I wish everyone would just shut up for five seconds. I already know this is bad, we all do. So keep your hyperventilating to yourself, all right? Jesus.
When we stepped through my gateway and teleported to the surface, we thought we'd escaped the worst of it, but it turns out this planet is a burnt out, post-apocalyptic nightmare. Some people feel like we're back to square one.
But objectively, we're not. We've got TEK equipment, supplies, some tamed animals and a decent number of human assets. That's plenty of tools at our disposal. All I need is for people to give me some space and let me think. This is just another code that needs cracking.
Think we've found a decent spot to set up shop. That crater up ahead should have everything we need.
Mei-Yin scouted it out with some of her pets, so that's at least one other person who isn't panicking. Not that I expected her to after she took the "suicide" out of that suicide mission back on the station. Di really knew how to pick a winner.
While we travel, I've been putting together some equipment. Nothing too complicated, just some basic gear to help me take a few measurements of our new environment. Gravity, soil composition, atmosphere, etc. I've got a good idea of what they'll tell me, but it's worth confirming.
Some of the readings were outside my estimates, but this is definitely Earth. That same old, self-absorbed ball of dirt.
I figured as much. According to that biologist, Helena, people from my time are the most advanced humans on those stations. That means they couldn't have been built too far in the future, and last I knew, the Federation and the URE were still stuck on Earth. It wasn't for lack of technology, just the usual suspects - politicians.
They could barely share one planet, much less space. People like to talk about having AI overlords as a nightmare scenario, but if we were ruled by machines, I might be looking at a flourishing Martian landscape instead of this ravaged one on Earth. Doesn't sound all that bad when you think about it. I mean, look what happened with humans in charge...
Construction on Camp Omega is going well. Things usually do when I have a project to focus on. I'd prefer something more challenging than living quarters, stables and basic defenses, but this'll keep me busy for now.
I'm the de-facto leader of this outfit these days, I realize that. No one else still among the living is qualified, so fine, I'll do the job. I just can't stand being bothered with every little disagreement or emotional breakdown. I've got real work to do, solving real problems.
That's why I made the Federation set me up in that mountain villa as part of my contract. My little hideaway, with just me and whatever puzzle they needed me to solve. It was perfect. Had a great sound system too. Assuming my memories are real, anyway.
Tried chatting with Helena a little about this Earth situation. Smart girl, probably smarter than anyone else I've met here, but I think she has a hard time telling when I'm messing with her and when I'm just a being jerk.
Not her fault. There's a reason why the Federation suits only visited me when they absolutely had to. Didn't matter how high ranking they were, I'd never mince words with any of them. I knew they'd have to take it. They needed me.
So yeah, I can be a pain to deal with, unless you're someone like Di. She may not have been an engineer or scientist, but she had a PhD in talking shit. Miss that ginger lunatic.
Camp Omega's basically up and running, complete with a functioning infrastructure, and we've got resources to spare. Lots of them.
The surface of the planet is brimming with Element. After just a couple expeditions to the edge of the wastes, we've practically filled our storehouses. I'm not sure what we're going to do with it all.
I'm not sure how there's so much of it. Element wasn't nearly this common in our time. Granted, all the Element that those stations are made of had to come from somewhere, so theoretically this city could have been built on top of an undiscovered vein. This much of it would turn even the smallest village into a metropolis overnight. But if that was what happened here, then where's the mine? May need to take a few more readings.
I ran the numbers. We're living in a scientific impossibility. Element simply couldn't expand fast enough to reach this level of density under natural conditions, even with millennia of uninterrupted growth. That means something accelerated it at an alarming rate, even if this area's readings are an outlier. Well I say "something," but there's an obvious answer here: man.
Any tech that runs on Element emits a few molecules of it back into the atmosphere, which take root in the soil. It's kind of like pollination, but the scale's so small and we consume it so fast that it's practically negligible. To spread it to any significant degree, you'd need a huge spike in Element proliferation.
A spike you'd get from, say, a century of open warfare with Element based weaponry. And the best of that weaponry? That'd be mine.
Sure, there's a chance it wasn't weapons. The civilian applications for Element were spreading daily, after all. I would know, I took a few corporate espionage gigs under the table, just to see if I could. If they started cutting enough corners on filtration...
