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GALVESTON:

We had a problem. Someone or something was making our sniper turrets go offline. The Outskirts needed this protection because unlike any other region of Jeurridam, we were short on manpower, this wasn’t acceptable in any way. We had to investigate.

Zanir, Swish and I stood on a spire, thousands of feet above the ground where the first turret sat nestled. It was on the border of the Outskirts and in an incredibly hard location to get to. Upon investigation, the site was unsettling.

“Oh my God…” Zanir said, almost drawn to gagging. The turret’s rear panelling was ripped out and it’s silicate tubing was severed. He held his mouth, gasping as he walked around it.

“Something drained it’s circulatory fluid.” He said.

“Circulatory fluid?” I asked.

“Yeah, cytotrolic acid. It’s what makes mechs more than mecks but not quite alive.” He said, still horrified by the sight, “This is gruesome…who’d do this?”

“Gruesome? They’re machines…” I said. He looked at me angrily.

“They can think and function independently. They can feel! This thing was fixed in one spot and probably knew it was in danger well before it actually got attacked. It couldn’t do anything but sit here and… be… drained…” Zanir responded defensively. I had not thought about it in that way before.

“I didn’t think of it like that.” I said.

“How did you?” Zanir began, “Activate these turrets?”

“They were already here, dormant. I setup the wireless network in this region and the turrets became active upon detecting it and followed my every command. They were never encrypted which is why I used them.” I said.

“Ok…” Zanir said, thinking about it, “So…someone climbed all the way up here to take this machine’s circulatory fluid…it overheated and short circuited… I gotta see more.”

“Alright…” I responded.

We spent the rest of the day, climbing to view more and more destroyed turrets. To Zanir, it was hard to view. We sat in the garage, all distraught.

“…And none of your feeds show what could be doing this.” Zanir said, truly stumped.

“Well it needs to end… These turrets have protected us for years!” I said growing frustrated.

“It is a very precious commodity, cytotrolic acid if you can’t synthesize it.” Zanir said, “And I need some for the completion of the cyberlope…”

“Really?” I asked.

“Yeah…” He said, “It was already a chore recycling and cleaning the circulatory fluid for Big Daddy. I’m virtually out of it for the cyberlope and now someone is…stealing it.”

“Maybe,” June said, coming up the ramp, “You stole it for Big Daddy to begin with…” Zanir gave him the most deathly scowl.

“Nope,” Swish said in his defence, “The time lines don’t even add up. Plus I was here when he had to filtrate the circulation fluid.”

“And do you know how fucking hard it’d be to carry several gallons of acid from a thousand foot elevation down to sea level and then some?” Zanir responded, scowling at June. June smiled, walking back down the ramp.

“I’m only fucking with you, Zanir…” He laughed. Zanir was still upset.

“I wanna throw something at him…” Zanir said, boiling within his skin.

“Don’t throw anything at him…” I laughed. Zanir walked over to Big Daddy who’s reconstruction was very close to being completion. It was simply time for manual tuning.

“Sometimes we all want to hit June…” Swish sighed.

“OK,” I began, “So you need cytotrolic acid? Can I start off by asking what exactly cytotrolic acid is?”

“It’s,” Zanir said, tightening the bolts on the chest plate for Big Daddy, “A very caustic acid that oxidizes pretty much anything non-organic or complex in chains.”

“Why would you need something so dangerous sounding?” Swish asked.

“It’s what all mechs need to function, I’m afraid and it’s not all that dangerous.” Zanir responded, steadily tweaking the giant mech.

“Can we just use the acid in the pools around The Outskirts?” I asked, truly clueless.

“No,” Zanir replied, “It doesn’t have the properties of cytotrolic acid. Cytotrolic acid is what I need to make liquid flesh. Plus the acid in those pools can corrode anything. That’s dangerous acid!”

“OK, Zanir, I’m going to need you to explain more clearly.” Swish said. Zanir paused, thinking hard.

“I don’t know what else I can say. I have the silicate made, the exoskeleton made and the majority of the electronics made… All I need is the acid.” He responded, looking at the far table where the cyberlope lay. It was so gorgeous, an elk sized machine made to look natural in it’s own right. But still, something wasn’t right. I knew Zanir long enough to know when he was hiding something. He never was vague, always going into plenty of detail. Why not this time?

“What are you not telling us?” I asked, growing worried.

“A lot.” He sighed, not bothering to lie. It was kind of cute…

“Well spill!” Swish responded, growing frustrated.

