rating: +13+x
In the rolling green hills of New Zealand, a locale known for its beauty and calm, unrest began to grow among the wine grapes and kiwifruit. Cattle grazed on the emerald green grass as the people that cared for them lived lives largely isolated from the outside world, modernity trickling in through sneering mouths and unreliable narrators. An echo chamber of surprising proportions, populated by those whose feet were driven into the ground by railroad spikes named tradition and perfect simplicity. This echo chamber grew, more and more spouting distaste for the rampant progression of technology, proclaiming it to be unnecessary, that it corrupted the youth. The more people talked, the more carbon dioxide built up in their bubble. Their minds slowed, hardened, unable to morph and adapt. They fed off of each other, spiraling further and further downwards into the consequences for the modern world they found themselves subject to. Every consequence had its own consequence that had its own consequence that had its own consequence and on and on and on until the inevitable death of civilization seemed to be at their doorstep.

Driven by fear, wishing to turn man back, a group known as the Foundational Minimalists stepped out from the fields, spreading their concerns to the wider population. When they were rejected, their views trashed and laughed at, many gave up and resigned themselves to a lifetime of despair as they watched the fall of man, but others' frustration morphed into anger. They returned to their echo chambers, their distaste turning to fury as they traded their signs and speeches for firearms and fertilizer bombs. They fell down a rabbit hole of self-radicalization, determined to have their message be heard and taken seriously by the uncaring and callous masses.

And heard their message was, the news of a terrorist group running amuck in New Zealand reached the ears of every country in the world, their radical, anti-technological rhetoric and demands for the destruction and discarding of modern technology confounded most and inspired few. In a world so interconnected, it was easy for the sympathetic to band together and vocalize support, some even journeying to New Zealand themselves to become a part of what they saw to be a turning point for the better in the world's history.

A multitude of corporations scattered throughout the world, their profit margins hinging on progress, began to take issue with the sentiment the organization promoted and spread. In America, where CEOs stood above Senators and Congressmen, gears began to move. Money moved hands, memos circulated high offices, greased politicians made impassioned speeches, and propaganda was expertly produced, all aimed at the classical American sentiment of freedom over terrorism. They fed the dormant spirit of the fair lady Manifest Destiny, twisting her silken gown into fatigues, crying that it was the bold and righteous United States of America's moral duty to surgically remove the tumor of terrorism from the healthy flesh of democratic nations, just as they had done all those decades ago in Iraq and Afghanistan. All failure had been worn away by the passage of time aided by the eroding waters of an American exceptionalism mindset, a blindfold of ignorance to ignorance.

Inflaming the passions of a vast majority of the American population was nigh impossible. Inflaming the passions of a powerful and vocal minority was easy. Those whose decisions would truly matter that didn't buy into the fervor were bought with money from the corporations who held a vested interest in seeing to it that the sentiments being propagated and popularized by the terrorist group be completely destroyed.

So it was that American troops landed in New Zealand and within a matter of weeks had completely uprooted the Foundational Minimalists, as easy as a gardener pulls weeds. However, many troops were left in New Zealand, titled "Peacekeepers," who were in charge of ensuring that the terrorist group didn't rebuild.

Their rule quickly became oppressive. Curfews were instituted because terrorists only meet under the cover of night. Gatherings were limited in size because terrorist groups thrived in numbers and it would be harder to coordinate uprisings. Checkpoints were established; if you didn't have what the guard working a checkpoint personally defined as a good enough reason for traveling to another place in New Zealand, you weren't allowed through. New Zealand police forces were disbanded, replaced with Peacekeepers, hungry for even a modicum of extra control and influence. Peacekeepers were required to be given a forty-five percent discount whenever purchasing any item. They threatened brothels with government-sanctioned closure due to American laws on prostitution if they weren't allowed free access to the people within. If a Peacekeeper was walking though a marketplace and took something from a merchant's stall, the merchant was expected to offer another.

The Peacekeepers grew lazy, complacent in their bounty. They were cocky, now seeing the people under their boot as weak pushovers. Seizing opportunity, after nearly five years of occupation, the people of New Zealand rose up and drove the Peacekeepers to Stewart Island, just off of the mainland of New Zealand where the only established military based sat.

