ZERO

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ZERO

Postby Omniscient Frog » Thu Oct 11, 2018 5:13 pm

Touchdown

A dark humanoid speck hurtled through the relentless void of space, a single orange glowing eye surveying its surroundings. The fuel verniers on its back twitched and turned, finally setting into position as the frame aligned with the reddish-blue dot that was its destination.

Kara Zhal leaned back in the cockpit of her frame. It was too cramped for much change in position, so she had resigned to stiff legs and hunched shoulders for the time being. There wasn’t much to do now except wait until she broke atmosphere, and that would take at least another few hours. She ran through the mission briefing in her head.

The Simulacrum had intel on a faction of rebellious colonists who had declared independence from the Solar Union. The UMFL had cracked down on them hard, but the colonists managed to fend them off, with frames that appeared to be old Simulacrum designs. She was to track down these colonists, confirm the origin of their mobile frames, and relay the information back to the Simulacrum’s orbital station. They would decide the course of action from there.

Kara yawned. She could barely tell if the planet ahead of her was getting any closer. The only way she knew she was moving at all was the soft roar of her frame’s thrusters. She shifted in her seat and felt her eyelids droop. It was going to be a long ride, she thought, as the thrusters’ hum lulled her to sleep.



A red light blinked incessantly, accompanied by a raspy beeping. Kara reached out to hit the snooze button, and her arm collided with cold metal.
“Ow! Stupid hutching...” She was awake now. The planet ahead filled her viewscreen. She glanced at the blinking light and the screen next to it.

[ATMOSPHERIC REENTRY IN T-MINUS TEN MINUTES. USER INPUT REQUIRED]

She righted herself in the cockpit and grabbed the control sticks, flipping a switch on the ceiling to set vernier control to manual. The alarm kept beeping.

“Quit chabbing, I hear ya.” She flipped the verniers around and put them at full thrust to slow her descent as much as she could, shutting them off once they reached 50% depletion. She double and triple checked all of her frame’s systems. Once she was sure everything was in order, she passed vernier control back to the frame’s AI as it plotted her descent course. The alarm finally stopped.

T-minus 5 minutes. Kara flipped a switch and the heat shield assembly strapped to the front of her frame began to open.

T-minus 2 minutes. The AI cut the thrusters, letting gravity do the rest of the work.

T-minus 30 seconds. The frame began to shake, and Kara’s viewport flared bright orange as she collided with the planet’s atmosphere. She shut off the video feed, lest she go blind.

The frame shook and shuttered like a leaf in a stampede, and for a moment Kara wondered if the AI had plotted the course wrong, if she was going to hit too hard and burn up in the atmosphere. But then the shaking stopped, and she heard a clunk as the last of the heat shield decoupled from her frame. She switched the main camera’s video feed back on, and was greeted by a vast red continent stretching out below her, the planet’s curvature revealing only a sliver of vibrant blue ocean to the north.

[ATMOSPHERIC REENTRY COMPLETE]

Kara let herself plummet another several meters before kicking the thrusters back into gear, vernier armatures flaring out and bringing her to a hover several kilometers above the ground. She checked her frame’s energy supply: 37% capacity and falling. Less than ideal. She scanned for an optimal landing zone and dropped the rest of the way to the planet’s surface, skimming along the top of a crimson forest until a clearing appeared. She carefully brought her frame to the forest floor, lowering it into a kneeling position, thin aerodynamic legs digging into soft soil as she pressed a button, exposing the Infinity Condensers buried in its core. Energy at 22% capacity and rising.

The hatch hissed open, and Kara gulped in a welcome breath of non-processed air. She unstrapped the harness that locked her into her seat and hopped down to solid ground, ready to get her land legs back. First, though, she sent a transmission back to the orbital station thousands of kilometers above her.

Kara Zhal
OBS-0X.s Apeirogon Sage
Landing Confirmed, Beginning Mission.