“It’s not that simple, Swish.” Zanir said, shaking his casino oyna head, truly not wanting to talk about it, “I need the acid… Can you locate it for me?”

“You built one before. How’d you come across the acid then?” Swish asked.

“I drained a mech after being trapped in a vault for weeks. I had to filter the acid with limited resources which was a ton of work…” Zanir said back.

“Where did you find the mech?” Swish continued. Silence fell upon us all. It was clear that Zanir didn’t want to reveal where.

“…Sloan…” He finally said.

“SLOAN!” I said, shocked.

“I went by myself. I knew it was dangerous but I didn’t care… I needed it. I was a child, tens of twenties of miles away from home digging for decrepit mechs. I knew it was dangerous but I had no choice.” He finally confessed.

“You were in Sloan Canyons… by your self? And you were a kid then?” Swish asked.

“Yeah…” Zanir sighed. He still wasn’t detailing much. Something traumatizing must had happened.

“You’re a little badass…” Swish said shocked.

“So,” I began, “Are we going to have to go to Sloan?” Zanir sighed, closing his eyes.

“I’m afraid so…” He said, full of dread, “I’ll…I’ll go by myself.”

“No, that’s not going to happen!” I said, quickly refuting it.

“What’s not going to happen?” Beth asked, coming up the ramp.

“We may have to head to Sloan.” I said. Her face dropped, dreading the very idea.

“Sloan?”

“Yeah.” Zanir responded.

“Sloan the town or Sloan Canyon?” She asked.

“Sloan Canyon…” Zanir responded, this sounding worse and worse with every passing moment.

“Well…” Beth responded, trying to find the right words.

“What happened when you went the first time?” Swish asked.

“I got trapped in a vault by a mech and was there for weeks. I got lost in the tunnels and there were mechs down there too. It was just terrifying. I didn’t have any of this shit I had now so I was defenseless against these mechs.” Zanir said, continuing to be more vague than usual.

“How’d you get out?” I asked.

“I came across some machinery while in the vault, a decommissioned Big Daddy in one of the recesses. I started prying it apart, seeing what worked, what I could use. I made a stun staff out of some of the solenoids on the mech and decided to take my chances out in the canyon. I didn’t want to die in the tunnels. I just couldn’t come to leaving though, so I went back to the Big Daddy…just staring at it. I saw this clear fluid dripping out of a broken hydraulic tube. It left corrosive stains on the floor and I realized it was the cytotrolic acid I was looking for. I took the jars out of my pack and drained the acid out of the mech. It was tainted, bad but I had what I came for. As I walked back and forth through the safer areas of the vault, I stumbled across a map I overlooked a few dozen times. It detailed a long, five mile tunnel that led to a vault exit in Henderson. I um… took my chances and went to the northern stretch of the vault where all the live mechs were. The staff I made, had a powerful EMP built into it that would shut down any mech in vicinity. It was a home-free card!” Zanir finally explained fully.

“Wait, that was where you were when you disappeared for three weeks?” Beth asked.

“Yeah.” Zanir chuckled.

“How old were you?” Swish asked.

“Twelve.” Zanir smiled, knowing it would be hard to believe. Swish was further shocked, not believing it at all.

“You can’t be serious.” Swish said, full of skepticism.

“I’m serious…” Zanir said, eyebrows raised.

“He’s telling the truth,” Beth said, “My mom and dad were worried out of there minds the entire time he was messing. We all thought he ran away.”

“You had ambition…” Swish said, truly impressed.

“Well that was really the last day I had true freedom.” Zanir sighed. Beth looked around.

“Where’s Heaven?” She asked.

“I don’t know. He’s probably still at work. You know he loves cooking.” Zanir laughed.

“So are we going to Sloan?” I asked once again, having to be sure.

“I’m afraid so.” I sighed.

“Shit…” Beth said, this being truly daunting news.

Sloan was a quarantine zone. The entire canyon was fenced for hundreds of miles just to keep the people out and the inhabitants in. It was well known that the canyons had old war mechs but it is believed that an alien race inhabits the many vaults of the canyon. It could be local folklore but considering strange life forms unlike anything we’ve seen have been dredged up from the Bay of Vegas, it did not warrant a dismissal. It’d be a major concern.

“Zanir,” I began, causing the boy to look at me, “It’s just mechs there right? No creatures? I mean an EMP works great on machines but not creatures.”

“It’s why I don’t want anyone else to go. There’s something there… for sure.” Zanir said, still holding onto something he didn’t want to say.

“Forget it! I’m going!” I said, defiantly. Zanir looked at me for a long time, slot oyna those big honey eyes deep in thought.

