Welcome to the Machine

Recon Squad 375 transmition. Arm year 1 Month 9 Day 15. Anomaly found on planet Salak. Energy levels comparable to Core generators. Radiation levels 14 percent higher than normal in sector 91a. Larger squad requested.

Transmition to Commander Seth from Commodore Ezlo. You will take the forces being transported to you to the planet Salak and investigate a possible Core contamination in sector 91a. Because of the distance to this remote planet Starships will not be able to reach you in time for your arrival. Expect reinforcements two days after you touchdown on the destination. The following units are being transported to you, all are equipped to handle subzero temperatures on Salak. 5 Flash 3 Stumpy 4 Samson 2 Merl 1 Seer 4 Panther 4 Bulldog 1 Jammer You will load your entire force into a prototype of the Terra-Hulk. A land- based transportation vehicle. It will be the perfect field test. Note: Bring the prototype back in one piece.

"Another routine checkout" Seth thought. He opened the communications to the Gate operation area. "Ready my suit for gate transport. Make sure it's equipped for cold conditions." He closed the link and slowly made his way to the door.

The temperature dropped rapidly as night fell. Erik hated recon work. He'd rather push diplomatic paper than stay in his small K-Bot suit. After a few days without a shower the entire cabin stunk like hell. Being on recon duty made it worse. There was a small toilet in back but following regulations, long-range recon units couldn't be fitted with waste removal because it would alert the enemy to your presence. "I don't care if the enemy knows I'm here! I don't want smell my own piss!" Erik shouted to himself. The faint green glow of the radar was the only instrument active in the cockpit. It was now too dark to see anything outside. His partner was just at the end of his radar range, to give maximum coverage. Despite the awful stink Erik was able to fall asleep.

The Galactic Gate on Salak was several hundred miles away from their detonation so Commander Seth and his men had a long trip ahead of them. The Terra-Hulk was pushing at 35 miles per hour considering that the terrain was extremely rocky and ice covered and violent storms wiped huge chunks of ice around as if they were leaves. The five layers of super heavy armor were holding out against the barrage. "Sir, ETA 10 hours." The Navigation officer reported. "Carry on." Seth replied as he waved him away. The prototype had everything on board you can ask for. But it was missing any sort of entertainment. So the 10-hour ride would seem like an eternity. Seth retired to his cabin and fell asleep.

Erik was awakened not by the sound of the alarm but by a faint sound of a mechanical wail. He checked his radar to see if it was anything close enough to worry about. But it wasn't on. He checked the switch, it was activated but the screen was dead. He checked the fuses to see if they were corrupted but none were damaged. Everything was in perfect running order but no output was being sent. The lights were on but nobody was home. He stood in the small cockpit and pulled his heavy coat over his head. "Damn machine." He muttered under his breath. He opened the hatch and was hit with a wave of frigid air; he waited for his body to adjust and climbed down. His feet touched the ground and immediately felt a rumbling in the rocks under his feet. His first thought was that it was a small earthquake and dismissed it. The mechanical wail began to quickly change pitch and the vibrations in the ground matched the oscillating noise. Still Erik ignored it and checked the small reactor that supplied power to the entire robot. It was completely drained. Not a drop of energy remained. "That doesn't make any sense." He said to himself standing up perplexed. "How could an entire reactor be drained and not leave a trace of intrusion?" Just then he saw a flash of light on the horizon in the direction of his partner. The flash of light was followed by an earsplitting explosion. He started to run back to his K-Bot but halted when he saw the silhouette of a Crasher thirty or so yards off to the right of his robot. He dove behind a boulder and crouched. The Crasher turned towards his machine and disintegrated it with a barrage of missiles. Then the Crasher walked away. "There was no base when the scout jets flew over. So there must be an underground base somewhere." With no place to hide from the elements, Erik had no choice but to follow the Crasher into the enemy base.

