Hardened Mechanisms
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“Okay, now, get in now.”

The wind whipped across the permafrost of the dead land between Larbur and Unescensi.

A rolling of shoulders, a sideways look at Jarden. “Just a little longer…”

Khemil tapped the radar frenetically. “It’s coming…”

Below the ridge the rails ran, horizon to horizon like a diving-line into the smog.

Jarden glowered. “Get in the mech, you fuckwit!”

He flexed his fingers, admired them with mock nonchalance. “I’d hate to get worn out because I got in too soon.”

An anxious groan. “That train’ll be here any second now-”

Enmiat threw back his head and laughed. “Quit yer whinin’, ya lil’ meatbag.”

Jarden grabbed him by the shoulder and pushed him towards the huge shape crouched behind the ridge but Enmiat shrugged her off. “Not yet,” he said, pushing back.

Any fucking second now,” Khemil forced out tightly, shaking the radar readout at Enmiat to instil the lumbering augmentee with the same anxiety he felt.

Enmiat took the time to give both trainjackers a look of consternation. “All right, then,” he said, the faint scream of a train pressing the sound barrier carrying to them from the horizon. Then he made for the mech, the other two cursing and scrambling to join him as he dived under the rotund armour-plated bulk of the hexapedal walker, reaching a hand to the port where nerve-wire formed the first connection, willing the arms to descend and pull him up into the tight embrace of the cockpit, fitted rubber pressing tight against augments as they clamped down with the familiar pressure, the senses of the tardigrade-shaped mech coming online as his own were shut off. The train was coming. He raised his bulk and made for the ridge, rolling the stubby ball-mounted, sensor-riddled railgun of Rebenca's head as if working a crick out of his neck, the others scrambling to connect their harness lines as he readied to pounce. The train was coming fast, the air shuddering as if in anticipation of its speed.

“You good?” Jarden asked.

And Enmiat grinned.

“Let’s take this bitch,” he growled, his voice muffled by rubber and steel. “We’ll all be eatin’ well ‘till the sun comes back!”

And then the train was close enough to see and Enmiat jumped, the polymuscle of the Rebenca’s legs beneath the angular armour plating tensing and burning like flesh as they strained and leaped down to the space where the train would be, and then it was below them in a flash, a long thin black blur of motion in the grainy dark as Enmiat fell, too slow? Too late? But his feet impacted metal and he slid as he clung and the whirring drillbits in his six palms spat out and scraped lines in the metal and dug in through the armour and anchored him before the machine rage of the train opened up like a crevasse and gunfire joined the scream of the train’s tearing of the air.

Turrets spewed steel and his front and rear shuddered with impacts as he hunched and punched hole after hole into the roof of the carriage and wedged the thick digits of his feet into the crack, forcing a gap with a screech of metal as he disregarded the burn of the polymuscle and the jackers clambered through and in as he kept cutting and pulling until the gap was wide enough for him to scrape through, rounds tickling his back legs. This carriage was decked with rows of shelving which he forced aside as he made for the engine. Control the engine, control the train. They had until it got within range of Unescensi’s artillery grid and the threat of drop-pods.

“Six minutes!” yelled Khemil, rifle raised as they made for the door to the next carriage. Enmiat shouldered his way through the shelves, their contents falling to the floor as they sprang free of their clasps. Khemil was already frantically fiddling with the door’s port, hand splayed out into a fibrous tangle of threadlike manipulators. Enmiat didn’t slow, rearing onto his four hind legs and pushing at the door. It budged but stuck and he wedged two more of his limbs into the gap, the others hurrying through. Then the door behind him hissed open and gunfire pattered his back. He turned his head and spewed a burst back, the train’s guards ducking back behind cover. Inside Rebenca he gritted his teeth in brutal amusement as he turned sideways to squeeze through the gap. They would not be a concern. His back legs dragged the mangled door shut.

The next door opened with a hiss and Khemil’s cry of victory, Jarden screaming at him to “Hurry, hurry you big fuck!” and for once Enmiat listened, scrambling to get through the carriage, pushing his body to the limits.

“Four and a half minutes!”

There were guards in the next room, the other trainjackers hunched against the wall but Enmiat didn’t slow, letting the railgun tear. Rebenca had no voice but actions spoke loud here. They had not expected this. They had not expected him inside the train.

One lunged for him as he passed through the door, a bomb clutched in her arms. He swatted her aside, feeling his blow in a snapping of her brittle little limbs a split second before the sharp rough warmth of the blast rocked him on this feet. There was not enough cover in the carriage. They tried to hide behind the crates that lined the walls of this room but his rounds ripped through them, ball-mounted railgun snapping to pick off a soldier bringing to bear a RPG, sending them spinning as a chunk of their steel body tore free and the rocket exploded on the roof in a pale shockwave.

“Three minutes! Two more carriages!” Khemil ran ahead, ducking as a surviving guard fired from a corner of the carriage, returning fire and cutting their resistance off. Enmiat reached the door just as it slid open

and was greeted by a taser to the face.

