"What the hell are you doing here?" I'm commanded with a kick to the gut. I open my eyes to a bizarre looking girl, white hair in spite of obviously being in her twenties, red overalls, and a shotgun. Pointed at me.
A year ago, I would be scared. But now?
"Well, you picked the wrong place to get away from anything. The robots are a'coming," she grins.
"To attack Mann Co." She says. "They're always attackin' Mann Co."
I look around. Desert, abandoned shacks, no Mann Co. in sight besides a few badly painted signs.
"I don't see a Mann…"
"Shhh…" the girl interrupts. "You know that, and I know that, but the robots don't know that, now do they?"
I take two fingers and slowly push the shotgun barrel away. I don't have time for this woman's ramblings. Well, the sad thing is I do have time for that, but armed lunatics still put me on edge.
"Oh where are my manners," she says, lifting her gun over her shoulder as she outstretches her left hand. "Mokou Fujiwara."
"Utsuho," I say, careful to not make any sudden gestures as I awkwardly take her left hand.
"Pleasure," She grins, pointing to a dirt road. "Now get out."
I decide against testing this girl's patience as I walk away, although I find it unnerving how she's following me out of the town in silence. Finally, as we pass the last building, next to a flurry of signs pointing to a hole in the ground, she says, "Really though, what are you doing out here?"
"Getting away," I repeat.
She stares at the horizon, before forcefully grabbing my arm. "Well, you definitely picked the wrong place," she says.
"Wait," I struggle from her vice-like grip as she drags me into the last building in town, "What about leaving?"
"Too late for that," she replies, "The robots are here!" The girl forces me into the doors of the badly painted "Mann Corn" shed, quickly closing the doors behind me to my alarm. We stand in complete darkness for a moment, before she flicks a light switch to reveal what can only be described as an armory. Rifles, grenades, shotguns, rocket launchers and even a mini-gun line the walls, alongside more mundane things like bottles of whisky and an assortment of watches. She holds out her arms towards the clutter and asks me, "Beautiful, ain't it?"
"Yes, your guns are very nice, and I'm sure you'll kill many robots with them…"
She immediately corrects me, emphasizing, "We'll kill many robots with them. We're in this together."
"…I really don't want anything to do with this…" I reply, still being held in her vice-like grip.
The girl hands me a scoped rifle, forcing me outside. She then points to the horizon, saying, "Look."
Hesitating, I put my eye in the rifle's sight. I can make out a strange… car in the distance, kicking up a dust cloud that's no more than a speck without the rifle. Though vehicle is much bigger than any car I've seen, with tank treads. It looks like it's designed to carry huge loads.
"They're coming. They don't care who they find, and they want to whack everyone they see dead. Then blow us up for good measure," Mokou says. She then grins. "And I wouldn't have it any other way. Now you can hide, you can fight, or you can run, but that last option's gonna get you killed dead little missy!"
I pinch my cheek. Yep, definitely awake, as the girl drags me back to the armory.
"No time to protest now, missy! So… hiding, how about an invisiwatch?"
"An invisibility watch. Here." She says, putting a watch on my arm and pressing a button on its face. I'm amazed to see my hand flicker for a moment before the device starts releasing a staticky sound. Mokou frowns. "It's not supposed to do that."
"I have issues with electronics." I say. I then remember why I was hiding out here in the first place, having nearly forgotten in the wake of Mokou's insanity, "And living things too for that matter. Speaking of which, are you feeling alright?"
"I'm about to kill robots."
"Yes, but how's your health? No nausea, hair loss, anything like that?"
Mokou stares at me, slowly processing the question before ending the silence with "You don't have to worry about my health."
"No really, you will die if we stay together."
Mokou laughs, before repeating "You don't have to worry about my health." She then turns to her inventory, mumbling "Now let's see, grenade launcher too dangerous, sniper rifle needs training, minigun too heavy…"
"I don't think you understand…" I say.
"Lady," she says, checking a revolver from her weapon rack, "Nothing kills me. And if you're claiming you can kill me by standing next to me, I welcome your challenge with open arms, you hear?"
"You aren't immortal," I protest,
"And you don't poison everything you touch," she responds. "Now my advice? You're about to enter a mad, mad world and if you want to protect than precious sanity you young'uns cling so hard to, you better start listening and accepting things at face value, you hear?"
As I scramble for words, she hands me a rocket launcher, a revolver, and a sledgehammer. "Honestly, I shouldn't be giving you the rockets right away, but it's the safest thing I have time to teach you. Long distance, aim for the ground under them. Within 20 feet, so you don't blow yourself up, use the revolver. When you want them offa you, use the hammer. Any questions?"
"Oh. Well, I'm sure we'll eventually answer one or two of them. Oh, and one more thing. Don't aim the rockets at your feet."
"No moron would do that."