"If there is Core presence on any planet they must be dealt with immediately." "Yes, I know that you're Excellency. But I do not think that we should utilize the positron cannon. There are Arm soldiers on that planet and if we fire it, they would get incinerated." "The media must not get wind of this. If they hear anything Core related the populous would become wary of our military abilities and an uprising may occur." "But those soldiers have wives and children. What will we tell them?" "They will be told that the men were killed in a nuclear meltdown." "But killing fifty men, we don't even know if there is Core presence on that planet." "When the starships reach the checkpoint they will contact Commander Seth and ask if Core is present." "And if he says yes?" "Then the Gemini capital ship will fire the positron cannon and incinerate the surface." "I don't agree." "Are you questioning my authority Ezlo?" "No." "Then I suggest you leave." "Yes, sir." "And Ezlo." "Yes." "The team on the ground will not be told." "Of course, sir."

Seth ordered the men enter their respective machines and exit the transport. The destination had been reached. Outside, the landscape was vast and lifeless. Not a single sign of life existed. He knew that there was a lake nearby but it would be frozen over. But during the two week summer the entire planet experienced a rebirth of life. The reason for the short planet-wide summer was that the planet was struck by a massive comet when it was still molten. The impact was enough to push it out of its regular orbit and into an extremely eccentric one. The renaissance of life wasn't due for another six months. It was now the very heart of winter. And the skies showed it, grey, storm-ridden clouds blanketed the planet. "Here is where the recon team found the flux in the radiation levels. Span out and search the area." Seth ordered. If this is where the recon squad found the radiation flux, then where is the squad? "Commander! Over here, quickly!" Seth quickly ran over to the Flash that was attracting his attention. There was a spy k-bot left in ruins. The cockpit was totally demolished. "Sir, what killed it?" The man in the Flash asked. "Probably a Core ballistic unit of some type. Yes, look there." Seth showed where the man should attract his attention. "Carbon scorch marks. That means it was a Crasher or rocket unit of some type."

Erik was huddled in the fetal position behind huge fuel tanks all night. His muscles where stiff and sore from inactivity. For a moment he had forgotten where he was but he remembered when he saw a Core symbol staring at him from one of the barrels. "Rot in hell." He muttered to the symbol as he spit on it. He hated the Core with a passion. To make it worse, the Core had no faces to direct his anger at. The Core was like an infestation of roaches, when you think you've killed them all, they just come back again. Erik felt the steel floor beneath him vibrate; it was the same as the vibration last night. It came from a level below him. Curiosity drove him to the massive elevator doors in search of the source of the vibration. He hit what he thought the down button was and the entire cab began to lower into the abyss below him.

Transmition to Commodore Ezlo Found point where the radiation anomaly detected. Both recon units destroyed by unknown Core units. Definite Core presence.

Transmition to Commander Seth I am breaching authority by informing you that there is a capital ship on its way armed with a positron cannon. DO NOT repeat the information you told me to the starships. They will fire the positron cannon onto the planet.

"What the hell is this?" Seth said inquisitively. "This must be misinformation from the Core so we are tricked into not communicating to the ships and receiving backup." Seth looked through the HUD of his suit. "Keep looking for that entrance!" He told his men. Since there weren't any bases picked up by the aircraft scouts, the base had to be underground.
"Commodore Ezlo, how nice of you to show up. Please, sit down." "What did you call me here for?" "Why did you inform Commander Seth that the Gemini would fire the positron cannon if the Core were present." "I wasn't going to sit around with my thumb up my ass while you assassinate 50 of our men!" "Thanks to Commander Seth's transition to you and your breach of authority I have ordered the Gemini to fire once it has gained orbit. I am also court marshaling you." The man handed Ezlo a piece of paper stating the nature of the court marshal. "Take this paper and jam it up your damn ass! I will not follow regulations if it means the death of fifty innocent men!" "What are you saying?" "I'm saying go to hell! And take your regulations with you!" "If that is what you want, then I believe you can let security escort you to the brig." "On what grounds!" "Mutiny." The man pressed the communications button. "Security please take Commodore Ezlo to the brig." Two uniformed men entered the office nearly immediately, it was obviously planned. "You planned this didn't you? You bastard." The two guards grabbed Ezlo and dragged him to the brig.

