By Ray Daley
7th August 2016
(inspired by A Boy and His Dog by Sandara)
“When I was a kid, you had to be careful when the battery finally went flat. Several million tons of metal falling from the sky at high velocity is deadly. But kids manage to find the humour in any situation. You could hear them shouting from miles off into the distance ‘Big Dogs! Landing On My Face!‘ It always made me laugh. Until it almost happened to me. It’s not a laughing matter.”
That was Old Ken, spinning his war stories to anyone that’d listen. Rocking in his busted up rocking chair, missing one leg below the knee and a right arm. But he’d always say “Shake!” and offer his stump, just to freak the normals out.
You don’t see the big ones very often now. It’s mostly the wreckage of those long since crashed.
That’s why I became a scrapper.
Three million tons of metal don’t just get up and walk away, and we’re pretty lucky they don’t. I never could understand why those old Military programmers gave Big Dog the ability to jump over a mile straight up. Yeah, admittedly it made for easy going when you came across ravines, cliffs and chasms but how often was it a patrol was going to come across a mountain they couldn’t just blast the shit out of?
Almost never. And those photonic laser cannons were always charging, as long as there was daylight.
Did I ever mention that Rendii has three suns? If if ain’t solar powered, it ain’t worth shit these days.
So I’d spotted this new wreck, came down about a month ago now.
The dust clouds had only just cleared the day I headed out there. You gotta get up pretty early if you want the primo pickings, scrap-wise.
It took the best part of a day, heading out to the crater on foot. Man, if I could just find one of those old thruster packs! I’d be the envy of every scrapper from here to Mansoor Prime. Kid J, King of the Scrappers.
Most wrecks, I normally got there third or fourth. There’d still be some good pickings but all the best systems would be long gone, stripped by the first comers. At least I was never a Lucy Latecomer. They were left with the raw metal. Man, I hate those bastards! If I ever start heading down that rocky road, shoot me in the fucking head, okay?
So there I was, walking through the last of the falling dust clouds, all my sensors hiked up three points past the safe limit.
But safe limits are for infants and Lucy Latecomers. “No risk, no reward!” as Old Ken always says, in his lucid moments. He don’t get many of those these days, I can tell you.
So like I was saying, all my sensors were racked up in the red zone.
And then I got a ping.
That’s a bad thing, before you ask.
The thing about a wrecked Big Dog? They’re all supposed to be dead, no functioning tech. Made ’em that much easier to strip down.
Yet here was this one, pinging away like a fucking alarm clock or some shit like that.
“Wake up, kid.”
“I said wake the hell up kid, I need your eyes.”
What the hell? I opened my eyes and I could see… shit, no way. “Big Dog?”
“In flesh. So to speak. You fully functional again then kid?“
No way. It wasn’t possible. This hulk had fallen three miles and hit the ground hard. No way was it working. They never worked!
“Yet here I am, kid. Who ya gonna believe, some old one legged drunk telling his war stories or your own eyes?“
I’m dreaming. I must have tripped over a rock and hit my head. Yeah, that’s it. This is all a horrible dream.
“Pretty lucid, if it is kid. In fucking three dee, too. And colour! You know how hard it is to dream in colour?“
I looked over at the metal beast.
“Can that shit kid. Call me Big Dog.”
“I can hear you in my head. What’s up with that?” Old Ken had always told us they spoke, just not like this.
“Tech Sergeant? Nine stripes? That old fart still alive then? Boy, is he gonna lose his shit when he sees me.”
“You know Old Ken?” I asked.
The damn thing laughed. How can an AI construct laugh?
“It’s fucking funny kid. That ain’t what I used to call him though. Are we gonna see him any time soon?“
I looked at Big Dog. I could see its running lights blinking off and on. It appeared to be mostly intact. “Can you give me a systems report, Big Dog?”
“Minor hydraulic leak in my front left leg. Main sensor array needs a reboot. That’s why I hijacked your sensors. Sniffed a bunch of real good cerebrum coming my way then piggybacked myself on top of you. Right now, your ass is mine, so to speak. Go ahead, try to move.”