----------
A short fiction that I'm writing for the UW-Whitewater Creative Writing Festival. I figured I'd share it here since it's MF0 themed. More parts to come soon.
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Re: ZERO

Postby Omniscient Frog » Tue Oct 16, 2018 10:33 pm

Chapter 2:

Planetside

Kara took inventory of the Sage’s equipment and supplies one final time. The main thrusters and vernier armatures were intact and functional. The sensory spires reaching out from its back were a bit dinged up, but they'd managed to send a transmission easily enough, and the enhancement dish was still firmly attached, so it shouldn't cause any problems. In a small cargo pack strapped to the frame’s backside there was two weeks worth of rations, some basic survival gear, and an emergency radio, not that it would do her much good given the current situation. Anchored to either arm was a pair of single-use missiles -- four in total. Kara was hoping she wouldn’t need to use them, but Captain Salero had insisted she expected the possibility of combat.

“I know it’s just a recon mission,” he had said, “but it’s better to be prepared for situations that don’t happen than to be caught off guard when they do.”

She had scouted out the area around her on foot and found nothing but local flora. Wherever the colonists were, they weren’t here. She hopped back into the Sage’s cockpit and powered it up. Energy stable at 102% capacity -- had to love those Infinity Condensers and whatever miracle fuel they pulled out of thin air.

The hatch closed, and Kara turned her attention to a small screen linked to the spires’ radar. She pumped the range out to 50 kilometers and was greeted by swarms of movement pings. There were so many she couldn’t tell which were human and which were animals. She readjusted the sensitivity -- nothing smaller than human-sized -- and the blips fell away, leaving only a handful. Two large clusters stood out from the rest, one to the south and another to the northwest. She could scout both within an hour.

Thrusters roared to life as the Sage pulled itself into the air. It might have been humanoid in structure, but the frame was built for flying, not ground travel. Kara steered the Sage south, a dark silhouette against the treetops. Stealth and speed were her advantages, and she didn’t want to take any chances.

Fifteen minutes later and five kilometers away from its target, the Sage dropped below the crimson canopy. Her top speed was limited, but hiding in the trees meant less chance of her being seen and hutching up the mission.

She got to the edge of the forest. A small farming village sat a few kilometers away, looking like the opposite of suspicious. Still, it was better to not take chances. Most frames only stood around 20-30 feet tall, plenty short enough to stow in a barn or silo. She sent a pulse through the Sage’s sensory spires, looking for frame-like objects.

[NO MATCH FOUND]

Kara sighed. Of course it wouldn’t be that easy. She backpedaled the Sage and flew off for the other target site.
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Re: ZERO

Postby Omniscient Frog » Thu Oct 18, 2018 11:39 pm

Chapter 3:

Retreat

Venet stirred the slop in his bowl absentmindedly, having no real intention of eating it. Around him engineers rushed to and fro, performing maintenance on the red-and-black mobile frames they’d used to fight off the UMFL lackeys. He didn’t know where they’d managed to get a hold of such fancy-looking frames, but they’d gone toe-to-toe with the UMFL’s Chubs and managed to shovel a victory. Not that that luck would last them much longer.

They’d been staying on the move since the skirmish, stopping only for meals and maintenance. They’d made good progress across the plains, but they were going to run out of fuel eventually. The UMFL had transport ships in orbit where they could refuel; the colonists couldn’t afford that luxury. What would happen when they returned to finish the job? Could they even survive another assault?

“Hey, Venet!” There was a rough tap on the back of his head as Daryl leaned into his field of view, taking a seat beside him. “Perk up, man! You look like you can’t remember where you left your hutchin’ soul.”

Venet blinked out of his stupor. He looked at Daryl, who was grinning like an idiot.

“What are we going to do?”

Daryl’s brow furrowed. “Whad’ya mean ‘what’re we gonna do?’ We scared off the UMFL, all we gotta do is make it to Kandela and then-”

“Do you seriously think they’re not going to come back?! We won the battle, but they’re still out there! They’ll track us down again, and when they do, then what? We’re low on supplies, lower on fuel, and half our pilots are slaggin’ hutch-bunnies who’ve barely touched a frame before in their lives! Hell, from what I saw back there, I’m our only good pilot, and I’m hutchin’ fourteen! Fourteen, Daryl! What are we supposed to do when they come back, just keep tryna outlast them until our frames finally give?! We can’t just keep running, Daryl!”

The words and emotions came all at once, all his brewing fears escaping as tears welled in his eyes. “I can’t just keep running, Daryl.”