"We've found the entrance! It's over on the other side of this mountain." The enthusiastic private rambled on about how they found the entrance Seth only cared that they had found it. "Very good. Open the door." Seth ordered. The door was slowly forced open; the snow on the door fell to the ground. Steadily the door was forced open revealing a little more of the area beyond.

"Attention starship Gemini, you're orders are to fire upon the planet Salak with the positron cannon, Core presence is strong and in the proximity of where you will be firing. You are to gain orbit and fire as soon as possible, the treacherous Arm soldiers there will be expecting your arrival tomorrow so you will not have to worry about communications from them. Fire on the coordinates given to you because it will give the maximum damage output from your position." The man placed the communicator on the desk in front of him. "Everybody that has seen that machine must be killed but leave the machine intact. It is the only thing that matters, everything else takes second place to it. Understand?" "Yes, sir." "Board your ship and go to Salak, there you are to find the machine and relay its coordinates to me. I'll handle the rest. Dismissed." "Sir." The lieutenant saluted the man and left the office.

"Commander, I believe we have a problem." The voice of the communications officer rang from the speakers in Seth's suit. "Can it wait?" Seth did not want to be distracted while the doors were being opened, attack could be imminent and he did not want to be elsewhere. "No, it can't." "Stop force opening the doors temporarily." Seth said reluctantly. "What is it?" "I was attempting to contact HQ and I must have used the wrong frequency because I taped into a transition, well I think you should hear it." "Play it already then." Seth grew impatient. The recording began "...starship Gemini, you're orders are to fire the positron cannon upon the planet Salak..." The recording drove Seth's blood cold and to bring a sweat to his skin. He asked himself, what is so important about this 'machine' and what is it. "Holy mother of God." Seth was lost in a cyclone of questions. Why? When? And others bulleted through his cluttered mind. Though he tried he could not draw an answer or a possibility for any of them. "Sir?" Seth was wrenched from his cognitive whirlpool. "Uh, oh." Although back on reality's plane, Seth was still at a loss of words. A silence fell over the division. The other men had heard the recording. Now was the time for the leader to come forth and take charge. "Continue opening the door." Good one Seth. He said to himself. Nice way to get their spirits up. To the communications officer Seth asked, "Where is the Gemini's position and how long will it take to reach orbit?" "Calculating...got it. It's 4.3 light years away, that means it will be here in 5 hours and achieve orbit 12 minutes after that." "That's not much time, we still have to find the 'machine' and see what it does. Plus we have to convince the Gemini not to fire that cannon when it gets here." "That won't be easy considering they have orders to fire as soon as they reach orbital stability. Taking in account the range of the positron cannon, the velocity of the Gemini, and the distance she has to travel to reach the firing position I'd say we'll have about 13 minutes of communication time with her." He calculated all of that in his head in just a few seconds. He would be a great general someday, that is if they got off of this rock alive. "I'll need to say something to the troops or we'll have a mutiny on our hands." Seth guided his suit away from the masses to think quietly.

Erik stood before the machine. The gargantuan device stood hundreds of feet tall and spanned beyond his line of sight to both sides of him. It would take days to find the controls for it. Lights began to flash from within the contraption; the vibrations had stopped long before he found the machine. But know he felt them up close and personal. The floor shook violently as the machine began to operate and made Erik's knees buckle. Erik smacked his face off the concrete floor and the whole left side of his face went numb. The ceaseless vibrations did not allow Erik to regain his footing until they stopped.

"What the hell was that!?" Seth asked aloud. "That was no earthquake!"