In America, the story of the revival of the Fundamental Minimalists in spite of the courageous efforts of the American troops stationed in New Zealand spread like wildfire. Many demanded immediate retaliation, politicians and citizens alike. There was more support for the salting of the New Zealand earth than there had been for the removal of the terrorist forces before, so much more that corporations ultimately didn't have to do more than change the story when it first arrived in order to set things in motion. No palms were greased, no threats of blackmail made, only a little twist of the truth.

Pushes were made by troops from Stewart Island to breach the defenses of New Zealand's shores, but they were all ultimately repelled. Finally, deciding that it was time to not only cut the head from the hydra, but to cauterize the neck, the government approved the deployment of kaiju to break through the defenses and aid in the reclamation of New Zealand.

"Operator" is your title, and people had damn well better call you by your title. You earned it. Operators are made up of only the most capable soldiers. Kaiju are the factor that determines what side wins. You don't have a kaiju, you lose. It was simple, like holding a ten and a jack once the river washes a queen, king, and an ace ashore, all adorned with that red heart. And the players holding those cards had better know to push the chips forward when that happens. Humans were formidable opponents, so it only made sense that kaiju designed for warfare were piloted by people. The organic kaiju with trained and controlled animal brains were more popular in labor applications and fighting rings where precise and rational judgement was either in less demand or not wanted at all.

You'd been training for years, mind and body, for the work soon to be set before you. Ever since high school, you'd been obsessed with kaiju, so it only made sense that once you enlisted you would work your ass off to attain a position as an Operator. You exchanged much of the social life allotted to soldiers in boot camp and beyond for more time spent pushing yourself to be as knowledgeable and as physically capable as you could possibly be. It was a lonely experience, but it was all worth it. You not only qualified to be an Operator, but you stood out as one of the most capable, earning a position with the best of the best, assigned to the kaiju labeled as "first in line," meaning that if kaiju were ever deployed, you'd be the first to go.

Your kaiju stands proudly in the massive building sat in the middle of a depot in Missouri, USA, shipped in from Phoenix, Arizona. The white block text across its flank designated it as KJU-93-2002, but the purple paint on its ribs christened it anew as "AMONTILLADO". Garret steps down carefully from the scaffolding usually relegated to external maintenance, a bucket of purple paint dangling from his hands and the handle of a paintbrush in his mouth. Once he makes contact with the concrete floor, he scampers over to you. "So, whad'ya think?"

You grin, it's impossible to hide your glee. "Garret, you're an artist. An absolute artist."

Garret grins too, biting the tip of his tongue. "What can I say? I'm a gift to this squad."

Garret was an absolute literature nerd, having suggested the name as a tongue-in-cheek joke about the confined space within KJU-93-2002 in reference to some old, old short story whose full name you've already forgotten. You know you'd never read the story yourself, it was far too old and cult to grab your attention naturally, and you'd never paid much attention in English classes, but you and others had found the idea to be not only funny, but a bit charming too. It made the whole squad seem well-read and casual, able to crack a joke or two.

The new ornamentation of the calligraphy title, alongside a painting of a wine bottle Garret had finished yesterday, only managed to make your kaiju more amazing. Built on the foundation of a hyena, KJU-93-2002 was a metal monster that had never been more beautiful in your eyes. The angular, cut-to-shape metal body painted olive drab, accented by rivets and welding lines, combined with the viscous teeth and yellow LED eyes fills you with pride. Command had initially told Karr, your squad leader, that painting on the kaiju was strictly prohibited, but a few annoying messages to multiple higher-ups was enough to change their minds as long as he promised to stop bothering them.

Now, it was all coming to a head. With the conflict in New Zealand taking a sudden turn, the Peacekeepers having been pushed off the mainland by Fundamental Minimalists' insurgents, the military was finally taking initiative and sending in kaiju to do what the soldiers at Stewart Island couldn't do: make progress. The promise of being deployed first was coming to fruition too, your squad and Amontillado to be shipped out within the week.

You and Garret walk back to your bunks, jostling each other and speculating on what it'll be like to not only actually be in combat, but to be inside of a kaiju while it's fighting. The thought is exhilarating, to be behind what people look up to in fear and awe. The walk takes a bit longer than normal, you and Garret still sore from the augment surgery a few days ago, but soon enough you'd be moving much better than before. Just had to get used to it. Operators were afforded some of the best augments in the military. They wanted the people taking care of their monstrous children to be as well equipped as possible, so it made sense to you. Not that you would have argued against it. You didn't have to pay for them and would be allowed to keep them once your military career had concluded.