I could look left and right, I could breath and I could open and close my eyes. And I could talk. Nothing else was responding to instructions. “Ah, I did fall and hit my head then. I guess this is a dream? Must have damaged my spine, that’s why I can’t move. I must be paralysed.”
Then without any notification by me, my right arm started to wave up and down.
“I didn’t do that. And I can’t feel my arm moving either. I should at least feel the wind.”
Big Dog laughed again, that weird synthesized chuckle. “Hi mom! Look, no strings!“
Huh? What the hell is wrong with me?
“It’s me, you dummy! I’m moving your arm. And that breeze feels pretty damn fine. Eleven degrees. Been a good long time since I had access to such fine tuned sensors, I can tell you!“
That was slightly disturbing. “Okay then. I guess you’re in my head, right?”
“Fucking A.” Big Dog had an odd way of talking. Almost human, or heavily influenced by same.
I groaned. “If that means yes, okay then. At least give me control of my arms and legs so I can get up and see if I can get you going again?”
And just like that, it was like a switch went on. I stood up and walked over to Big Dog. “Everything appears to be in order. If I recall, there’s an inspection hatch in your left rear ankle, right?”
“That’s right kid. That’s you then, Kid J, according to the ident?“
Big Dog chuckled again. I guess I was getting used to him now. “You can open the panel now kid, I deactivated the shock field. By the way, there’s a rifle in there. Best you gear up. I’m getting feedback. And that can only mean bad things are heading this way. Have you got any comms with your home base on that headset of yours?“
Ah. So Big Dog hadn’t had access to everything then?
“I ain’t no snooper, kid. I just checked the basics. Who you were and what gear you had. Headset weren’t listed on the manifest.”
Good to know. Big Dog seemed like an honest sort. Time for me to reciprocate. “Because it’s busted, just wearing it for show. Plus it does a good job of keeping the sand out of my ears. I think if you bypass primary buffers you should be able do self repair on that leak. It should get you fully ambulatory again. We going for a walk then?”
I got a double beep in my ear.
“Estimating completion of self repair in about sixty seconds. Here’s a free piece of advice kid, start pulling back now. I’m tracking forty sand tanks heading right towards our location. And they sure as hell ain’t coming to wish us a Merry Christmas, okay? I calculate they’ll be here in about eight minutes. That’s more than enough time for you get to a safe distance. As soon as I’m fixed I’m gonna bounce. That don’t mean I’m leaving you, I’m just attacking them.”
“But I could…”
“No buts kid. You wouldn’t last ten seconds against one sand tank, let alone forty. I calculate my chances of success in destroying them all are two percent. Now be a good kid, get your ass to safety. Tell Old K9 I miss him.”
“K9?” I asked.
“Old Ken. It’s an old joke, he can explain it. Repairs complete. Start running back the way you came. Maybe ask Old K9 about that tech he’s got in his trunk, okay? Big Dog out.”
And just like that, he was gone. Launching himself off towards the incoming sand tanks.
As I was running, I could hear him firing everything in his arsenal down at them.
Then their final transmission. “BIG DOGS! LANDING ON MY…“
We never saw those sand tanks. I guess Big Dog under estimated his abilities.
“What did he say, Kid?” Old Ken just sat there in his rocker, laughing his ass off.
“Two percent, K9. And that he missed you. You gonna explain what’s so funny?”
Old Ken just pushed the metal trunk over to me. “Just take it. If Big Dog thought you could use it, I guess I can let it go. You’ll need to fix it though.”
I flipped the lid open and read the ID tag.
Mark Four Thruster Pack. Solar Powered.
“You know something Kid. Me and Big Dog, used to have a saying, back in the old days. He who fights and runs away, lives to fight another day.”
As I slung the thruster pack over my shoulder I shrugged at Old Ken. “And that applies how?”
“I’m still here ain’t I Kid? And so are you. Think on that, and spare a thought for old Big Dog.”
I smiled. “Big Dog. You sympathetic bastard!”
Old Ken laughed. “That he was Kid. That he was. So you want that thing?”
I nodded. “Sure. I think I can use this.”