Erik slowly stood up and checked his face for cuts. No blood stained his hands in his searches. The machine initiated something else. Huge compartments opened and arms extended with Core units attached. They were all Crashers and Storms, cheap units yet extremely effective in battle. Even more effective in numbers. Hundreds of k-bots were lowered simultaneously and then hundreds more were lowered behind them. Erik took to his heels and ran back along the hallway he came. He knew he couldn't outrun a k-bot but at least he could try. He ran faster than he ever did in his life. Still running, he hit the open elevator and punched the up button rapidly. The doors began to close but when he looked between them he saw that not a single unit was following him. The doors closed and the elevator lifted him towards the top floor. He might be able to give himself some time to make it outside the complex and hope to God there are reinforcements out there because the nearest Galactic Gate is over 400 miles away. Since he had no transportation, he had no way of getting there by himself.

"Almost there men! Just a little further!" Just as Seth finished his sentence, the giant doors slammed shut. "What the hell we supposed to do now?" One officer shouted. "Yeah, it took us 7 hours to open it that far and there is only 4 hours until the Gemini blows us to hell!" Another yelled in response. "Quiet, quiet all of you! Calm down, we still have a chance. We can try to convince the Gemini that we are not what they were told and that there is no Core presence. We will survive, we will live to see another day, and we will see green grass again. We will never give up, never give up, never give up!" Seth had wanted to say something else but his improvisation worked quite well. It was then when the insanity of this situation came together for him. He knew why the Arm military wanted the machine so badly and were willing to sacrifice an entire division for it. Seth didn't know why but he knew that he could never give the machine to them; it would have to be destroyed. And the easiest way to destroy it would be with the positron cannon on the Gemini. But that would mean it would have to reach critical mass underground. He turned to his communication officer, "Can you hack into the Gemini's computer so that you can change the firing position of the positron cannon to just on top of that mountain, here are the coordinates." "You want me to get into that ship's computer and alter the cannon's trajectory? From when I get in contact with it and hooked into it I'll only have 10 minutes! Are you out of your mind?!" "Just do it, that's an order. And give me communications with that ship when it comes in range."

Erik had climbed onto the to of the elevator and was about to cut the cord to it. He had tied himself to a fuel barrel that weighed at least 10 tons with a steel wire he found. His ploy was to trap the Core units in the basement with no way up. He cut the cord. The elevator plummeted the length of the shaft and slammed into the cement floor crushing it like an aluminum can. His makeshift harness held him suspended in the empty elevator shaft. Slowly he pulled himself back up the short distance to the ground floor. When he made it he laid down on the cold steel and closed his eyes thankful that the harness did not give way and he was still alive. He removed a picture from his breast pocket. "Not today Anna." He said to the picture of his dead wife. She did not survive the Great War, three months before the Core Consciousness was defeated. The hurt still burned like a fire within his soul. He returned the picture and rose to his feet. Making his way to the door he had the feeling that he needed to get out of the building now or he would die.

Ezlo put the finishing touches on his trap he set to get out of the brig. His shoelaces were tied together and tied to a bedpost and a small table both were bolted to the floor. When the person came to deliver his meal he would hide out of view and when the person tripped over the shoestrings he would kick him in the head and run out of the brig. All he had to do now was wait.

The four-hour wait felt like days. But as time always does the time came when the Gemini broke out of the warp jump. The instant the ship came into radio contact Seth began talking to it. "Listen to me, I don't know who I'm talking to but I know you can hear me. The Admiral has lied to you; there are no Core units down here. He has been using you for his own personal gain." "This is the intraship frequency, get off of it and try another frequency." The voice on the other side of the radio came through the speaker. "Shut up! We are not what the Admiral has told you, were are not traitors, we are here on his orders to investigate a possible Core contamination. But there isn't one, now if you fire that cannon you'll be slaughtering 50 innocent men!" Seth covered the mic and softly spoke to the communications officer. "How much longer?" "About 15 more minutes." Talking to the Gemini again, "Do you understand me?!" "Crew, you will ignore the other voice on the speakers and listen to me, you will fire the positron cannon as ordered." "Damn you, you'll be wasting your time firing that thing the only things down here are my men! And you'll sink yourself to the level of the Core!" "Continue as ordered." The voice on the other end was like steel.