Back in your squad's tent, there's a quiet hustle and bustle as the other four members murmur to each other, sitting on the edge of their cots and shifting in place. As you and Garret enter, they all turn to look at you, the first words coming from your squad leader Karr who holds a folded piece of paper.

"Got a notice from up high, one of us is gonna be the designated pilot."

"Oh," is all you can muster in response before taking a seat on the edge of your own cot, suddenly very understanding of the others' fidgetiness. This was news to you, you were under the impression that the position of pilot would rotate between members. You don't have time to process your disappointment before Karr gives everyone one last look, unfolding the paper and reading it.

Soon he looks up, smiling. "Reia, seems you'll be manning the helm."

The tension in the tent melts away as people get up to pat Reia on the back, congratulating her on being chosen. She deserves it, she's the most knowledgeable and talented member of the squad. She aced all of her exams and classes when everyone was still studying things like electrical engineering, combat tactics, robotics, various computer sciences, and the like. She has a knack for the whole thing. In spite of your understanding, you still can't help but feel a bit bitter as you join the others in offering congratulations.

The plan is shockingly simple: once the area around Bluff, New Zealand experiences a torrential storm, your crew would be sent into the Foveaux Strait in Amontillado and walk across the sea floor until you arrive at Bluff's beach, from where you would lead a blitz assault on the fortifications that had so far barred American troops from the mainland. They wouldn't be surprised by the boats approaching, but hopefully with the aid of the storm and the sea walk they'd be surprised by your kaiju. While depending on the weather may seem irrational on paper, poor weather was commonplace for the area, making it a fairly sure bet.

You've been stationed in Oban for two weeks now, the only established town on Stewart Island. The weather has a high chance of devolving into a heavy storm tonight, hopefully meaning the attack will happen tonight too. You've been feeling antsy all day, ready to pounce on anyone who may accidently spook you. Waiting for the battle was hard on your nerves.

The tension in your squad is just as high. Everyone stays outside as much as they can, staring up at the sky. Every cloud is a blessing and any clearing a curse. The morning turns to afternoon, the sun shining brightly though the blue sky, much to your dismay. As the afternoon transitions into evening, the mood slowly wanes, turning to boredom once more. Karr and Reia are sitting in the corner of your squad's tent, reviewing and discussing the controls of Amontillado. Reia was selected to be the primary pilot of course, but Karr was selected to be the back up, so both of them pushed themselves to be as ready as possible. Garret is laying on his cot, reading. You idly tap your foot, still hopped up on the idea of finally getting to work. The other two members of your squad are off elsewhere, most likely occupying themselves with menial tasks to pass the time.

Unable to stand the silence, save the hushed conversation between Reia and Karr, you commit a cardinal sin and interrupt Garret's reading.

"Whatcha reading?"

Garret sets the book in his lap, his thumb bookmarking where he was. "It's a collection of short stories and essays, a pretty nice mix of really old, old, and newer."

"Same one you got the name for Amontillado from?"

"No, this is a different collection."

"What story you on?"

"The Devil and Tom Walker by some Irving dude. Never heard of him, but the story is one of the really old ones so it's not that surprising."

"I could swear I heard an English teacher say the name "Irving" back in high school. Dunno though. It any good?"

"Yeah, it's pretty good. The English is a tad ye olde at times, but still good."

"What's it about? I'm presuming some guy named Tom Walker and the Devil."

"Basically, yeah. Tom Walker meets the Devil in a swamp, makes an agreement for treasure, his wife is sacrificed, and that's about as far as I've gotten."

"Huh. Sounds pretty interesting, I'll have to keep it on my radar. Any others in there noteworthy?"

"There's an essay by this guy named Johnathan Swift called A Modest Proposal. Dude wrote it during the Irish famine as a way to get Britain to pay attention to the issue by proposing that the people start eating kids as a means to combat the famine."

You nod your head, pretending to know what the Irish famine was. You can guess what an Irish famine is, but not the specific event hinted at by the "the."

Garret doesn't seem to notice. "There's also Welcome to the Monkey House, really strange one about…" he slowly fades off, looking up at the roof of the tent. Karr and Reia have also stopped their hushed whispering. You sit for a moment confused as to what was happening until you notice it: gentle thumps against the tent fabric. It starts slow, but quickly picks up, and soon it's a chorus of white noise. The sound of rolling thunder breaks you out of your stunned silence as you leap up from your cot and sprint to the now rustling flap of the tent, throwing it open.