No, I have to face the implications here. Not that I was ever a paragon of virtue, I knew I was engineering prepackaged death, but it should never have gone this far.
Then again, if I'm just a clone of the original Santiago, am I really responsible? I keep saying "me" and "I," but it's not my fault that I have his memories. Although if I accept that, what's left of me? Either I'm a horseman of the apocalypse, or I'm nothing at all.
The situation's changed on us yet again. We saw some big monsters in those caves, but those guys we spotted a few hours ago dwarf all of them. It's not even close. Add the mechanized drones we've been dealing with, and all of a sudden our firepower seems pretty underwhelming.
I wonder if those behemoths are the result of Element mutation. Depending on how you look at it, that would make them my problem in more ways than one. Fine then. If they're a problem, I'll just make a solution same as always, and I won't do it by dismissing my identity. I'll lean into it.
Yeah, I've got just the thing. It's interesting how the worst circumstances are always the catalyst for my best ideas.
When I told everyone that was my big idea, I'm not sure what I got more of, blank stares or nervous laughter. I think the ones that were laughing hoped I would join in. I didn't.
Hey, I get it, I know how it sounds. It's just like I said though, if I'm going to accept my identity as Santiago, then I may as well lean into it. If the original me really engineered armageddon into reality with crazy high tech weaponry, then I'm going to reverse it with an even crazier high tech weapon.
Some people may call that fighting fire with with fire, but I call it fighting a small gun with a much bigger gun.
Turns out no one else had a better plan, so the wheels are in motion. I've already got teams working on the hangars and gathering resources while I hammer out the schematics.
Building these MEKs is going to be one of the hardest things I've ever done, maybe the hardest. With the Gateway Project, I could use the Obelisks as a blueprint, but these are all me. Luckily, having an eidetic memory means I can call on everything I ever studied about robotics, so I'm not starting from scratch.
Besides, this is my true Iove. They say constantly crunching away on a big project will make anyone burn out, but for me it feels like a dip in a lazarus pit. I live for the grind.
The final MEK designs are complete. Based on the skills and experience of our potential pilots, I decided to emphasize the energy sword as its primary weapon and divert a bit less power to the precision TEK cannon.
That's just the base model though. Each MEK has a modification slot where equipment can be swapped to suit the pilot's tendencies and mission parameters. There's a reactive shield dome to protect the team and force close quarters combat, an artillery cannon for back line support, and shoulder mounted missile launchers for when you just want to say "to hell with this thing in particular."
That alone would make them worth the effort, but I haven't even gotten to the best part...
I designed these MEKs to make the most of our resources, so while alone they're devastating fighting machines, together they're more than the sum of their parts. I mean that literally - we have the resources to make four of them, but when they're all in close proximity, they can fuse into an an even more powerful MEK. A MegaMEK, if you will.
I got the idea when I was messing with the teleportation tech we we found on those hunter/killer robots that roam the city. Instead of physically linking the MEKs together like puzzle pieces, I combine them on the atomic level via teleportation. It's my masterpiece, the ultimate fighting machine, with the most efficient Element reactor and most powerful energy sword ever constructed. None of those monsters will stand a chance against it, no matter how big.
As long as we find some pilots that can handle it, that is.
The number of assets we have with any piloting experience at all is practically nil, so I've focused on making the controls as accessible as possible.
I landed on a combination of a neural link and gyroscopic, full body motion sensors for what I call Beta Level piloting. Basically, once they're linked up, the MEK will mimic the pilot's movements and an automated system will handle the messy details.
But because I just can't help myself, I also added an array of hard light consoles and a stronger connection to the nervous system for Alpha Level piloting. That'll offer refined control over every bit of the MEK, but it would take a stud pilot like Di to utilize it. I can't possibly build a machine without leaving a way for it to reach its full potential though, even if no one here can unleash it.
I admit, when I decided to go with simplified controls that mimicked the movements of the pilot, I had Mei-Yin in mind. This isn't about pity or nepotism either, she's objectively the best close quarters fighter we have, and based on our interview, no one's as battle hardened.
She answered both tactical and moral dilemmas quickly and decisively. The later's a little scary, but we need a pilot like that, someone who won't hesitate when the safety of the group's on the line.