Ezlo's meal was here, "Your meal's here." Ezlo remained silent. The door opened. "Hey! Where'd you go?" He took a stride but his foot got caught on the string and he fell. Ezlo ran at the falling body and kicked him in stride. His foot landed solidly in his throat. The man rolled over making ungodly choking noises so Ezlo kicked his temple and left him unconscious. The man might asphyxiate but Ezlo had more important things on his mind, he had to get to the Admiral.

Erik pushed against the door. "Open you sonofabitch!" But the door would not give. He pushed harder "Come on asshole, open!" He only achieved in giving himself a neck strain. He walked away from the door rubbing his sore neck. "I have to find a way to get that door to open. But I can't find any controls." He felt helpless.

Slowly slinking his way around, Ezlo made it to the Admiral's hallway. His room office was the only one in this stretch. Sideling along the wall Ezlo crept towards the door. He placed his hand on the controls and removed the mini EMG rifle he stole from the downed man back in his cell from the small of his back. Pointing the barrel at the ceiling, Ezlo hit the open button. The door slid open and Ezlo jumped inside the office. The Admiral jumped out of his seat, "What is the meaning of this?!" Ezlo turned and pointed the gun at him. "Ezlo?" "See you in hell." Ezlo planted an energy bolt between the Admirals eyes. The Admiral fell back into his chair, his head fell backwards. From behind him Ezlo heard a guard. "What the hell are you doing out of your cell?!" Ezlo turned swung the guard around and pulled him into the office. He forced the gun into the guard's hands, pointed at the side of his head, turned him to face the Admiral, and wasted the guard. With the guards fingerprints on the weapon the authorities would think it was a homicide suicide by the guard and Ezlo would be cleared of everything. It was the perfect plan. Pleased with himself Ezlo walked to his office and sat in his chair and waited for someone to find his handiwork.

"Firing position in range." "Charge positron cannon." "NO! FOR THE LOVE OF GOD HOLD YOUR FIRE, WE'RE ON YOUR SIDE DAMN IT!" Seth tried desperately to convince the Gemini they were friendly. Then something happened to the mountain. It opened, and a huge barrel came up from within the opened crag. "Fire positron cannon." The huge barrel fired a massive ball of plasma at the Gemini. It was a defensive system for the machine. The positron beam glowed a bright blue as it raced toward the surface. It struck right in the middle of the split mountain. At the same time the Gemini felt the sting of the machine as the plasma ball slammed into its hull splitting it down the middle. "Take cover!" Seth ordered his men but he wasn't sure they heard him. The positron cannon reached critical mass and detonated. The barrel was the first to go then the mountain, sending shards of metal and rock all over Seth and his men.

Erik sat and stared at the fiery explosion accelerating at him. Darkness surrounded his vision. He will be with Anna soon.

Outside it looked like the end of the world to the second power. The mountain exploding and sending astronomical earthquakes for miles. Simultaneously, the Gemini was disintegrating as each of its anti-matter generators detonated. Then as suddenly as it began it was over. The mountain was no more. Seth and his remaining men elevated themselves and began to march back to the Terra-Hulk so that they can go home and put an end to this day to remember.

The Admiral was eventually found and no investigation was started because it seemed like the guard killed him then himself. Ezlo was cleared of his mutiny charge because of lack of evidence.

The machine was a giant production facility with its own defenses against any type of attack and sensors to pick up units in a vast radius. As Erik saw, the machine was capable of producing incredible amounts of units incredibly fast. It required no metal or energy because it supplied these itself. It was perfect. There are more machines like it out there, waiting to be activated, waiting to produce billions for the Core army and reignite the Great War.