*Circle of Life plays*
*stands up like Rafiki, holding this chapter*
*just freaking throws the chapter to the masses*
Content warning for some disturbing imagery. Better safe than sorry.
When the girl opened her eyes again, distorted screens flickered to life. The interface shimmered and crackled around the fractures in one of the screens, everything it displayed too scattered and broken to be of any use to her. She blinked it away to clear the clutter, but she could still barely see through the fractures of the glass. The other screen, the other eye, continued to flicker, but she could see something through it. She’d have to make it work.
Disconnecting from the Gun Raptor’s systems and walking across the deadscape as flesh and blood might’ve helped her see better, but it wasn’t a wise decision. She’d cave to the hunger, the thirst, and the fatigue that the Gun Raptor’s systems were already warning her about. As long as she stayed linked to the Gun Raptor, broken as it was, she had some chance at surviving.
Each step she took made her metal joints groan, and her left leg sparked with torn wires and steel. She passed by the broken remnants of other mechs, heads torn from torsos, limbs crunched into unrecognizable heaps. She wondered if the pilots were still inside, alive or torn like their mechs. She decided not to think about it.
But they had been abandoned, much like she had, and there was nothing she could do for them, not when she could barely help herself. The thought made her heart ache, an unfamiliar feeling. She wanted to help them, even though she was crossing a field of enemies. Her training told her to see them as such. But didn’t they all bleed the same?
It felt strange to ponder it. That when the fight was over, all that remained were broken bodies of metal and bone. No nation lines, no grim orders of death, only the aftermath. She was supposed to think nothing of it, but now that she had been abandoned in it, she thought of it and questioned it freely. What a tricky thing that was, to be left alone with such thoughts and questions.
The thoughts echoed within her head, and from the deadscape, there were no answers. The dried and cracked lands, the twisted and empty buildings in the distance, the graveyard of mechs and their pilots around her, and the harsh sun against an uncaring cloudy sky offered no hope, poised instead to crush the souls of those trapped within.
She pressed on through it all, regardless. She could help no one except herself, would help no one except herself. She was only a young girl with no power, well, no power that mattered to this wasteland. The Gun Raptor could barely move. She could barely move. Her only hope, if there could be such a thing, was that all her enemies were dead or dying, and none could attack her. But then, all of her allies would be dead or dying, too.
Her left leg gave out and she stumbled forward, regaining her balance before she could fall and crush the smaller vehicles below her. Pain shot up through her left leg when she stood again, and she favoured her right leg more and more with each step, even as it too protested in agony. She wondered if her flesh and blood legs felt the same pain, or if they weren’t as broken as the Gun Raptor’s. The pain felt real all the same.
Survive. She clung to that word, that simple word, even as she questioned what it really meant. Survive on this day, to fight again and die? Keep fighting, keep surviving, keep killing, until what? She had known nothing except war, death, and suffering. She had been born into it, no, created for it. She had never seen the world outside the Complex until the Gun Raptor was bonded to her, and she to the Gun Raptor. The world was dangerous, even more dangerous to those without a mech.
And yet, she remembered, mech pilots were few when compared to the humans still left on Earth. She hadn’t questioned it when she was younger, why most people lived in what few cities remained and those like her were sent out into the deadscapes to fight and die. Now that she could see what she was fighting for, a part of her wished she could charge into one of those pristine cities and carve symbols of rage and suffering into its glass with her claws and bring its unreal perfection down to the world that surrounded it, to the world that died around it.
Was she truly born to fight and die for a land that was already dead and for a people that were dead from within? The leader of the mech pilots, her leader, had said they were fighting for a good cause. They were fighting to protect the last remnants of their civilization. Fighting to reclaim land that once belonged to China.
China. She mulled over that name and what it represented. She could barely speak to it, she knew nothing of its people or its culture, she realized. She had never been a part of it, and none of her mech pilot siblings had been, either. They were locked away from it.
India. Vietnam. Japan. Australia. America. Russia. With no rhyme or reason, the names flooded her conscious. Indonesia. Canada. England. Bangladesh. Egypt. Nigeria. Over and over, every name she had memorized.
Italy. Chile. Mexico. Korea. South Africa. France. Her head ached, all of the names and their flags and their mechs blurring together. She hadn’t truly learned to distinguish them, couldn’t remember who was friend or enemy. Enemies, she had been taught to meet steel with steel, fang with fang, claw with claw, death with death.
Some of those nations didn’t even exist anymore, she remembered. Not even a single city remained of some of them, their lands and histories trapped within the deadscapes forever. She couldn’t remember which nations those were, hadn’t been able to care until now, when she was alone with her thoughts and so, so near death. Nearer to death she had ever been before.
Her left leg sparked and groaned again when she stepped over a crumpled Spear Tigon that had its own spear lodged through its eye sockets, likely piercing the pilot that had been inside. Though faded, she saw the Indian flag painted on the shoulder it wasn’t lying on. This mech was far older than the Korean mechs she had left behind.
She wondered, idly, if they were like her. If they too had been born and raised inside the violence, fighting and dying to protect cities of diamonds standing amongst the deadscapes, beacons of hope to a world that had none. How many believed in it, fought for it until their dying breaths? How many died in doubt like she would surely do?
No. She wouldn’t let herself die, even as her body yearned to rest and never wake. She couldn’t say what was beyond death, didn’t have the energy to ponder it, couldn’t care whether it was good or bad. Only that she wanted to live as she was, to reach out to the illuminated city and touch it. To be free of pain, if only for a moment. Then, only then, would she allow herself to pass.
Thirteen years. Thirteen years. Thirteen years. That was too young, too young, too young. A testament to her will, perhaps, that she had lived so long. Their leader was the oldest, and if not for her, she wouldn’t know someone like them could live to be twenty. She wanted to live that long. Wanted to live longer. But not like this.
She forced herself to hold her mechanical head high, trying to avoid looking at the crushed vehicles and the derelict mechs at her feet. Tried not to look at the ruins on the ground, but looking up only made her see the broken, abandoned buildings that towered above, leaning in ways they shouldn’t have, threatening to fall apart and bury her in the sand with the others.
Here, there was no peace. Here, there was no life. Here, there was only emptiness and the despair that it brought. Just as Axel could see no end to the desolate expanse through damaged eyes, she could see no future for herself. The physical and mental worlds had stopped.
Have I mentioned I hate this chapter? After several rewrites, this is the best I can manage and I’m still not happy with it, urgghhhhh…
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