The older boy wrapped an arm around Venet’s shoulder as he began to softly sob. “Hey, come on. Don’t worry. We’re only a day out from Kandela. We can make it before those grashers show up again, huh? We’ve shoveled them before, we can shovel ‘em again.”

Venet wiped his tears on his jacket sleeve and let out a shaky breath.

“Just breathe. We’ll find a way.” Daryl gave him a pat on the shoulder.

Venet looked back up at the scarlet horizon, his mind clearing. The sun was starting to set, casting long shadows across the plains.

Venet stopped. In the shadows, he thought he saw something… glowing. He grabbed the binoculars around his neck to confirm what he was already certain of. A dark, slender mobile frame hid in the shadows of a nearby patch of trees, a singular eye glowing bright orange against the shade. As he watched, it began to back away, fading into the darkness.

“Oh no you don’t…” Venet started racing towards his frame.

“What? What did you see?” Daryl called after him, but he was already leaping into the cockpit, mechanics scrambling away as he began speeding towards the forest. “Hutching grasher…” Daryl muttered.

The frame was either a UMFL scout or some third party. Either way, Venet couldn’t let it escape. He charged forwards, the stabilizer wheels in his frame’s feet spinning as he darted into the trees, and then a clang as it collided with something large and metallic. The other frame gave way, and the two crashed through leaves and branches out the other side of the forest patch and back into open grassland.

The other frame broke Venet’s grip and darted back, four armatures splaying out in a star-like pattern as it came to a hover inches above the ground. Its legs were only thin spikes that vaguely resembled the wings of an aircraft. A cold orange monoeye watched him from a diamond-shaped head, and above it reached two jagged spines, like some sort of crest. Strapped to each of its spindly arms was a pair of rockets. Venet realized he hadn’t grabbed any weapons himself. He only had an unarmed frame to try and subdue the enemy before him.

He breathed in. I can’t just keep running. Exhale. He pushed his frame into a dead sprint and lunged at the enemy frame again.
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Re: ZERO

Postby Omniscient Frog » Thu Oct 18, 2018 11:43 pm

Chapter 4:

Onyx

Five dead-ends later and Kara had finally found her target. They were camped out on an open plain several miles from the forest, but patches of trees still provided enough cover for her to close in and confirm. Several colonists sat around on rocks and logs, evidently enjoying some form of meal, while several more tended to a company of six mobile frames. From a distance, they resembled an ST-07 Chub, but she recognized the design, and her sensors confirmed it: the OBS-01 Onyx, discontinued from the Simulacrum’s production factories after the OBS-03 became the new standard. They were old tech that relied on solid fuel instead of Infinity Condensers, but they were still on-par with most mass-produced Solar Union frames.

Kara beamed a message back to the orbital station:

Target located and confirmed:
Colonists in possession of six OBS-01 mobile frames
Awaiting further instruction


She barely had to wait a minute before the reply came back:

Confirmed.
Extraction team has been sent.
Retreat to safe distance and remain on standby for retrieval.


Kara let out a sigh of relief. So she wouldn’t have to fight anyone after all. She backed her frame away from the treeline and prepped to return to her initial landing coordinates, plotting the route in the Sage’s autopilot when a jolt rocked her entire frame, almost bucking her out of her seat if it weren’t for the straps that kept her in place. The large red dome of an Onyx’s head filled her viewport, and more collisions battered the Sage until suddenly she was out of the trees and thrust into the harsh sunlight. Kara gripped her controls and tried to move, but the Onyx had grabbed her frame in a bear hug. Metal scraped against metal as she pried herself free and floored the thrusters, launching her away from the Onyx until she came to a hover several yards away.

The Onyx was unarmed and unarmored. It looked like it was in the middle of repairs, armor plates missing in several areas.

Kara only had a few seconds to catch her breath before the Onyx lunged at her. She shot into the air -- she wasn’t going to fight an unarmed frame if she didn’t have to.

Another jolt, and the entire world pitched down as she slammed into the ground. Alerts sounded; [SECONDARY PROPULSION UNIT DAMAGED, JETTISONING SECONDARY PROPULSION UNIT] [LEFT STABILIZER INCAPACITATED, IMMEDIATE ACTION REQUIRED] [HULL INTEGRITY AT 84%]

The Onyx had grabbed her out of the air. It shouldn’t be able to jump that high, not in its current state. Who the hutch was piloting that thing?

