I was captivated to read a short story by long time IonFan and devotee to the Shia Khan the talented Aris Kolehmainen. I will admit I thought up the title of this tale but that aside the penmanship of this work is entirely of Aris creation. What will an ancient sentient intellect of war do when it finds kindred ship with a young knight? A grav bike steed is a thing of beauty. So without further ado read on for Bonding Cubed! GBS
• • •
“I never said I loved him.”
[[You didn’t have to. He knew.]]
“I’ll never have the chance.”
[[There was nothing you could do.]]
“But I could have–“
“I might have–“
[[Focus. 2 o’clock, 38°pro]]
Claire snapped around the corner and looked up, her Angis rifle’s auto-trainer locking in with her eyes, while she allowed her suit to assist her aim. In seconds, three Maligs were reduced to three gouts of blackish green viscera. The mag light flashed in her HUD as her ammo read zero, without thinking she cocked the bolt, ejected the spent magazine, and slammed a new one in it’s place.
[[Movement, 3 and 10, inbound. 15 seconds. Move.]]
“Where? I don’t see an exit.”
[[Scanning… South south-east. Over that pile of rubble.]]
She looked at the pile, it was enormous. Several floors of the building must have come down there. Had she not spent her jump fuel, it would have been an easy escape. Climbing that even with suit assistance would leave her exposed for too long. At her waist, soft bag of ornate leather held a small cube about the size of her armoured fist. She could almost feel the frustration emanating off of it.
[[You can do this.]]
[[He wouldn’t want you to die.]]
The rubble pile was worse than she imagined, for every foothold was an awkward jut of rubbacrete or re-bar. But she climbed. Quick as she could she manoeuvred around the obstructions, but her eyes were only half on the task. Her attention was split between the treacherous climb, and her HUD which now showed movement five seconds out, and with at least another eight meters to climb.
Five meters left. The blips on her HUD were getting brighter, louder.
[[We’re almost there.]]
Two meters left. The blips are an angry red now, she could hear the sound of footsteps, and something much larger.
[[Hurry. They brought a Psychoborg.]]
She crested the rubble and rolled quickly over, slamming her fist onto the Chameleon Circuit control. There was a nearly inaudible hum as her armour began to redirect the light around her, and her body vanished into rubble.
Quietly she crawled up to the ledge, and peered over. Several Legionnaires slowly entered the room, their rifles training, seeking a target. Claire didn’t move, she forced herself to stay still, slow her breathing. They moved over to where she had been only moments before, spinning around the corner weapons ready to strike, or impale, someone hiding there. One of them pointed up to where the Maligs had been and where their internals now decorated a wall. One of the Legionaries who was wearing a white cape over his grey fatigues and neon green armour examined the scene for a moment before pressing a button on his wrist.
A moment later, a loud and rhythmic thumping began to grow. Claire could feel the hairs raise on her arms, and her heart rate was increasing. Claire knew the symptoms of a Humascare Field from briefing, but it didn’t make it any less pleasant. When the Psychoborg emerged, she forced herself not to gasp. A monster of metal, crafted in the likeness of a great skeletal demon. It took in the room with glowing eyes, it’s head slowly panning from left to right. There was something about the way it moved... its reactions were too lithe, its movements too exact, and it’s fingers seemed to twitch as if in anticipation. By all battlefield accounts, it was supposed to be just a robot, but machines shouldn't move like that.
It scanned the room again, its massive head slowly panning the room. It gestured and spoke in a guttural, monotone voice to the caped figure, who nodded curtly back at it. With that, the legionaries began briskly moving away in the direction they had come, with the Psychoborg following them at its own pace. Claire watched them leaving and prepared herself to move. Without warning, the Psychoborg whipped itself around, it’s massive weapon pointed directly at her, barrels spinning.
There was no hesitation this time. The Psychoborg roared as its weapon began to hose her location with metallic death. She rolled back, ducking the initial shots and ran. A lucky bullet caught her pauldron as she turned, shorting out her Chameleon Circuit. In the half second that her body was visible and exposed, her blue armour went black in half a dozen places, as it bubbled and melted away from the impact of a half dozen laser contacts.
But still she ran...
* * *
She didn’t remember how far she ran, or for how long. She didn’t remember stumbling though the ruins of the mall into the open. Nor did she remember holding onto what remained of her arm, severed by laser impacts. She didn’t remember collapsing in front of a mighty Taranis tank, or the honourable Baron Aldo Murdo himself lifting her off the ground to rushing her to the Med Corps. What she did remember was the terror, the loss, and the pain.
When she finally opened her eyes, all she could see was white. Her first thought was that she had died. It was plausible enough, considering what she could remember. But as her eyes began to focus, she realized she was laying in a Med-Op bed. Still fighting off exhaustion, she tried to lift the covers, but nothing happened. She looked down and saw that where her left arm was, there now wasn’t. Panic set in, and she tried to scramble up, but a gentle, firm hand kept her in place.
“Rest child. You have done your Princess proud.” The deep baritone voice of the Bannerette seemed to resonate deep within her and she allowed herself to lay back down. Like all Bannerettes he was a hulking figure in powered armour. His blue Alwite armour intricately carved with arcane symbols of his brotherhood, and over this, a ceremonial crimson robe with gold trim. Rarely was a Bannerette seen in public in anything but full battle attire, and it seemed now was no exception.
“Where am I?” Speaking hurt, her throat felt dry and chapped. Sensing this, the Bannerette took a glass of water from a near table and helped her drink. The cup was tiny in the Bannerette’s mighty gauntlet, Claire thought it might have been humorous to her if she hadn’t been in the shape she was in.
