One fundamental fact about Humanity that you have to embrace is this: We will do things for aesthetics, even if it’s suboptimal – or impractical.
This extends from our personal lives (pants are the enemy at home but they protect me when I cook bacon) to our entertainment (No your dinner doesn’t have to be plated like that but you’re paying too much for it anyway so why not) all the way to engineering… eccentricities. Roads to nowhere, a Bridge over the river Kwai – you know the deal.
Point being, when you get enough engineers in a room and tell them, literally, that they have infinite resources, you’re gonna get some very interesting ideas come out, most of which are impractical, redundant, or outright insane – again, par for the course. Some, like the self-adapting roomba, get approval and widespread adoption. Others…
…we don’t talk about the ez-puff turkey baster.
Unit ZERO ONE sat somewhere firmly in the middle of the two, a fever dream of practicality and aesthetics brought to heel. The design dream of every engineer since the early 1980’s has been to build a Gundam, or at least a Mecha, and go stomp around Eastern Europe/Neo-Tokyo/Wherever the hell DBZ took place and shootbang… aesthetically. You can’t look me in the eyes and tell me that Robotech swarm missiles aren’t perfect just the way they are, or that transformation sequences aren’t aesthetic as hecc, or that having a gun that shoots colorful lasers isn’t the future. Go on, I dare you.
Well. I know you don’t have it in you to do so, dear reader, but the Human Military-Industrial complex does. And the unfortunate truth that we’ll all have to face one day is that Mechs, while absolutely the future, are also absolutely useless. Massive multi-hundred or thousand ton machines standing on two legs? Congrats, all but the most re-enforced bedrock may as well be quicksand, or mud. With an impressive height profile comes the fact that cover/concealment (other than skyscrapers or, yanno, mountains) doesn’t really exist. Having two hands, while absolutely bitchin’ cause you got thumbs doesn’t help when you have to switch weapons, or carry them, or manually reload. And if you get an arm blown off, it’s not like you can just… use the other arm to fire both weapons (or keep your balance). That’s not counting the pointy/janky armor, the multiple nuclear reactors you’d need working at full tilt to power the thing, the fact that any form of jump-jet or jets in general would look less like an aesthetic glide across the ground and more like the fucking Challenger exploding multiple times in a single place and… well.
Aesthetics has to give way to practicality. Sometimes. And so the Human Military had the guts to tell their engineering department to stop building mecha and testing them, and to scrap everything they were doing and build actual, functional tanks and planes and ships. This only caused roughly half the engineering department to weld shut their assembly bay doors and declare themselves a Democratic Republic, but that tin pot dictatorship lasted only as long as the coffee supply.
So a deal was struck. Unit ZERO ONE was a Mecha… kinda. Barely. If you closed one or both eyes and dreamed a bit.
Unit ZERO ONE rose from the burning wreckage that it’s hot drop caused, tank treads helping it rotate towards the other landing pad. It was short and stout; almost like an oversized attack helecopter’s cockpit if it had a couple hundred pounds to lose around the waist, with a mean-looking tri-linked barrel below where the sole pilot sat. Jutting out of either side of the janky-looking box were two very small manipulator arms; at first glance it looked like one of those extender-picker arms that the elderly used to get things from very high/very low places, but with closer inspection these were painted a matte black (and as we all know, that means tacticool). The machine sputtered to life, engine roaring as it shifted into a second gear, a half-dozen microdrones escaping out the sides and back like a swarm of angry bees. With a surge of energy the grips on the treads began to glow, and the tank’s magneto-gravitic field kicked in, letting it hover just a few inches off the ground.
-Arms: Check (Technically)
-Legs: Check (Technically)
-Jump Jets: Check (Technically)
-Crazy-looking machine with awesome sharp angles: Check (Technically)
-Solo Pilot: Check (this one is accurate)
-Swarm Missiles: Check (BM-21’s strapped to the back count, damnit.)
-Laser Gun: WIP (we can’t all be winners)
Therefore Technically a Gundam.
The Therefore Technically a Gundam UNIT ZERO ONE’s pilot clicked the intercom on his side panel, rolling his shoulders. “WELL HELLO THERE FELLOW HUMANS!” He enthusiastically yelled a bit too loudly, the adrenaline of dropping from high-orbit onto burning wreckage with the knowledge that he was the killiest motherfucker in the tri-state area causing him to forget to use his inside voice. “TELL ME, EXACTLY WHO IS IN CHARGE HERE?”
20 different hands pointed in 20 different directions; a few of them straight up.