A split second’s pure electric pain and then he caught the huge prod and snapped it, as the static cleared seeing the bipedal mech that greeted him dancing back, all white ceramite and curved limbs, pulling from their back an oversized rifle that they brought to bear as his own armament whirred and fired, their organically bulbous armour sparking and chipping. He didn’t slow. It looked like they had expected a mech on the train. But they had not expected him.

The ceramite mech snapped out shot after shot at his joints while he kept the railgun blasting, keeping moving towards the last carriage. But Ceramite knew what he was doing. If they wanted to stop him opening the door they would have to stand in his way.


Ceramite fired at the door port and dived, crouching between him and the door, firing at point-blank until the last slow half-second, where they cast the gun aside and met Enmiat’s lunge with a dive, ducking into his guard and stabbing straight at his underbelly with a half-metre knife that suddenly blazed red with thaumic glyphs, the blade deforming even as it cut through his armour and into the cockpit, tickling his chest cavity with cauterising heat before he caught it in his middle arms and tore it out, Ceramite dancing away with the force of his throw and slipping from his grip on their arm even as he jammed his front paws into the door and began straining, punching out with a rear limb as Ceramite tried to go for his back. This door was thicker. The motor was stronger.

“ONE FUCKING MINUTE,” screamed Khemil hysterically from around the door of the last carriage.

Ceramite turned their head towards them.


They dived for their rifle at exactly the same moment as Enmiat lunged for them. He caught them by their back leg and they slammed into the floor with rib-crushing force, their palm meeting the discarded rifle as he dragged them back, watching as they tightened their finger on the trigger and aimed without sights.

Khemil’s head came apart in a flash and a snap.

The drillbits went through the back of Ceramite’s head and torso. They stilled.

Less than a minute.

He lumbered back to the door, injured limbs bearing his weight unevenly and began tearing again, body scraping as he pushed through the too-narrow crack carelessly and onto the other side, firing blindly into the floor where his infra-red told him there was heat. The engine shuddered and shattered with a hissing and grinding of broken cylinders but the train did not slow, momentum careening them into artillery range. Jarden sprinted past him, dispatching the pistol-armed driver with three wild shots and diving past them into the control cabin, shots sounding from inside. He heard Jarden swear. Then he lurched and wildly slid forwards as the train braked with a bellow of metal under friction that transgressed sound to become a physical force that seemed not to diminish. Too slow? He slammed into the wall and braced in the dents his paws made. The screeching shuddered down a decibel. Zero minutes. Zero seconds. No time for thoughts.

Jarden appeared in the doorway. “The containers,” she yelled. “Railgun ‘em and we go!

The two shipping containers in the engine’s storage room stood dark and monolithic in the white-neon twilight.

In Rebenca his hearing was razor-sharp. And there should not have been the sounds of movement within the cargo they had been hired to break.

Zero minutes.

In his pilot-fugue haze he lumbered to the door of the container and delicately lifted the viewing hatch open.

A row of suspension chambers, each containing a small, pallid form lit by soft blue light, each cowering as far as their injection lines would allow. A three-pronged symbol tattooed onto each of their stomachs and foreheads.


The cockpit opened and he half-descended, still wired to Rebenca. “These are fucking Viables,” he spat. “You sent us on a murder mission!”

“And if we don’t do the job and get out it’ll be a suicide!” she screamed. “Move your fat fucking ass, Enmiat! Get that gun whirring! Now now fucking now!”

The railgun snapped onto her.

“I ain't touching 'em and I ain’t leaving ‘em here,” Enmiat growled.

“They’re squishies!” Jarden pleaded, gesturing frantically at the containers. “They won’t last ten seconds outside and we can’t haul the containers before Unescensi drops on us like a breezeblock on a rat!”

“I won’t leave ‘em!”

“They were gonna get stripped for their wombs anyway! And I promised Emtu-Rafich that the Unies wouldn’t get that shipment! We don’t have a choice, Enmiat!”

The arms pulled him back into the cockpit. “How much,” he rasped as the hatch shut on his face.

“Enough,” she said, voice thinned by regret. “They said they could cure me.”

Khemil died for this, he thought. Khemil died for this.

The wind whipped across the permafrost of the dead land between Larbur and Unescensi as they crawled out of the train and into the smog. Two minutes later the drop-pods landed and shock troops reclaimed the train. The corpses were identified and marked with their manner of death for documentation, final rites and disposal. But the two trainjackers had already made their way into the undercroft.

One limping as his middle limbs clutched a singular suspension chamber to his chest in the subterranean dark.

The Ring turned above, oblivious.




“Spittlestring? You asleep?”

nah. just thinkin’.

“Anything interesting?”

wouldn’t you like to know, funny-boy.

“Just a few more outposts, the Olristaan, and then we get back to the warm.”

oh i’ve been counting, Eithenin. you bet i’ve been fuckin’ counting.

“Lazy bastard. You’d sleep by a radiator all day if you could, don’t deny it.”

so cold out there, ringworker.

“Yeah, I know-”

not what i meant.


so cold.

“I try to… focus on the warm bits.”

“don’t we all.”

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