"You'd think that," Mokou sighs. "There was once a man who would intentionally fire rockets like that to leap tall buildings in a single bound. I have seen 2 dozen idiots blow their feet off trying it. I have seen one idiot use it successfully, and continues using it, and continues trying to teach other idiots how to do it, and let's just say mops are essential in rocket jump training camp."
"I don't think that camp exists."
"Oh?" Mokou replies, "Maybe you're right, must of gotten it mixed up with grenade jump training camp."
I don't bother to correct her as she explains, "Rockets go in the back, fire with the trigger. So simple even a child could blow herself up!" She then takes a grenade launcher in each hand as she leaves the armory.
I stall a bit, completely dumbfounded as I stand with rocker launcher in hand. The girl calls to me, "Come on then!" snapping me back to attention, as I realize this room only has the one exit. I slowly heed her call as she fires instead of grenades, spiky ball after spiky ball into the air towards the car in the distance.
"Sticky launchers," she says plainly, firing, reloading, and firing nearly fifty of the balls in a wide circle around the hole. She then takes even more of the balls out of a nearby crate, launching another fifty in the air before hurling the launchers back into the Mann Corn building.
Then, the girl says, "Why aren't you practicing?"
"I don't know how to use a rocket launcher," I say plainly.
"It's easy," she says. She drags me to a rickety staircase up a small cliff face next to the Mann Corn building, to a small outcropping, and says "Aim at the ground under their feet."
"This…" I begin, as she suddenly stabilizes my arms.
"Now fire!" she yells, forcing my finger onto the trigger. A rocket blazes out, missing the hole entirely and hitting the Mann Co. "Battery Surplus." Bits of wood are sent flying around the crater I left, taking out a bit of the wall.
"How did it feel?" she asks.
"I'm really not ready for this," I protest.
"Well then, we'll just have to do it again!" she says, pressing my finger onto the launchers trigger. Another rocket explodes out of the barrel, creating a satisfying boom as it explodes on a nearby "Mann Co." sign.
"Well?" she asks. I fire a third and a forth rocket in quick succession, taking down a tiny, abandoned hotel. I make to fire a fifth to an unsatisfying click.
"Out of ammo," she says, handing me a rocket.
I carefully take the explosive and place it into the hole at the back of my launcher. I then press the trigger again, and a fifth rocket explodes out, leaving a crater below me.
"Easy," Mokou says with a cough. "You'll be fine. Keep your ammo up, go back to the armory when you run out, and stay out of the way and you'll live. Maybe."
She then returns to the Mann Corn building, popping out with a flamethrower, an axe, a shotgun, and a backpack, the last of which she throws at me. "Ammo," she says as she's cut off by her own weezing.
"You will die if I stay here," I remind her, as blood trickles from her mouth.
"You'll die if I leave," Mokou says, aiming her flamethrower at herself. She pulls the trigger, setting her head on fire. "What the," I say, as she turns off the flamethrower. She smiles back unscathed, as I stand at a loss for words.
"Besides, you aren't the only freak," she says.
The carrier no longer in the distance, Mokou takes out a small switch and waits, her attention completely focused on the machine. At less than a thousand feet away, she presses the switch, creating a deafening, blinding explosion before my eyes.
"Sticky bombs!" I think Mokou yells, although it's hard to be certain when my ears are ringing this much. She tosses away the detonator, staring intently into the dust cloud that has yet to settle. I make out a single man in the dust… no, correction, a single robot with a large bomb on it's back, yelling, "Hey look at me look at me, I got it I got it!" The machine charges Mokou, standing right in front of her as it winds up for a swing, and it silenced by a shotgun blast to its forehead.
I can't even begin to comprehend the work that must have gone into such a machine, heck, I can't even understand how it could exist, but I have little time to ponder the one robot, as the footsteps of another, and another, enters my still-ringing ears as two more scouts exit the cloud. Mokou promptly places a bullet in each robot's forehead.
"Was that it?" I ask hopefully.
As the dust settles, I see not just one, nor two, but dozens upon dozens of the robots.
"Nope," Mokou grins, as an entire battalion charges her.
I watch in amazement until Mokou reminds me, "How about firing some rockets!" as she decapitates one robot with her axe, using its head as a shot put to take out a second. I exit my daze, reloading my launcher as fast as I can before aiming beyond the girl at the oncoming machines. I fire four shots, four times turning machines into bits of scrap metal. I reload, watching the battle unfold as Mokou uses her flamethrower, setting alight the barrage of metal warriors as thousands of dollars flood out of their dead comrades.
"They bleed money when you burn them?" I shout.