“Going where?” Someone said from down the ramp. It was June, dark and twisted June. I could see Zanir’s face wad up at the mere idea of him. He came back up the ram, curious.

“Don’t worry about it, June.” I dismissed before returning back to Zanir, “What all will we need?”

“I’ll need a shit ton of acid so the most important thing is two large thirty-fifty gallon containers. These containers need to be made out of a strong ceramic because it is impervious to the acid. We’ll need supplies, radiation protection, food, water, weapons! The more people we have tagging along the more stuff we’ll need to carry. It’s why I need to do it alone.” Zanir insisted.

“Look,” I said grabbing him firmly by his shoulders, locking eyes with him, “You’re not going to Sloan by yourself! It’s the most dangerous place in the entire Mojave!”

“Sloan?” June asked, shocked, “I’m coming…”

“NO!!” Zanir shouted, very upset. Everyone in the garage looked at us.

“Zanir, I know you don’t want all these extra lives on your hands but the more people you have the better the odds!” I said, hoping to talk some sense into him.

“None of you know what it’s like! That place is terrible!” He said back, the horror written in his eyes.

“What place?” Someone said, walking up the ramp. It was Heaven, finally arriving from his kitchen job. Zanir shrieked out in frustration.

“We got a big mission, Heaven.” Beth said.

“Oooou where?” Heaven asked, truly excited. Zanir leaned across the table, those warm eyes turning into piercing rays.

“You’re not going!” He snarled. Heaven was unsure where this hostility was coming from but didn’t bother to question it.

“OK…?” He said backing away.

“Yeah, I wouldn’t recommend him coming either.” Swish said, looking at the boy from head to toe.

“But where though?” Heaven asked, concerned.

“We gotta go to Sloan.” I sighed. Heaven fell silent, the very idea robbing his tongue of words. He leaned on the table, uneased just by the thought. His head shook in disapproval.

“Well,” Beth began, “Let’s get this plan in action…”

“I like your spirit…” June teased, warranting an eyeroll from Beth.

“You can’t seriously be considering going, Beth?” Heaven asked.

“We need the manpower.” She said, knowing they had no other choice.

“Well if you’re going, I’m going!” Heaven said sternly, protective over his older sister.

“NO!” She said back.

“Look,” Zanir began, truly frustrated at this point, “You all are making this more damn complicated than it has to be! I’ll go at it by myself…” He got up, walking over to his laptop. Everyone looked at him, stupefied.

“And how are you supposed to carry two fifty gallon porcelain drums by yourself? How are you going to scour the entire canyon for traces of the acid in a timely manner? How are you gonna…?”

“I figured it out before! I’ll figure it out now,” Zanir said, quick to interrupt me.

“Zanir… This time, it’s a huge undertaking! You can’t deny that we’ve been a great help to you over the past two weeks so why stop now?” Beth said trying to reason with him. Zanir slowly closed his laptop, glaring at us all.

“None of you get it do you? Sloan will kill us all! It is not like the rest of Vegas where the only thing we have to worry about are banditos and rabid coyotes! There are giant territorial mechs that are nearly invincible behind those walls! Inside the vaults are countless smaller mechs that are just as dangerous. Not to mention, there’s something else! Something I’ve yet to experience but I can assure you that I know it’s there and it’s more dangerous than the vault mechs and the valley mechs combined…” He said.

“That’s all the more reason for us to come…” Beth said challengingly, standing with her arms folded. Zanir rolled his eyes.

“Look,” I said, walking over to him, “We’re coming… Whether you like it or not, we’re coming! We’ve been scouring this entire valley for bits and pieces to complete YOUR mechs! This is just another hazard that comes with the job…”

“OK,” Zanir said truly mortified, “But you all will have to listen to me! Sloan won’t be like anything you ever experienced before.”

“Don’t worry!” I said back, trying to reassure him. It was clear the poor boy was stressed. He just stood there shaking his head.

We spent the next few days organizing the mission down to the smallest details. We picked the most terrain proof buggies for transport, making sure they were analog. Zanir was clear that he didn’t want much digital equipment on this mission. He was particularly worried about the giant mech that ran him into the vault in the first place. He was just very stressed. Comforting him didn’t work either. He’d retaliate in a volatile way, and I just didn’t want to see him upset.

“Ok…” He said, standing on the ramp, “We’re definitely gonna need ya’ll.” He looked at Big Daddy and Orb resting canlı casino siteleri on their tables.

