, and his mech suddenly shot into the air with a flying knee that landed squarely in the Tyger's chest.

He could sense the damage he'd dealt, feeling the force of the impact even as his own mech stabilized the blow for him. The Tyger stumbled backwards, falling to the ground as Ryder's mech fell from the air and landed awkwardly beside it. Ryder smiled, activating the bombard again and pointing it directly at the Tyger as it sprawled helplessly in the rubble.

"Good fight," Ryder said, and fired the weapon.

The instant he did, however, the Tyger swung its melted stump through the muzzle-brake and into Ryder's mech's forearm.

"No, no, no!" Ryder shrieked, but it was too late, the bombard fired, and the explosion blew his mech completely through a nearby skyscraper.

Ryder blacked out for an instant, his mech unable to compensate for the immense G-forces from the blast. He came to a few seconds later with fireworks in his vision and a headache from hell. He was concussed, the last thing he wanted to be in the middle of combat. He staggered to his feet, his shifting vision trying to make out the large hole that he'd just made through the building and the sauntering figure that approached him from within.

"Gun volley," Ryder mumbled, barely able to stand and feeling nauseous.

The armor around his mech's collar opened up to reveal dozens of 30mm chain guns, and the row of weapons began to thunder with hundreds of rounds firing over mere seconds. The small rounds would do little to the armor of a Tyger, but focused on the exposed mid-section, Ryder could damage it further or bifurcate the thing entirely.

The Tyger, however, quickly covered its wounds with its remaining arm, allowing the limb to absorb the bulk of the damage, and continued its approach.

"Alright," Ryder swayed in the cockpit, realizing that his mech was also missing a right arm, the same as the Tyger, "we're even now."

The Tyger swung with a heavy hook, but Ryder ducked it awkwardly before firing a swift jab into its abdomen that swept out a rain of internals. The foe adjusted, swinging back with an elbow that just barely missed Ryder's mech. It left its body open again, and Ryder fired another jab into the same area, taking more internals out and sending the Tyger stumbling backwards.

His opponent kept pressure on their abdomen, trying to prevent any further leaking of its internals. Ryder diagnosed their predicament, a mech without any ammo, running its huge mass on auxiliary power, with one arm that has to constantly hold its battered stomach. It was, Ryder thought, more or less a sitting duck.

Ryder pressed forth, rushing towards the Tyger with a cocked arm ready to deliver a crippling blow. Before he could land it, however, the Tyger ducked, sending its shoulder into Ryder's stomach, and flinging his mech through the air in a somersault. He crashed hard on his back; his brain felt like it had been smacked around inside his skull. The Tyger slowly turned, unable to move quickly and risk furthering the damage it had sustained. It raised its leg, preparing to stomp Ryder into oblivion. Ryder attempted to raise the mech, but was only able to move the head into a vertical position.

Before stomping, however, the Tyger staggered, and collapsed to the ground in a boisterous fall.

"Out of juice," Ryder laughed before realized that he, too, was out of auxiliary power.

He stripped himself away from the mechanical harness, feeling the bruises that had accumulated all over his body in the past few days. His pilot's suit was bulky, covered in armor plating designed to protect his body against the jarring movements of combat and to provide some protection against small arms and bladed weapons. The cockpit was open, with equipment sparking all around him. Once out of the harness, he staggered to a small compartment in the wall and removed the standard issue assault rifle along with three spare magazines of ammo. With the rifle slung over his shoulder, he climbed up a ladder, and opened the escape hatch before emerging from the mech.

Ryder stood with his feet still on the ladder, using the head of his mech as a brace to scan the fallen Tyger with his riflescope. There were no signs of life, but he knew the other pilot had the same idea as him, to get into a defensible position and hope they made the first lucky shot. Ryder continued to scan the Tyger as a light wind blew through the stress, carrying with it the dust and debris from their battle. He struggled to focus, his brain firing on compromised cylinders and his vision filled with polychromatic flashes.

The was a sudden hum that turned into a loud buzz before a crisp, metallic crack sounded right next to him followed by the buzz of a ricocheting bullet. He scanned his scope, knowing that he'd have only an instant before his enemy corrected for the wind and range. At last, he found the silhouetted, perched on the chest of the Tyger.

Dammit, I forgot the location of the cockpit! Ryder thought as he took aim and fired a volley towards the figure from a football field's distance. The figure hid behind a section of peeled armor, which provided more than ample protection against the small projectiles. Ryder continued firing in the direction as he mantled the rest of the ladder and took cover behind a large chunk of concrete rubble that clung to his mech's head.

The enemy continued their volley, placing shots consistently against the concrete cover as Ryder reloaded his weapon. With a shove, he pushed the bolt of his rifle forward and took aim again at the pilot, spraying an imprecise volley at the piece of cover before ducking behind his own. He worked up the courage to spray again, mounting the concrete to get a good rest and sending a few rounds towards the hidden pilot. Ryder ducked again, counting the number of rounds he had left.

47. He thought, wondering if his best option wasn't to simply scurry off his mech and flee into the surrounding city with the hopes of an evacuation when reinforcements arrived for the next wave. He held his rifle close to his chest, trying to shake off the effects of the concussion. With heavy breathing, he twisted back around and mounted the block again, scanning the Tyger for the pilot.

When several minutes had elapsed, it was apparent to him that the other pilot had had the same idea, to flee into the city and wait to be evacuated when more of their own units arrived. Ryder turned back around, settling with the gun in his lap and a weary look on his face. He soon fell asleep, his first break from the exhaustion of combat in three days.

"I'll take that," a woman's voice stirred him. Ryder woke up to find that his rifle was gone, scooped up by a woman wearing a pilot's uniform similar to his own in all aspects but color.

Ryder said nothing for a moment, realizing that he was completely helpless.

"Why do you fight?" The pilot asked, her weapon trained on Ryder's head.

"I was drafted when I was five years old, trained to pilot a mech, THIS mech."

"What do you fight for?" She asked, sounding irritated.

"I fight to protect the citizens of Ark from you Osiris invaders," Ryder said, disgust in his voice.

"Strange," the pilot lowered the gun, a look of confusion on her face that quickly morphed into a look of reticent understanding, "I was trained from the age of five, and told that I was to defend the citizens of Osiris from the Ark invasion."

"And?" Ryder asked.

"This city. I'd never heard of it until I deployed here. I'd never heard of anything but you, you Ark soldiers, how you were savages, deserters, terrorists."

"That's not true!" Ryder hissed, "I swore an oath when I was a child to defend the citizens of Ark! To defend it from you savages and—" Ryder stopped, realizing he was merely illustrating the pilot's statement.

"The war isn't real," she said, "but why? What is this for?" She turned her back to Ryder, who did nothing but slump further against the concrete slab. In the distance, dozens of mechs from both factions deployed from the air in the distance, slowly descending to the surface to continue the war.

"We're entertainment," the pilot laughed, "everything is surveilled. Our cockpits record everything, we're gladiators."

Ryder bit his tongue, wishing to chastise her for such a ridiculous idea, but having no counter-argument of his own he replied, "so what do we do?"

"Well," the pilot turned back around to look at him, "our mechs are shot, we've got no way of contacting the others, and I'm out of ammo." She tossed her gun off the head of the mech.

"I've got ammo in my rifle, but it won't do us any good with those mechs coming in. They'll kill us both." Ryder laughed.

"Yeah, probably." The pilot laughed with him.

"What a life," Ryder muttered as the mechs started fighting all around them.



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