As one of the machines picks up the bomb, Mokou flips a switch on her flamethrower and sends the robot back with a blast of air before shooting it with her shotgun. "I ain't complaining. Don't think too hard about it!" she yells back, as I stuff a forth rocket into the back of my launcher. As Mokou slaughters everything that approaches the hole in the ground, three of the bots go wide, avoiding her carnage to instead home in on me. I fire all my rockets in rapid succession, tearing the lead one to shreds while the other use him as cover from my attacks. No time to reload, I pull out my pistol and fire everything in it wildly towards the approaching machines. Out of pure chance at least a couple of my bullets must have hit, as a second one goes down. But the third one is on top of me now, and I have barely a second to block his bat with my hammer before I am knocked to the ground. The robot strikes the long wooden handle of my sledgehammer again and again with his aluminum bat, cracking the wood as the machine enters a dialogue loop of "Put a dispenser put a dispenser put a dispenser-dispenser-disdisdisdis-d-d-d-d-d-" Its head then violently explodes, revealing Mokou standing over me, gun still smoking.
She says, "Not bad. You lived through the first wave." With my breath heavy and my hands shaking, Mokou helps me off the ground.
"Can I leave yet?" I ask.
"Soon. Although I have to ask, do you even want to?" Mokou asks back. Of course I want to leave. Her world is mad, and it nearly killed me. And yet…
"I don't know what your deal is," Mokou says, stopping to hack up some more blood. "But if you've been seeking the desolation of abandoned towns in the middle of deserts, you can't have much of a life to go back to." She pauses, letting her words sink in as she scans the remains of that strange robot carrier. I wonder what she's looking for, until I spot it too, movement from within the broken vehicle's gaping maw, revealing a tractor with tank treads that forces its way the carrier's mangled floor. Mokou says, "Decide later. We have a job to finish," as she retreats into the armory. A moment later she rolls out the mini-gun, forcing all her weight against it and making absolutely no attempt to lift it off the ground.
"Alright, the minigun is simple. Hold the trigger until all the bullets are gone. You can't lift it, it weighs 300 pounds, so as long as you're here help me get it in front of that hole."
"Shouldn't we just use something lighter then?" I say, as I attempt to force it into position. I can barely budge the thing, I can't even imagine a person strong enough to lift it by it's handle.
"Trust me, I would, but this thing is the best weapon we have for tanks."
"That tractor thing isn't much of a tank though."
"Looks harmless, doesn't it? Don't let looks deceive you, sure it won't land a single shot, but once it gets through, kablooey!" Mokou then re-enters the armory, throwing out of its doors every rocket launcher and grenade launcher she can find into a pile next to the mini –gun, two dozen of each, by my count. "It's a simple plan, really," she says, throwing me a new launcher from the pile, as she picks one up for herself. "We hit it with everything we've got!" she says, finishing her sentence with the explosion of rocket fire as she hits the tank again and again. The girl doesn't stop to reload, instead picking up a new launcher each time she tosses aside a spent one. I follow her lead, and the two of us leave no launcher unspent as the air fills with smoke.
"We aren't done," Mokou says as she picks up a grenade launcher, and sure enough when the smoke clear, like some invinsible goliath, the tank clearly and obviously struggles forwards. I take great comfort that the dents and dings mean we've made progress, but I am amazed anything on earth can survive so many explosions. "Start up the mini-gun!" she says, guiding my hand to the trigger with her left hand as her right fires grenade after grenade at the tank. Not the spike balls either, but definitive grenades, each flash red before blowing up within 3, maybe 4 seconds.
The gun spins to life, and it takes all my effort to simply keep it firing forwards. If it were mounted, it would be my favorite gun of the bunch, the weapon tears through tank armor like a knife through butter with the accuracy and consistency of a paper airplane. "Not very good at long distances," Mokou explains, "But easily the most powerful gun we have."
I fire hundreds upon hundreds of bullets into the tank, ruining its treads, tearing off its armor, setting it on fire, but when the last bullet is spent, it presses on. Mokou quickly dives into the armory, and throws me one of two shotguns, firing the other repeatedly into every hole the minigun left. "Leave the spent weapons," she says, "Aim right for the holes in its armor." She blasts away at any bit of internal circuitry she can find, and I follow her lead, the machine sparkin and slowing until in creeps directly a mere foot away from the hole. Its chassis opens up, revealing a second bomb held by two robotic arms. The arms slowly lift the bomb over the Mann Co. World headquarters hole.
"Stay down!" Mokou says, hurling me into the armory.
"What about you?" I shout, as the doors slam behind me. I then hear 6 shots in rapid succession. And then six more. Then I hear a thud, followed by silence.
The door creaks open as Mokou enters the armory.
"We won?" I ask.
"Er… yeah, kind of," Mokou coughs. She opens the door wide, and I see both the bomb and the tank. The tanks gears are spinning wildly, as Mokou says, "You mentioned you had a thing for electronics, right?"
"Yeah, they tend to break around me."
Mokou looks at the tank, then at me. Then she says, "How would you like to kill robots for cash?"