The only question is her emotional state. I don't know what stage of grief she's supposed to be in, but when the fighting starts, there's a chance she loops right back to anger. Still, even with her blood running a little hot, she's clearly a top candidate.
MEK Pilot Evaluation: Candidate #013 - Helena Walker
This one caught me off guard. I knew from experience that Helena could handle herself in a crisis and improvise quickly, and she did well enough on the interview. Creative, level headed...not much killer instinct but we don't need four Mei-Yins.
So she was solid, but not spectacular, at least until we hooked her up in the prototype and looked at her synchronization ratings. She had every gauge maxed out! It's as if her nervous system is more advanced than everyone else's, like it can just process information at a higher rate.
I wonder, could she open a neural link with even more advanced technology? Maybe that's a question for another time, but for now, I think I've found my second pilot.
MEK Pilot Evaluation: Candidate #022 - Takaya Kazuma
URE lugheads like Kazuma are why I had no problem helping the Terran Federation. Loud, obnoxious, self-righteous and above all? Naive. He struggled making tough calls in the interview because he didn't think we should "have to" make sacrifices. It's a cute sentiment, but we're trying to survive here.
I've got to walk the talk though. His memories may end just after the academy, but he's one of our few assets left with real military training. Sync scores are solid too. Loud mouthed URE zealot or not, he might be our best remaining option. My personal bias is irrelevant.
Outside of testing, I rarely want to use anything I engineer. Part of it is that my ideas are never as exciting to me once they're realized, like I got it out of my system, but I also just think it ruins the purity of it. Great painters don't hang their own work on the wall, do they?
Unfortunately, this time I don't have a choice. I know the MEKs better than anyone, and only Helena has a better sync rating. That's probably because I tested the synchronization system on myself. Stupid mistake. Looks like my workload just doubled.
Now that construction has reached Phase III, I need to have a lot more face time with our top candidates. The MEKs will still be usable by anyone, but if we can get them specifically tuned to their primary pilots' preferences and behaviors, we can maximize their combat efficiency. Plus, they have to get used to actually controlling them.
Not really looking forward to this part. I'm the kind of guy who can't help but take the wheel after thirty seconds of watching someone struggle with a computer console, and these are my greatest creations, not an internet browser. Could get painful...
Mei-Yin's taking the longest to get used to her cockpit. Understandable, since there's not even a word for it in ancient Chinese. Luckily her endurance lets her practice for longer intervals, so she'll catch up eventually.
Our sessions are also the quietest. You'd think we'd have more of a rapport by now, but Di was always our mutual connection. So with Mei-Yin it's all business, even if she's struggling or I start to get impatient.
The only time she went off-topic was when she invited me to a workout, and since I'm a pilot now, I agreed. My legs regretted it afterwards, but our next session went far better. Not friendlier, not chattier, just smoother. It's like we've reached some strange, silent, anti-social understanding. I'm not sure I get it, but I guess I don't mind.
Helena's sessions have become an exercise in frustration. Her synchronization never drops a single grade, and when I explain what she's doing wrong she understands. But for some reason, she's just hit a wall when it comes to execution.
She's working as hard as anyone, and she's so damned earnest about wanting to help out that I kind of regret being so short with her. I've even tried to hide just how far behind she's falling. Maybe she needs to focus on something external, like a carrot on a stick.
She's always talking about how she wants to find the truth behind those stations, and my scanners picked up an unusual signal the other day. I'm no one's idea of a life coach, but I think that may do the trick.
That carrot worked pretty well. As soon as I mentioned the signal I'd detected in the wastes, it was like a second reactor started up in Helena's brain. The signal's not even a sure bet, just a vague chance at finding some answers, but she leapt at it.
I got caught up in her enthusiasm and ended up saying more than I'd intended though. I hadn't meant to bring up the clone situation or whether we're responsible for our past lives, but maybe I needed to get it off my chest. Not sure it helped.
Anyway, by our next MEK session, Helena was back on track. In hindsight, seems like it was a confidence issue, like she's convinced herself that her sync rating is a fluke. Better tone down the criticism for a bit.
If nothing else, my own sessions have been a moment of peace. I still don't want to pilot one of my own masterpieces in combat, but when it's just me and my MEK in the hangar, I feel like I can finally relax.
