ONE MUST FALL
Arsenal of Flame
WRITTEN BY LUKE ROUNDA

Harlan flexed his shoulders nervously and watched the giant clock on the far wall as it approached zero. He eyed his metal fingers and could almost feel the Synthoil that was being piped through his body. Looking down at his supine form on the cold table, he could make out the grin on his sleeping face.

The robot's cybernetically enhanced vision allowed Harlan to make out these small details, even from thirty meters away.

"...just watch your aerial kicks, son. Last match you got yourself beat up so bad I almost choked on the shrapnel from the shadow emitters. Get it together tonight, OK?"

Harlan laughed, his robot voice so loud it boomed across the entire pre-game lab. "Don't get so worried, Flash. I'll try not to scratch your baby this time. Its just that the fans love it when I bash heads."

"You just keep yourself together, kid," the mechanic reiterated, "or this time I'll let you pitch in with the repairs."

"Point taken. But just be glad we bought this 'bot. The Jag was barely holding together, even with your help." Harlan reflected as the clock counted down the final minute.

Harlan's old 'bot, a Jaguar-class, was one of the most reliable designs on the market. It was also one of the oldest. His insignia, a total black main body with red jaguar on the chestplate, had worn down from at least four seasons of work. By the time the Jaguar had gone through over 120 consecutive fights, the paint looked sloppy and needed constant attention, the internal circuitry barely held together, and the connection between human and robot was flaky.

Over the years, Harlan's team had outfitted the Jag with arm and leg enhancements for both speed and power. Because of this, the 'bot had accumulated years of worth and was much more valuable than when it was initially purchased. The team examined their books and took stock of the upcoming competition in the tournament, and, with Harlan's say-so, traded in the Jaguar for the hot new Shadow robot.

In its arsenal, the Shadow carried the new Banshee phase technology. Using special "shadow" emitters, the Shadow was able to generate quasi-corporeal projections of itself to use as aids in battle. All it required was the will of the pilot and a series of rapid movements to engage the Banshee system.

"These newfangled 'bots will hold together like wet tissue paper once we work 'em through the season, you'll see. Do they even know who designed the Shadow?" the gray-haired mechanic demanded, shaking the end of a cutting torch up towards Harlan.

"No," Harlan replied reluctantly, "but if WAR has it on the public market, it must have gone through testing already."

World Aeronautics and Robotics, a nationally acclaimed superpower, took the part of constructing all of the 90-foot tall robots available for tournament competition. It started as just another company, but because of its ambitious President, Major Hans Kreissack, WAR rose to become the most important multi-national corporation in the world. No one on the planet could obtain transport to the four orbital space stations without WAR. Companies and national governments relied solely on Major Kreissack's Human Assisted Robots for defense, hard labor, and other general work that required massive amounts of power. HARs were directly controlled by their trained pilots through a complex supercomputer interface.

Even now, Harlan could see his limp form, decked out in a dark gray interface suit and connected by way of thousands of tiny wires to the supercomputer. Attendants did a final check of the HAR's systems and made certain that the connection between robot and human was secure. Once Harlan got out into the Arena, he would "become" the Shadow for all intents and purposes, able to fight with his own intelligence and strength, without having to worry about clumsy controls. Furthermore, nearly every aspect of his body had been enhanced in some way or another, the holographic vision augmentation only one of many technological improvements. Though he still retained whatever power and agility he possessed, it was amplified a thousand times over by the HAR's sheer power.

Flash grinned up at him, setting the cutting torch down on a nearby table. He turned to glance at the countdown timer.

"You've got twenty seconds, kid. Ready to give your new toy a workout?"

"I'll betcha an armor plate he doesn't even touch me!"

The clock hit zero hour. Harlan watched as everyone on his team saluted and scurried out of the massive HAR's way. The tournament lab doors creaked open. Lights blinded him as he strode into the stadium.

Harlan was greeted by the roar of eager fans. They held crude LED signs with messages like "We love you Harlan!" and the more general "Chips 'N' Bits!", referring to the upcoming shower of burning Synthoil and melted steel. He took the screams of the crowd with a smile on his robotic face, but somehow couldn't shake the feeling that more of them were shouting for his head than were cheering him on.

The towering, colossal Pyros 'bot of Harlan's opponent was waiting for him in the center of the Arena. The Pyros unit was an arsenal of flame, having been constructed as an Extra Vehicular (EV) robot designed to make repairs on the outside of space stations. To accomplish this task, the designer had outfitted the Pyros with a generous amount of fuel, stored within internal tanks, and two giant flame-throwers with which to traverse the exterior of a station without the assistance from shuttles.

Most of the HARs, not excluding the Pyros, looked quite humanoid, if not for obvious differences. If you thought in these terms, the Pyros was wearing a long robe and a hood. Its imposing shape towered over Harlan's Shadow, and as he approached he found that he had to look up to meet his opponent's gaze.

There was once crucial difference, however. The Shadow was faster and much more agile than the bulky Pyros unit.

