VERNE I
rating: +7+x

VERNE I

IronOnHerHip99

New Applelachia’s faded neon washed over Old Applelachia in muted color, leeching the vibrancy of old life from the natural glory of hills and stone. The world had been rendered to two extremes decades ago, and Old Applelachia had lost the war. The glimmering towers of urban sprawl had spread far into the mountains, yet still there lay hidden alcoves of decaying brickwork and crumbled industry lost to time. The ruins of yesteryear, where those who shunned modern society were likewise shunned by it. Within one such valley, shadowed by peaks of still-green forest, sat a squat and ugly old concrete facade. Vines and weeds choked the walls and rooftop, so much so that one could mistake the place for an ancient greenhouse, if it weren’t for the sharp noise of heavy machinery.

Inside, the pollution of city lights was blocked utterly, choosing instead to flourish under the flickering fluorescent bulbs, dim and comfortable yellow after decades of aging. Inside, the noise was clearer, sharper. The sounds of skilled work, specific rhythms and pauses now evident. Within this far-flung derelict still worked a smith.

She wiped grime from her forehead, turning to face the visitor after nearly an hour of continuous work. Most people no longer had the patience to stay until she was ready to speak with them, but those who did, well… They needed something more valuable than time. The stack of metal parts spread out on the table needed some time to cool, edges still hot from the cuts she’d made. Her visitor leaned against the doorframe to her workshop, dressed in a heavy-looking overcoat despite the warm temperatures of late spring.

“You have power, all the way out here?” His voice was quiet, his tone light. She nodded, moving to the cluttered counter opposite him. She swept a stack of papers off to one side, anticipating the need for open space.

“Private generator. Learned the hard way just how much they care about the old lines.” He nodded, standing straight and stretching casually. Her eyes followed the movements, sliding past the smooth and catching on the awkward, the heaviness that betrayed an old injury or concealed weapon. She’d learned that the hard way too.

“Smart. Resilient.” He moseyed over to the counter, meeting her gaze squarely. “Seems like people were right about you, including how tough it was to find you.” He grinned. “I’ve got a commission.”

She sighed, and pointed up, leaning on one arm now. He looked up, noticing for the first time the wall above her filled with signage and models. In particular, the large rectangular “No Customs” plaque, outlined in bold orange. He looked back to her. “Hear me out, at least.” She raised an eyebrow, waiting. The parts needed to cool, after all. He’d get a pitch. He’d leave, likely disappointed. Then, she’d warm up some old freezer food and get back to work. Not a big deal.

He rustled around in the overcoat for a minute before pulling out a rolled up, slightly crumpled poster. He unrolled it on the counter in front of her, upside down so she could read it. It was a blueprint, printed off in monochrome and upscaled a few times. The smaller text and numbers were difficult to make out. Still though, the pictures were clear enough. She glanced through, then folded it. His grin faded at that. So much for confidence.

“I have enough to pay for it. Can pay in advance if you need it.” Now she could hear just a hint of desperation in the quiet voice, just a hint of nerves starting to show.

“Not the problem.” She said as he slapped a card onto the counter, the dull black metal of a K-card echoing across the silent workshop. “Money is important, and I would’ve asked for it up front for a project like this anyway. No, the problem here is that I’m… retired.” His eyes betrayed him, then. Shock. So much for a poker face. “I make parts. Not weapons. Not anymore. Besides, this…” she indicated the plan. “This is beyond a normal gun. Nobody will make this. Nobody will even try.”

He seemed crestfallen, now. Good. Maybe she’d have the potatoes tonight…

“Wait.”

She turned back to face him. “It has to be beyond a gun. It has to. Nothing else will do what I need.” He was serious, now.

“What could you possibly need a pistol that can shoot holes in a tank for?” She laughed. “You gonna shoot into a bank vault or something? I don’t work with criminals or criminal wannabe’s, so, sorry.” The sound of her laugh was loud in the silence of her shop. It made her uncomfortable, for things to be so quiet. She was calmed, lately, by the song of machining.

“Not a vault. Something harder. Tougher.” His face, she now realized, was marred by scars. They criss-crossed his cheeks, neck, what she could see of his head, hidden under short cut, choppy black hair. His arm, too. When he reached for the schematic, unrolling it again. His fingers were thick, gnarled. She met his gaze again, this time finding no hesitation. No nerves.