“You serious?” I asked. He looked at me as though I had some gall.

“Of course…” He responded with an unnecessary feel for justification. He sighed, beginning the boot process for both mechs.

Orb was still virtually the same, it’s damaged mantle being replaced as well as a few broken chipsets. Big Daddy, on the other hand had a big weight shave. He was no long incredibly bulky, covered in layers of armor. He was now lean, mean and built for speed. On top of that, the flight cog and parts from the destroyed Orb, were outfitted on Big Daddy. He was now capable of flight.

He still had his cannons, rocket array and that gorgeous candy apple red paint scheme. But the leaner look made him look more… lethal. We did a hell of a job with that reconstruction! Still though, it was nerve racking. He looked at his hands, surprised by the redesign as well. He stood up, feeling the four wings hanging on his back. He twisted around trying to look at them, flexing them. He looked at Zanir, hopping in place. A smile came across Zanir’s face, the first time in a while.

“So we’re gonna need him?” I asked.

“I’m afraid so…” He sighed. Big Daddy stood there shrugging. Zanir was confused, sighing, “I still gotta replace your speech cog…”

Big Daddy pointed to Zanir’s laptop. Cables ran from the laptop to Big Daddy’s spine. Zanir walked over, seeing text on the screen. He hit the spacebar.

“Thank you for the redesign but why such an early boot?” The computer read out.

“Um…” Zanir began, “Dad, we have to go to Sloan…”

“Well, that’s fine.” The computer said.

“Zanir.” I said.

“What?” He responded, not too kindly.

“Like…do I need my gun?” I asked. He began to laugh.

“Probably…” He said with an advisory tone. I wasted no time in unmounting the One-Shot-Drop and attaching it to one of the analog buggies’ turrets. Analog buggies were the toughest most durable of all buggies. No other buggy could claw it’s way up a vertical face and maneuver the way an analog buggy could. They had a very low center of gravity so they were stable at high speeds and could turn well. They weren’t very pretty though. They had ugly independent wheel mounts, a very hard to get to under-mounted engine and a wide wheel base that seemed cartoony. They simply looked like very disproportionate sand buggies. What made them look just plain hideous though was the monster turret on the hood. The hood was long and stretched out, reinforced to support the turret. This shit was made to do damage!!

“So…” I began, “What will I be shooting at?” Zanir paused for a while, scowling. I began to expect the worst, possibly another tongue lashing.

“I um…” He began, turning to me, “I have an idea…” Relief came like a cool breeze.

With the one-shot-drop, the plan was to dispatch one of the giant mechs from a far, drain it and get the hell out of dodge. However, we knew shit seldom went to plan. We knew there was a chance we’d be scouring the maze of canyons, running up against ferocious mechs. We knew we could end up down in the vaults, fleeing from the onslaught of mechs above us. We knew that there could be a never before faced threat in this canyon. Still though, we had to do what we had to do.

Probably the hardest and longest task was to find a material capable of holding the acid without corrosion. Swish had that job. He brought in two ceramic coated tin barrels. Zanir wasn’t pleased.

“NO!!” Zanir said frustrated, “The acid will eat right through the barrels…”

“Well what can I use?” Swish said, at his wits end. Zanir was proving to be very challenging to work with these days.

“Glass, dense glass.” Zanir responded. Swish sighed, going back on the hunt again. He found two giant urns, pH tested to withstand the strong acidity of even the pools acid from around The Outskirts. Zanir was very content with these kettle vases. We were relieved when Swish found it. Zanir was becoming increasingly difficult to work by the moment, probably due to a combination of stress over the success of the mission and worry over our safety during the mission. Overall, he was a joy to be around but under these conditions, I could care less for him. I understood though, there was a lot at stake and he had a lot to carry.

“You ready?” I asked him, simply to break the long silence.

“Are you?” He asked. It had a certain potency that caught me by surprise. I nodded as we stood, still daunted by the seventy five foot wall surrounding Sloan.

The Big Daddy and Orb lowered two hooks that connected to the first analog buggy. We were hoisted off the ground by the two powerful mechs, transported over the Sloan perimeter. It was very neveracking. It felt like we were touching down in an alien world. The second analog buggy dropped and it was now time to ride off into the canyon.

Zanir was glued to his laptop screen as I drove us deeper into the valley. He was scanning the ground with Orb and Big Daddy, building a detailed map of the terrain as well as anything in it. Beth and Heaven sat in the back seat, silently taking in the white walls of the cliffs around us. It was ghastly, having a remote ambiance about it…but beautiful.

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