The Onyx began dragging her back towards the colonist camp. She shot off a rocket, aiming wide, hoping it would spook the pilot. No such luck. It heaved and threw her again, hard enough to give her whiplash. She kicked with her unrestrained leg and managed to dislodge herself from the Onyx’s grip. She burst away, thrusters firing at maximum capacity, pushing her up and out of the Onyx’s reach.

Kara scrambled to open her comms channel. “This is Kara Zhal of Zero Company requesting immediate backup from anyone in the area, I have confirmed hostile contact with Simulacrum assets.” She fired off another rocket, but the Onyx sidestepped the blast zone. “Opponent has inflicted heavy damage. I repeat, this is Kara Zhal of Zero Company requesting immediate backup-”

A shadow passed overhead, and a dark object dropped like a stone from the transport shuttle that roared past. There was a flash below, and both of the Onyx’s arms were severed.

Standing a full two yards taller than the disarmed Onyx was a gleaming black-and-gold mobile frame, burning red tracing the backside of its limbs as it twirled a massive plasma glaive and brought it to rest at the base of the Onyx’s neck. Its particle shields glowed with orange energy as a familiar face popped onto Kara’s viewport.

“Zhal,” Captain Salero said, driving his second glaive into the Onyx’s left leg, “you and I are gonna have to talk about what qualifies as ‘heavy damage.’”

-----

I managed to pump out two "chapters" today. Not sure why I didn't just put both of them in one post. Oh well.
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Re: ZERO

Postby Omniscient Frog » Sun Oct 21, 2018 2:16 pm

Chapter 5:

Infinity

Venet stared up in dumbstruck awe and terror as the regal-looking frame methodically pried him out of his cockpit. It had appeared out of nowhere and taken out his frame before he’d had a chance to react, severing the arms and legs, and now slowly ripping the torso in half, exposing Venet’s all too fragile body within.

The frame stared at him with the same diamond monoeye that the other one had. Were they from the same unit? Were there more of them lying in wait for the others?

He felt his stomach lurch as the frame lifted him, cockpit and all, until he was level with its torso. A panel split open, revealing a slender bronze face and piercing green eyes smeared with black kohl.

“You’re only a child,” the face frowned.

Venet was still too shaken to speak.

“My name is Teren Salero, I’m with a group called the Ouroboros Simulacrum. Do you know what that is?” His tone had softened.

Venet shook his head. Ouroboros? It sounded vaguely familiar, but he couldn’t place where he’d heard it before.

“That frame you have there is one of ours,” Teren continued, keeping his voice soft. “We’re not here to hurt you, we only want what belongs to us.”

“We need those frames.” Venet finally managed to find his voice. “We need them, or else-”

“The Simulacrum is aware of your situation,” Teren interjected, still with the same soft, smooth intonation. His frame stood from its kneeling position over the dismembered carcass of metal, and began walking towards the camp.

“Where do you think you’re going?” Venet cried. “If you hurt them, I swear-”

“I will do no such thing.” Teren’s voice was still level. “And you’re not in much of a position to be making threats.”

Four slim black mobile frames were surrounding the colonists’ encampment, weapons at rest, jagged crests rising from their diamond-shaped heads. A large dropship hovered overhead, and from it a bright crimson mobile frame was slowly descending, unarmed but still radiating power.

As its feet touched the ground, the frame’s chest split open, and a dark silhouette stepped out from its cockpit. Venet couldn’t see the pilot’s face, but he could hear the voice that boomed from them, loud, deep, and synthesized.

*Those who think yourselves in danger, be put at ease! We, the Ouroboros, do not affiliate with any so-called galactic power, and We do not wish conflict! Our merest request is to reclaim what is Our property!* The pilot gestured to the five remaining frames in the camp, worn down hurdy-gurdies in comparison to the sleek giants surrounding them. *Return to Us these five Onyx, and We offer not only peaceful resolution, but also protection! The Ouroboros welcomes all under Its fold, and We understand all too well the oppression of colonists from the distant Solar Union! Join Us, join the Simulacrum, and you need no longer fear for your freedom! Join the Ouroboros, and you shall become Infinity!