“I’m shooting those.” He pointed. She followed the finger, back to her signage… no, above it. The poster that had half fallen, edges peeling from the tall brickwork. BEORGAN!, it proudly proclaimed. The pride of Crush, one of the gangs who’d originated somewhere deep in Old Applelachia. Not satisfied with dying out in drug-infested hollows, the gang had come together to build steel-wrapped monsters to rise up against the corporations that had abandoned their tiny towns. And they succeeded, to a point. Their creations were never as good, never as cutting edge. But, what they lacked in science they made up for in solid iron. Beorgan was an 80 foot goliath clothed in titanium, barely able to move under its own tremendous weight and near impossible to injure. Its greatest fight was nearly 25 years ago, yet its dominance remained unchallenged in both gang and corporate Kaiju fights. Were it to be allowed into the IDDL, who knows how far it could advance.

“You’re shooting… kaiju? Or him specifically?” He shrugged.

“Any of ‘em. All of ‘em. Same difference.” And the grin was back. The confidence was back. She was staring now. She shut her mouth, turning around. Thinking. She was on the back foot, now. By all rights she had to refuse. It was an insane proposition, outright. A gun able to pierce a kaiju. To pierce Beorgan… Her thoughts were scrambling. Ideas, blueprints, parts sprinted through her brain as she desperately tried to suppress the naive, childish excitement welling up inside.

She looked to the shop. The machinery, cold and quiet. The song was waiting. And yet, now she suddenly craved far more than a simple song. A gun built to kill a kaiju.

She turned. “It’s still impossible. This design is for a pistol. Sure, it’s feasible to make one big enough to shoot through a small kaiju. But you’re talking about an 80 foot behemoth with steel plates welded to it! No gun on the planet could do what you want.” She slapped a hand down on the schematic, rough and loud, now. Getting too excited.

His smile was still there. Unchanged. Bigger, wider, if anything. “So you can make it?”

She felt indignant, now. He’d waltzed into her shop, her territory, and gotten her worked up, inspired for the first time in… Gods, how long? She bent down, rummaging under the counter. Piles of old junk crashed out onto the floor. He peered over the counter, curious. She found it. Pulled it out, placed it gingerly on the counter, on top of the blueprint. The finished piece. Twenty-four inches of polished steel, nearly fifteen pounds of iron crafted into a beautiful metal weapon, created for one purpose only. To devastate.

He stared. “You… you already…”

“Who’s schematic do you think this is?” She tapped a finger to one corner, where a faded watermark of her old logo crossed the corner. “Posted it online as a challenge, ended up doing it myself when nobody stepped up. Doesn’t matter anyway, the thing fires like a canon. The recoil makes aiming impossible, plus it's as likely to break your arm as it is to actually hit something if you’re one-handed.”

He nodded. “I know. I can handle it.” He tapped his other arm, the one that had remained under the overcoat all along. She’d sensed a hint of it earlier, when he’d stretched ever so carefully. Now, he moved the coat away, letting the warm orange glow shine onto a full prosthetic, shoulder to fingers. The parts were old, several were damaged. The fingers didn’t move individually when he flexed, and a spark flew from where gears ground together. A patchwork job. She took it all in. A moment to re-focus.

“You can handle maybe a few shots, then that scrap job is gonna fall apart and be even more useless than it is now.” She walked away, back into the shop. Her late dinner was forgotten. “I probably have a manual for prosthetics somewhere in here…”

“For… you can make arms?” He asked, trailing after her, lost in the dense machinery.

“I can try. But don’t come running back if it kills you, I don’t do refunds or returns. And I definitely don’t do brains, so you’ll have to get it integrated somewhere else. Got it?” She waved a hand absently. "I’ll take the payment up front, I’ve had a redesign for the pistol kicking around for a while. Take that one and get used to the kickback best you can while I work. I’ll have the gun ready in a month, the arm… check back in a couple weeks.”

She was already deep into the laptop connected to her printer, opening schematics she hadn’t thought would see daylight… (well, moonlight, by now), ever again. His voice, closer than she expected, startled her.

“I’ll be back in two weeks.” The grin, wide and confident. “I’m Verne, by the way. So you know who’s paying you, and all.” She nodded, head overflowing with plans.

“Avery.” He raised an eyebrow at that.

“Not-?”

“Just a handle. Online only. Avery.” She said, firm. The nickname was embarrassing then, it was mortifying by now. He nodded, smiling. Embarrassing. He left not long after, taking the prototype pistol and a few rounds she’d stashed somewhere. Practice, get used to the recoil. It’ll be worse with upgrades, she’d warned. He’d laughed at that. Confidence. The whole shop was wrapped in it, now. She breathed it in, let it envelop her and guide the way she moved, the steps she took in each complex process. Drawing, measuring, crafting. Every part, every piece with the same confidence of the man who could look at the image of Beorgan, pride of Crush, and grin.

Hours later, with dawn sneaking past the horizon, the rhythmic sounds of machinery echoed in brilliantly new patterns for the first time in years.

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