Cooper was curled fetal, gauntleted hands wrapped around his knees. With his bulky build it wasn’t the easiest pose to hold, but over a year of practise had at least made it bearable. Outside of him, the Goliath held the same pose. Currently in sleep mode, the giant robot wouldn’t be that disturbed if Cooper shifted, but it was better to be in the same pose when the Goliath woke up.
A few years ago, the two story tall robots known as Gears would have been impractical. The problem with bipedal robots had always been balance. Though they could walk or even run if someone planned long in advance, giant robots had a knack for toppling over during any swift or sudden movements. Combat was chock full of swift or sudden movements. At best, giant robots were a novelty. In battle, they were a disaster.
Humans had been working for years on a way to use the pilot’s natural sense of balance to keep the robots steady. The problem that the engineers had was making any interface instantaneous; making the man and machine work as one. without exact synch to the pilots commands, the balance of a moving Gear was actually worse than with basic stick control.
The answer came with the Jakara. They’d already mastered the use of Sub-dermal Bio-Mechanical Interface; a layer of organic circuitry beneath the skin that allowed them to communicate with their computers. In layman’s terms; the Jakara had tattoos that let them talk with machines. The Jakara were all too happy to share their SBMI, in exchange for the Human information on the Gears.
The tattoo on Cooper’s neck looked like a cluster of tribal circuitry, and felt like a giant cigarette burn. It had a constant low buzz of electricity just beneath his skin around the mark. The dim phosphorus glow it normally gave off seemed neon in the darkness of the sleeping Goliath’s cockpit. Thinking about the tattoo on his neck made it itch more than normal, and Cooper had to struggle to keep from scratching it.
Cooper grumbled his frustration, and ‘thought’ the communications grid on. A pair of screens flickered to life, showing the faces Jim and Billie: the rest of his Second Chancers Squad.
“Trying not to pick at your tattoo?” Jim asked immediately.
“No,” Cooper replied indignantly. “Well, yes, but that’s not the only reason.” He smiled broadly at his teammates. “You see that it’s the Dra’keh? We’ll be up against Red and her boys again.”
“We know,” Billie stated simply. “We get the same report you do.” Billie’s features carried a trademark boredom, despite being a few minutes away from combat. She was likely going over Gear schematics in her head; planning the next tweak. Billie was a firm believer in Zen and the Art of Gear Maintenance.
Billie piloted a Titan class Gear. Built out of armour and missiles, it often meandered calmly into combat behind Cooper’s Goliath, laying down blanket fire. It was the largest of the three Gears, and evidently the most open to modification, making it perfect for Billie. When she wasn’t neck deep in ship and Gear repairs, she was often found tweaking performance output on the Titan.
“Red’s beaten us down badly the last two times we saw her,” Jim commented.
Cooper stared offence at Jim. “Hey, we beat Red down pretty good last time.”
Billie chuckled. “Her boys wiped the floor with us,” she corrected.
“Yeah,” Cooper agreed, “but we beat her.” He nodded. “You take the victories you can get.”
“I don’t think the captain should Fold into the atmosphere,” Jim stated, changing the subject. His eyes darted back and forth. Even inside his Gear, he acted like he’d be jumped at any minute. “The Clark’s too old. She’s not built for dramatic entrances.” Metal groaned a whale-song of agreement from somewhere in the hull, and Jim looked around frantically. He rose his eyebrows in a ‘see what I mean?’ sort of way.
“She’ll be fine,” Cooper replied with a slight shrug. Training kept him from being any more expressive. “Besides, it’s the captain’s job to care about the ship. We care about the Gears.” He smiled. “Speaking of which…”
“The captain doesn’t have to fix the ship,” Billie interrupted. “I do.”
“Speaking of which,” Cooper tried.
“There’s a list,” Billie continued. “It goes on forever.” she smirked. “It’s a forever list.”
“Speaking of which,” Cooper stated again, louder this time. “Did you finish ‘it’?”
“Well, it was on the list, wasn’t it?” Billie rolled her eyes. “Yes,” she replied. “I finished it.”
“It’s in my hand,” Jim verified. He meant of course his Gear’s hand, but Jim connected with his Courier class Gear more than most pilots would. Every pilot considered their Gear to be a second skin at some level. Jim, when strapped in, considered the Courier to be his first.
In theory, being ‘one’ with a giant robot should have given Jim some confidence. Instead, the Courier seemed to gain Jim’s skittishness, and jumped at the sound of gunfire. The Courier was barely giant; coming in at half the height of the Goliath. It was probably for the best that it was ready to run when the fan was hit.
Jim glanced about nervously, as he often did. “I don’t know, Cooper,” he mumbled. “This feels kinda like cheating.”
“It feels kinda like cheating because you look at Gear combat kinda like a sport,” Cooper retorted.
“This is a military exercise,” Billie chimed in. “It’s not cheating to use whatever resources we have at our disposal.”
“Sure, military exercise. All’s fair,” Cooper agreed. There was a near minute of silence. “Actually,” Cooper admitted with a chuckle, “I was going to go with it’s entirely a sport, and this is entirely cheating.”
Coopers crew stared at him from the screens: Billie with mild annoyance, and Jim with sheer panic. “Hey,” he commented defensively. “It’s not like we can’t use the military exercise excuse later.”
Before either Jim or Billie could respond, the comm. static spat the captain’s voice across the cargo hold. “We’re Folding in two minutes,” Captain Rose informed the Second Chancers. “Gear deployment will be immediate on arrival.”
screens and control lights flared to life as the Goliath woke up. Cooper’s tattoo burnt white hot and his perception shifted dizzyingly as he connected with the Gear. Outside, the Goliath shifted its already fetal bulk to match Coopers pose exactly. Beside the Goliath, the Courier had begun to sway and rock. Its head swivelled back and forth anxiously. The Titan didn’t even flinch, and if it wasn’t Billie piloting it, Cooper would be concerned that it wasn’t awake.
“Game faces,” Cooper commanded, as The Clark groaned and rattled beneath them. “It’s show-time.”