*The choice, naturally, is up to you, but the matter of Our property is not up for debate! The Ouroboros does not tolerate thievery, and We shall depart with these frames, regardless of your decision!* The pilot paused, signalling something to the dropship above him. *This may seem a threat, but We truly wish you no harm. As a symbol of Our good faith, should you join Our Infinity, you shall be reimbursed for the troubles We and others have caused.*

A panel slid down from the dropship’s underbelly, carrying three squat mobile frames, wheeled tripeds bristling with armor, sensors, and weaponry. *We offer these Triptychs for your use in defending yourselves from future incursions. I assure you they well outperform the models currently in your possession.*

Faintly, Venet heard someone shout a question. It sounded like Daryl.

*The Ouroboros is no oppressor,* the pilot said in response. *We shall not seek to inhibit your freedoms, nor to manipulate your actions. All We ask is that you maintain regular contact with the Simulacrum, and answer should We call upon your aid. That shall be the scope of Our interference.*

There was more discourse, but the result was a foregone conclusion. The offer wasn’t worth refusing. Venet looked back at the resplendent frame carrying him.

“What’s the catch?”

“No catch,” Teren replied. “The Simulacrum has groups like this all over the place. Colonists who wanted out from under the Solar Union’s boot, and were willing to give their loyalty. We don’t do induction, we’ve got enough soldiers already. We’re just making sure the rest of the galaxy is prepared for what may come.”

“And what’s that?”

Teren gave a short breath of laughter. “Only way to know is to see it coming.” That wasn’t an answer. The frame lurched and lowered Venet to the ground. “You go back to your people. It’ll turn out alright, trust me.”
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Re: ZERO

Postby Omniscient Frog » Fri Oct 26, 2018 1:59 pm

Chapter 6:

Debrief

A shuttle came to collect the Sage, maintenance drones setting to work on repairs as soon as Kara left the cockpit. A few moments later, Captain Salero’s Pharaoh frame rose into the storage bay, locking into place as the carrying cable disconnected from its back and the panel behind it closed, sealing the craft airtight as it began its ascent out of the atmosphere.

The Pharaoh’s hatch opened, and Captain Salero jumped out of the cockpit, removing his helmet and sweeping long, ribbony locks of hair out of his face in one smooth motion.

“Zhal,” he acknowledged.

Kara sighed. “I horqed up, didn’t I? I got spotted by the target and put the mission in jeopardy.”

“On the contrary.” The captain grabbed a datapad and began entering a mission report. “The mission was a complete success. You located the target, relayed with command, and withdrew. That was your mission. Your extraction, however…”

“I was caught off guard,” Kara argued.

“You panicked. You are a member of Zero Company, the elite of the elite. We don’t get ‘caught off guard,’ and we most certainly do not let a child make a fool of us.”

“They were unarmed, I wasn’t going to-”

“What? You weren’t going to hurt them? You weren’t going to fight for your life? And yet you radioed for backup, hoping someone else would finish the job for you.”

Kara had no response.

“Having a conscience is admirable, Zhal, but if it costs you your life, if you’re not willing to fight in spite of it, then you aren’t fit to be in Zero Company.”
There was a long, tense silence before the captain sighed. “That being said, we have bigger problems right now.”

“How so?”

“According to those colonists, they got the Onyx frames from an unnamed third party. Someone is selling old Simulacrum models, which means they’ve found somewhere to get those models from.”

“How? We don’t make Onyx anymore, and the production factories slagged all the existing units.”

“Evidently not. The boss wants us to run an investigation, see if any of the factories ended up keeping a few in reserve.”

“So… does that mean I’m still on the team?” Kara asked nervously.

“We’ll discuss your aptitude once the investigation is done.” The captain closed his datapad and put a hand on her shoulder. “Kara. Prove to me that you have what it takes.”

Kara nodded. She wouldn’t falter again.

-----

The final chapter is complete. Let me know what you thought -- things you liked, areas I could improve, etc.
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Re: ZERO

Postby Mantisking » Fri Nov 09, 2018 3:25 pm

Omniscient Frog wrote:The final chapter is complete. Let me know what you thought -- things you liked, areas I could improve, etc.

I enjoyed it. Looking forward to reading more.
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