“BUT THAT’S THE WRONG ANSWER. IT WAS ME. IT WAS ME ALL ALONG.” He growled through the Technically a Gundam’s speakers, hovering menacingly in place.
“CHICKPEA, do you copy?”
Lt. Heinz blinked and flicked off the intercom as his helmet finally re-established secure communications with La Chancla. “What… fucking, what. I thought it was CHICKADEE?”
“Well, fuck it, you’re CHICKPEA now. Drones are up, we’re getting a live feed. Can you please stop spooking the locals?”
Lt. Heinz wrinkled his nose a bit, sniffing hard. “Don’t see what all the fuss is about – look at all the model citizens before us, ready to answer all my questions!”
“You’re pointing the Warthog at them, so yeah. I’d answer too – but that’s also threatening civilians, so, yanno. Stop that.”
“Fine, fine. So what’s up HONDURAS?”
Lt. Heinz sat in his cockpit and thought for a few brief moments. “We’re not letting Amir give us codenames while he’s hungry ever again.”
“No arguments here. Anyway, facial recognition scans have given us what we needed – HUD updating now.” HUMMUS said as icons and indicators popped up on CHICKPEA’s visor. He pointedly looked at the group of aliens on the tarmac; names, ages, security clearances, job descriptions – all enriched, appended data flowed into his vision, and just as quickly as he took it all in he dismissed them almost wholly outright.
Kids. Well, “Kids”. On one hand, CHICKPEA was kinda jealous at their lifespans; their young adults were older than any human, ever. On the other hand, 80 years of puberty? Yeesh.
“I don’t think that’s how it works, CHICKPEA. Also, focus. That’s the Aleman family – the one between the two fluffies – is our most likely mark.”
CHICKPEA flicked on his speakers again. “YOU THERE, BOY IN THE STREET.”
The Dorarizin pointed at himself, which was just enough of a gap for the human he was bear-hugging to shimmy out of his grip. With an unceremonious thump Thomas Aleman freed himself from his furry prison, landing squarely on his butt.
“Yes. YOU. …How you doin’?”
“I – uh. What? You’re with the UTF?”
Distantly, and far away, there was a sound so low and so deep that it wasn’t heard, or felt; it just was. It was an Opening, an Awakening.
“Fuck yeah I am-”
“CHICKPEA. Professionalism, please.”
“-eer. Yes. We noticed a few… discrepancies with air traffic control and decided to stop by and say hello, make sure you are all doing ok.” Lt. Heinz said, slipping into his I-have-to-be-a-professional-the-corps-counts-on-me mode.
“Uh. Y-yeah, Well the-”
There was a soft, barely-audible moan on the breeze.
“[I am sorry, but this citizen is under the protection of the [Gentle Expanse] Planetary Defense Forces, and will not answer an inquiry unless they have an advocate present and have been charged wi-]”
“Literally who the fuck is talking to you, Fido?” CHICKPEA growled, his Actually a Mecha shutup it’s real turning to fully face his accuser. “I don’t see a badge on you, I don’t answer to you, and if you’re going to kidnap my people-”
“[This was an emergency rescue miss-]”
With a mighty Luchador/Matador cry the ancient and sinewed muscles of Ricardo Aleman, patriarch of the Aleman clan, Gripped the confused, bruised, and not-at-all-bemused Jornissian pilot under his arms. Using his very long spine against him he ran up the wall of the transport ship and leapt, pulling the pilot backwards. Rolling up into a ball he pulled back, the alien snake’s head leading the way for it’s body to follow. With a tremendous THUMP the top of the pilot’s head connected with the pavement, bouncing in a very unfortunate way.
Ricardo pulled himself up from the limp Jornissian and held his arms up high, yelling a challenge to the skies.
“[Why. Just. Why.]”
“TAG ME OUT-”
A half-dozen hands slapped their father’s, and the train of people’s elbows began again in earnest. CHICKPEA nodded to himself as his drones recorded a perfect example of civilian CQC.
“He remembered the basics. Good, good.”
“[PLEASE stop attacking the pilot! He flies for You-]”
“FIDO. Eyes up here, hands where I can see’em.”
The combat-suited Dorarizin growled, stepping infront of the civilians. “[This will NOT stand, and I will have an inquiry launched-]”
Distantly, and far away, there was a rush of air so strong and so diffuse that nobody felt it as much as a breeze, but it hit everyone evenly – a great exhalation, a Rising.
“And yet, I still don’t give a fuck. Until you answer all the questions I and my team have, you’ll sit here and be thankful that this gun has a safety on it.”
