The giant robot sat with its arms supporting the titanic weight of its chassis, gorilla-like in its squat. It had no discernable head, for this particular generation of mechanized armor had done away with that pointless appendage. More and more the manufacturers of the heavier robots, names like Armamentech and Mobilium and Triva, had turned to less humanoid designs and focused on pure function. It's how it always should've been, Anum thought as he surveyed his weapon. How many resources had been flushed down the toilet as engineers and researchers had pursued the visions set forth in the old Japanese animated shows? Fucking cartoons. When the Middle Eastern Coalition had introduced their "Sandworm" design to the battlefield, everything had changed. No humanoid form would ever have been able to move with such speed through the deserts. With the right adaptor kits, the linked chassis format had also proven equally versatile in water. Despite their aggressive industrial espionage it had taken the North European manufacturers nearly a decade to catch up, and in that time a new Ottoman Empire had risen to swallow half of Asia.
Anum gave his head a bitter shake. He would love to pilot one of the 'worms, but he had logged far too many hours in the Cymax formats and would never get a transfer approved. He watched as the ground crew decoupled the fueling hoses from his robot, and a mixture of pride and disappointment washed through him. He shivered and put on his helmet, adjusting the chin straps before he climbed the short ladder that led up into the backside of his weapon.
"You're a puppeteer," Master Sergeant Ross had been fond of reminding the recruits. "It's only fitting that you make like a hand up the ass." Training had been a special kind of hell, a systematic dehumanization of the recruits so that they wouldn't think twice about piloting their robots over and through the enemy. Killing another robot was easy, the shell of the weapon was a shield that protected the youngsters from the reality of snuffing out another human life. But there would be times when they had to wade down streets where robot-less pilots and other militia took pot-shots with whatever arms they could get hold of. Times when they'd have to step on another human being's head, and though they wouldn't physically feel the enemy's skulls crush like eggshells under the multi-tonne weight of the robot's iron boot, they'd feel it in their souls. Boot camp did its best to inure the recruits from that feeling, but no amount of training could completely wipe it from the conscience. That's why it was pilots like Anum who were so prized, so valuable for their apparent lack of empathy and emotion. It was those who had the psychopathy for the job that were the very best.
"I guess I'm just a really good psychopath," Anum said. A red warning flashed across the inside of his visor – UNRECOGNIZED COMMAND – and he dismissed it with a tap of a gloved finger. "Power up," he said. The iron beast around him roared to life, like a thousand fans whirring up to speed and then thrumming along at maximum rotation. The sound dampers in his helmet quieted the noise, but he could still feel it pulse through his flesh and rattle his bones. "Systems check." A visualization of the robot drew itself on the left side of his visor, segments of it filled green as they reported. A small panel on the lower back shone amber, and Anum dismissed it. According to the ground crew it was a faulty report, and no amount of diagnostic or repair had managed to fix it in the three years that he'd been pilot.
"GOOD DAY, COMMANDER ELI ANUM. YOU ARE IN GOOD HEALTH." It was only fair that the system performed its own check on him, the human element. They were a pair, pilot and robot, and if one wasn't functioning the other wouldn't get very far.
Anum put his hands through the control ports, and the interlocks clamped down on his wrists and forearms. He slid his legs forward and felt similar mechanisms take hold of his ankles and calves. It was only once he was thus locked into the machine did the control sticks and foot-pedals activate. He pushed down on both pedals and felt the robot rise off of its haunches.
"Let's go to work," he said.
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