"Ladies and gentlemen, tonight's match. The ambitious challenger, in the black Shadow, Harlan!"

A tremendous cheer rose from the crowd and Harlan couldn't help but punch a fist into the air. The cheers rose in intensity.

"And, the defending champion of the North American Open - Raven, piloting the Pyros!"

Cheers and roars of much greater volume rose from the opposite side of the stands. Raven grinned and blew a column of fire from his left-hand jet.
The crowd finally silenced as the second announcer spoke: "Fighters, take your stances!"

The two 'bots stepped into the center circle and began flexing their limbs in preparation. Harlan stared up at the smirking Pyros's face and thought back on his training, and on all the things anyone had ever told him about Raven.

As Kreissack's personal bodyguard, he had enough funding to buy whatever 'bot upgrades he desired. He was a master of kickboxing that no mere human being could rival. Over his years of service to the Major, Raven had been known to have killed more than two dozen people "in self defense." In a match with the haughty and arrogant Steffan Tommas, Raven savagely ripped a limb from his rival's shutdown robot and hurled it at a wall. In this case, there was no damage to Steffan himself, of course - the interface merely allowed for a human to HAR relationship that gave realistic control to the pilot. Blows were never actually felt by the human, only the robot. Raven's dark history was far more sinister, however.

This mutual hatred between the two competitors was sure to make for an entertaining fight.

"Maybe after I win you can wash my 'bot for me." Harlan taunted with a grin.

"Sure," Raven whispered coldly, "I'll hose down whatever's left."

"READY?" the announcer's voice boomed, "FIGHT!"

Harlan leaned back on one hand and opened up with a vicious kick that sent Raven's heavy 'bot flying into the stadium wall. He quickly bounced back to his feet, however, using the Pyros's jets to slam the HAR's massive fists into the black breastplate of Harlan's Shadow. Huge droplets of burning, red-orange Synthoil flew from tiny cracks in Harlan's 'bot as Raven twisted an arm and buried him in a shower of flame from the jets. Harlan was blinded and dizzy as warnings began to trill and warble inside his head: "power loss", "hull at 87".

Realizing he had a few split seconds to get out of the mess he was in, Harlan lashed out, catching Raven off-guard with a leg sweep. Before he could get up, Harlan tested Flash's repair job. With a series of quick movements, he activated the Banshee. A translucent image of his HAR slid over to Raven's dizzied Pyros and delivered an uppercut punch that sent the kickboxer reeling backwards. Harlan wasted no time, bounding over and whirlkicking Raven just as the projection of himself faded away.

Raven recovered remarkably quickly from this series of blows, sending his 'bot into a rapid spin. The Pyros's bulky steel fists and flaming jets caught Harlan full in the face.

He stumbled away and fell, his augmented vision serving only to blind him more efficiently from the flames. He could make out the silhouette of Raven's HAR as it bounded over and pounded him again. The heavy steel hand slammed into the Shadow's chest, popping a bolt loose and sending a whole series of alarms off.

He blocked the next hit just in time, holding Raven off long enough to catch him with a blow to the head.

Harlan quickly regained his footing and drilled Raven in the stomach with the Shadow's serrated fist. A deep, hollow metallic clang rang out and Raven's 'bot stepped back to recover. Harlan didn't give him the chance, letting out a series of devastating blows that were driven by sheer battle rage. Raven fell, catching himself and knocking Harlan out of the way with his left-hand flame-thrower.

The next few seconds were filled with tension as the two combatants backed away from each other. Harlan threw out another shadow, but to no avail. Raven was ready for him and was able to bash the projection back with a heavy punch. Harlan fell to the floor with the force of the blow.

The only downside of the Banshee technology was that the shadows lasted for a minute amount of time and damage done to them was "felt" by the host robot.

Raven flew towards him again, jets flaring with red, ignited fuel. Both of the Pyros's outstretched hands hit Harlan with the force of a thousand freight trains behind them.

By now, both competitors were beaten pretty badly, but Raven was working Harlan out, smashing his Shadow to pieces. Synthoil flowed freely from a large, rapidly widening crack in the 'bot's torso.

Harlan nearly cried out, sensing his defeat, but saw an opening he couldn't afford to pass up. As Raven prepared to smash him up against the wall again, Harlan hit him with a powerful kick to the jaw.

He followed it up with a series of brutal blows that opened dark gashes in Raven's own 'bot. Harlan jumped into a spectacular kick, whipping the bleeding and dazed Raven in the head. That did it. He went down with the typical whir and clunk sound of a HAR shutting down. The Pyros lay prone and beaten on the ground.

Harlan raised his hands into the air in triumph, exhilarated as the crowd went wild.

"And in other news, Harlan defeated the two-time world champion, Raven, in one of the best fights of the season. I hope you didn't miss our coverage of this fight, folks, because tonight we have a new champion!

"So, don't forget to grab your ticket, because in the Arena, two will enter - ONE MUST FALL!"

AUTHOR'S NOTES:
This is a short fanfic I wrote in April of 1999. Comments and criticism may be directed to my email or left here on the review system.