“[You do realize that we’ve already called for backup, right? And that this little fiasco is going to be recorded for everyone to see?]”
“Oh. We’re counting on it – because you do realize I’m more than ok with killing everyone here and then myse-”
“Yeah, fuck I know, professionalism, but did you hear this cu-”
“NO. Incoming signatures-”
“AYYYY.” Lt. Heinz cheered over the speakers, tilting his mecha up into the skies. “FINALLY.”
“[Y-You’re not seriously going to fire on friendly PDF forces-]”
“Öööööööööö” the wind seemed to say, a rippling chorus of voices agreeing as one.
“I don’t know, Fido – PDF forces aren’t seriously going to kidnap and move Human Civilians without notifying our unified government, now are they?”
Lt. Heinz didn’t see it, for there was no way he could know, but Zngrer’s face went pale. “[N-no. This was a rescue mission-]”
“For what, Hmm? Cause I don’t know if you know this, but I’m not anti-personnel, I’m anti-aircraft.” With a hoot he shut off his speakers, quickly running through various sub-routines to bring his weapons online. “So what do we got, HUMMUS?”
“I uh. I don’t know?”
“IF IT BLEEDS I CAN KILL IT-”
“No fuck off with that – seriously! There’s some ships headed towards you, fine, some headed… away, and civvie ships – all that’s easy to filter. It’s… it’s like a cloud.” HUMMUS murmured, looking over the telemetry and sensor data.
“Sensor suite is saying it looks like a cloud – a migration of… what the fuck is that?”
Not so far away now, there was another Opening, a Steadying – the few clouds parted, and the stars began to wink out one by one. It was a Flight, a Dominance.
Lt. Heinz thought for a few moments again. The enemy of my enemy is still a sonofabitch, but danger makes strange bedfellows which is why you should always not ever never use condoms.
“Hey-” He said, flicking the now heavily-worn speaker switch back on. “What’s moving in the night, en mass to make it seem like a cloud, and headed right towards us?”
“The back of my han-”
“They’re Moths. They’re fucking giant Moths.” Thomas said, standing up and dusting himself off. “They swarmed us in the wilds, destroyed everything.”
“…No really, pull the other one. It’s got bells on.”
“He’s not lying” HUMMUS interjected, a slight static hiss tingling CHICKPEA’s ears. “They look like giant fucking moths, and they’re coming right at you.”
“ÖÖÖÖÖÖÖÖÖÖÖÖ” The night said, louder and more insistently.
“……. So can I-”
“I mean, I guess.” HUMMUS murmured, giving an audible shrug. “I just don’t know what the fuck is going on with my sensors.”
“What do you mean, you don’t know? HUMMUS. What aren’t you telling me?”
“[What is your food not telling you? What?]”
“Fido – Fuck, am I still on public vox?”
“This… can’t be right. Nothing that – no. That can’t be right-” HUMMUS started to repeat, the sound of a mechanical keyboard clacking hard in the background. “NO. I mean, No. That’s – no. Literally How-”
So much closer now, that it had been picked up on sensors – on everyone’s sensors. An outline, an impression, a thousand thousand thousand small thralls making their way to civilization, pushed forward. It was Mottenacht, it was La Noche de La Mariposa Nocturna, it was a Reckoning 5,000 years in the making. It was. The stars began to wink out closer, wider, greater, a vast stretch ended in the moonless sky as the Opening pushed downward, a gust of wind blowing hard enough to interrupt all others.
“How does something that fucking big even EXIST-”
“HUMMUS, I need you to talk to me – what is it I’m seeing?”
As one everyone looked to the sky – to the fireships that arrived too late, to the swarm of terror-beasts that had started to circle the largest “hot” fire the planet had seen in millenia, to the stars that winked out and the clouds that were pushed away. Spreading her mighty wings it seemed to split and lift the sky, the pressure differential lifting some of the smaller livestock right off the ground, the interocitor-fueled-fire seeming to rise at it’s call.
“[I thought that was a legend to scare chicks home at night.]” sighed Wiggles as she limply sat down, the majesty of the beast above her overwhelming the senses.
“[E-everyone. I need everyone. I need EVERYONE.]” The spec-ops Dorarizin began to chant, half as a plea for help over open comms and half as some sort of mantra to possibly ward off …
“[No… no way.]” Persimmons muttered. “[That’s a… that’s a…]”
Little Juan held Eggsmereda tightly as he stared into the fire-lit inky black, too young to fear death, truly, but old enough to know it.
“It’s a Mother.”