“You are on the Cassillis Portable Castle ‘Endless Vigil’, we have left the planet some time ago.”
The Bannerette raised his hand gently in a warding gesture, catching her thoughts before she spoke them.
“No. No, not a retreat. We have gained ground. The Princess is cycling out the front line. There are many wounded, and many more tired. Fresh knights and muster will secure our victory.”
The Bannerette pressed the release on his helmet, allowing her to see his face. He was old. Not just old for a solider, but old. Long braided grey hair fell to the side of his head, a short grey beard streaked with dark black, and eyes deep as the ancient oceans and nearly as blue.
“Fear not, young one. Your loss was not in vein,” his eyes softened a with sympathy, “Nor was his.”
Clair pushed herself into a sitting position gingerly, determined to hold some dignity over herself, especially in the presence of one such as him. She was still a Knight, even without an arm and put though the gnashing teeth of the Khanate, only to be spit out. The Bannerette watched her patiently as she awkwardly righted herself in the bed.
“My lord, may I speak bluntly?”
He arched an eyebrow, and smiled, “You may, yes.”
“I understand that I am in bad shape, but I am sure there are worse than I and of much higher rank. I am not a knight of any particular renown or standing, so I wonder why you are here at my bedside?”
The Bannerette chuckled as he pulled from his robe a cube. It was bronze in color, metallic, and slightly larger than her hand, it took her a moment to remember but right when it clicked the Bannerette spoke.
“A Ventus Cube. A venerable one, too. Normally, a cube will be destroyed with the death of its owner. It is a merciful act. However a handful passed down from age to age. They gain knowledge, and experience of life times. This is a Ventus that remembers.”
Claire sat straighter in her bed.
“This Ventus was beholden to the Noble house of Baron Harkill, whom was slain in the line of duty to his Princess. As you know, a Ventus Cube is quite the rarity. Both to see one, and more so to own one. However, we at the Tor have come upon quite the perplexing mystery with this Ventus' emotional matrix and subverted bonding algorithms.”
“I… I don’t understand?”
The Bannerette smiled. “Of course not, our ways are not your ways. Suffice to say, under normal circumstance, it is we who choose whom will receive a Ventus Cube. An artificial intelligence that grants curious power, and prestige to those whom attain one. However-”
[[I wish to remain with Claire]]
She stared at the cube for a long moment, startled.
“House Harkill is ancient, and holds firm to the Code, as they always have. Upon news of this development, they wish to bestow this Ventus upon you, in line with the wish of the cube itself. They feel that your sacrifice in the line of duty is worthy merit in your inheriting of their family's ancestral cube."
The Bannerette placed the cube on the bed in front of her, gingerly and gently as if laying down a newborn child.
"You realize, of course, the honour that comes with being given the privilege of maintaining a Ventus Cube? Well, I believe that this honour is greater still as this time, perhaps even the first time so far as the Grand Archivist could find, a Ventus has chosen its possessor. Now, would you accept ancient, and time-honoured responsibility that comes with the possession and privilege of the Ventus?”
Her mind swam. This was unheard of in so many ways. She stared at the cube, wondering how things would change for her, and as she did, the cube stared back...
* * *
[[They won’t escape.]]
“You’re damned right they won’t.”
Claire pulled hard on the handles of the Burgeon 201 Steed, it’s tail sliding wide behind it before gunning the engine. The Shia Khan Orb banked off a rock outcrop, nearly flipping itself like a bulbous coin, but somehow maintained balance. Much to be said about Khanate gyros, she thought.
[[I am ahead of you. Laser charge at 85%]]
Claire twist the throttle, and picked up speed. She was about to line up on her target when the Orb spun its turrets backward and let loose a barrage of rockets. Munitions drifted past her as she dodged to the right, then pulled her Steed hard to the left, riding up another rock face onto a plateau. She pulled hard again on the throttle. At this angle, the Orb couldn’t get a bead on her without changing its direction. Once again, the high ground would prove to be the advantage.
[[Laser charge at 100%]]
“Soon as I fire, get ready to turn and burn.”
Claire veered hard, and the Steed leapt off the edge of the plateau, tapping the thruster control, she bee-lined directly at the Orb. She smiled at the sudden realization the Khanate wouldn’t see her coming. Her right hand thumbed the trigger, sending a crimson lance of energy directly though the crew hatch of the Orb. The mono wheel seemed to stutter for a moment, losing balance just before it went up in a massive explosion as it’s rocket ammo bins ignited.
She pulled back hard, swinging her tail to the ground as the boosters kicked over. Rocketing her up and away from the exploding war machine. She allowed herself a moment to take in the scene. This Orb had been a scout, luckily it looked like the main Khanate advance wasn’t immediately near, so getting back to the defensive line shouldn’t be a hassle.
She had been out of the field for nearly a year, receiving cybernetic training for her new arm, Ventus training, and learning her new role as a Steed rider. But revenge is a good motivator, and the Khanate had much to answer for. From her headset, the deep voice of Baron Murdo broke the silence.
“Knights and warriors, our ancient enemy now approaches our defensive line. On this day, these invaders will learn that where we stand, they shall never tread. With fire and fury, we shall be their doom! All lances and those of Taranis distinction too; phalanx formation! Advance!”
[[So it begins.]]
“It seems so, we’ll head back now. Give me a full throttle burn for as long as you can, there’s a war on and I’d hate to miss it.”