It's not just that I've been working long hours. I did that plenty of times on the Gateway Project, and our TEK bomb before then. It's that I'm working long hours and dealing with people at the same time, all the time. The pilot sessions have been getting better, but running everything else on top of that?
"Santiago, a water pipe broke. Santiago, so and so is hogging all the ammo." Constant interruptions.
Maybe I'll just hide in the cockpit and nap for a while. No one would know...
It should just work! The MEKs' power systems fuse perfectly during my teleportation sims, so why does the reactor keep sputtering? The errors I'm getting don't make any sense, but if I ignore them and they turn out to be right, the fusion process could end in a catastrophic reactor meltdown.
Unbelievable! Here of all places is where I screw up? The most critical juncture of this entire damned enterprise?
I'd never make a mistake like this back home, but maybe that's because the original Santiago was better than I am. If I'm just a crude approximation then some degradation would...no, I'm fixing this. Just like I always have.
Simulation 157B was another failure. Error 612-A4, same as always. Almost no change in reactor coupling.
I've had projects fail, but not like this. Not this spectacularly, just inches from the finish line. Why'd it have to be this one? This is the pièce de résistance on my lifelong resume, it's the thing that will wipe my whole ledger clean. It needs to work, or my legacy is this dead hunk of rock orbiting around the sun.
Thirty more simulations. I can get thirty more simulations in before I'll need to sleep. If I can just get a different error code, then I can start to isolate the variables involved. Just give me something to go on here, anything at all.
I can't believe those idiots did something so cheesy. I really want to hate them for it.
Not sure what simulation I was on when I finally crashed, but I woke up to Helena and Kazuma dragging me off to deal with some "emergency." If I wasn't still half asleep, I'd probably have realized they were full of it, but as it was, I didn't catch on until I saw the cake.
We can't really tell what day it is, but I guess everyone decided that today was June 26th - my birthday. According to them, that meant I couldn't work. I had to eat that crappy cake and "have fun." Kill me.
Fine. The cake wasn't that bad, and maybe it was a little "fun." Can't ever tell them though, my reputation would be shot. These idiots...
I can't believe that the solution to the energy flow problem was so basic. After being held hostage by the birthday committee for a day, I figured it out within a few hours of getting back to work. Turns out all I really needed to do was step back and get a new perspective on it.
Everything's been going better since then, actually. Pilot training is nearly complete, we've assembled most of the parts and the whole team is working at peak efficiency. Even Kazuma didn't make me want to throttle him for a change.
Don't get me wrong, these guys are still a bunch of corny idiots. They're just my corny idiots, that's all.
With the MEKs entering their final phase of construction, I decided to give our pilot team a little reward and simulate the MegaMEK fusion procedure. We won't be able to do it for real for another couple weeks, but the sim is pretty accurate.
It went a lot better than I expected. By our third try, we had it down pat. The only thing that held us up was a lot of joking about who would control which body part. Mei-Yin patently refused to switch off of the sword arm and Helena was convinced that she'd trip us if she took the legs.
I know it goes against my principles as an engineer, but after that, I think I'm actually excited to pilot this thing. Purity be damned.
Those big monsters we saw, the ones that prompted this whole MEK project in the first place? There's some of them headed towards Camp Omega, and they're bringing a legion of help - mechanized drones, mutated animals, the works.
We're moving as fast as we can, but even working around the clock we may have to face them down with just one active MEK. Two tops. The others will be close, but we can't skimp on the final boot up procedure without endangering the pilot. I know those three would be willing to risk that, but I'm not.
Why did it have to be now? Another half a day and we'd be able to link up. We were that close.
One MEK, that's all we've got, and it's only because I'd been using my own machine for beta testing. There's no way I can take all of them, even with infantry support, but if I launch now and get their attention, I can lead them on a chase until the others are ready to go.
It's a shame. We don't have the resources to replace my MEK, and without it my final masterpiece will never take shape. I'd have liked to see it, but more than that? I'd have liked to experience that moment where we all fused together for real, and our bizarre little squad became the most powerful team the world's ever seen.
But if it means giving these idiots a chance to survive this, then I'll give it all up, because in the end? Those are my idiots.
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