Outside, the sky has turned a miserable gray, a deluge obscuring the distance from you with the sheer volume of water falling. It was beautiful.

You turn to the others in the tent, grinning widely, excitement coursing through you like electricity, jumping wildly from nerve to nerve. "Seems we'll be shipping out tonight."

The interior of Amontillado is confined, much more than you'd initially expected. Of course, you've been in the kaiju before, but now you have a tank of oxyacetylene strapped to your back and are wearing thick protective clothing. It's hot too, extremely hot, though this was because the multitude of vents meant to help regulate the heat had been sealed. Once you reached land, the vents would be opened again, hopefully making the interior somewhat more bearable.

Amontillado slowly walks along the floor of the Foveaux Strait, making its way to the beach of Bluff. It takes over an hour, but eventually you arrive at your rendezvous, waiting for the boats carrying other troops to call in. The kaiju sits just before the sea floor rises up, trying to remain out of sight for as long as possible, aided by the dark of night and storm.

You stand and wait, wishing there was someone else there to talk to, but you all have jobs to see to in different parts of the kaiju. It's the same job for all of you, save for Reia, the pilot, and Garret, who was stationed where the diesel was burned for fuel, ensuring that nothing goes wrong and then ensuring that the kaiju doesn't explode if something does go wrong.

Then it happens. The kaiju begins to lurch forward once more, pushing itself through the depths. The time had come to lead the charge.

You can faintly hear the water running off the kaiju and crashing back into the ocean once it breaches. Pretty soon, the vents would open and the kaiju would use the full extent of the engines' power to crash through the insurgent's fortifications.

As Amontillado begins to move faster, the air now marginally less stuffy, you hear a new creak and groan from within the kaiju. Something was already wrong. You shuffle forward through the tight path, the dry, hot air sapping you of moisture, following the sound that threatened disaster.

Soon you find the issue, a support had given way in the intense heat of the ocean crawl. Once the kaiju had gone into full-burn, the machinery it was supporting had begun to shake, knocking itself out of place. It was an easy fix this time, but it was certainly an eye opener for you, revealing just how sensitive the seemingly invincible beast could be.

You spend three adrenaline-soaked hours inside the kaiju, welding small wounds, oiling machinery, and realigning anything that goes crooked. You're grinning the entire time, laughing as you ride the high of glory. They didn't stand a chance, you took them by surprise and now the army had a foothold once more. You're beaming as you exit the kaiju, expecting soldiers to come and clap you on the back, thanking you for leading the charge, but it's almost the exact opposite, like they're avoiding you.

The successful attack on Bluff was seen as a declaration of war by the government of New Zealand. Quickly, Australia, allied with New Zealand, joined in the war effort, sending troops to New Zealand to bolster their defenses.

New Zealand's kaiju were designed for agriculture, incapable of fighting back against the Americans' massive kaiju designed to wage war. Australia had no kaiju, instead profiting heavily on exporting all of the lithium and aluminum mined in their region rather than utilizing it to build kaiju of their own. Because of this, the New Zealand and Australian troops would be forced to adapt to combat against a kaiju without utilizing a kaiju themselves.

The corporations fueling the war effort back in America, providing kaiju and general supplies, were pleased to find out that Australia had begun helping New Zealand. Once New Zealand was retaken, the military would inevitably shift their gaze to Australia. With the aid of the kaiju, America would make quick work of it too, allowing the corporations to set up shop, giving them access to the abundance of lithium and aluminum for cheaper than ever before.

The war rages on, most of New Zealand having been taken by the U.S. military in the last two years. You stand in Amontillado, the rhythmic steps driving you forward to what seems to be a decisive last push to reclaim the remaining holdouts. You find yourself feeling relaxed. You went into most battles feeling like a spring, wound up and tense, but the promise of an easy battle had wormed its way into your head.

Once you arrive, it's business as usual. People begin pelting Amontillado with bullets, raining hellfire on him, but he shrugs it off, steady as ever.

You're welding a fissure when Amontillado stops in his tracks and doesn't start up again. The faint sound of warfare coming from outside the kaiju tells you that the battle isn't over. But something else is missing too. It takes a second before you realize what it is: the constant clanging of bullets hitting Amontillado has also stopped, almost completely. People are still shooting, but they aren't aiming at your kaiju anymore.

Something's happened, something that hasn't ever happened before.

You abandon your task, making your way to the cockpit as fast as you can, hoping that on your way there Amontillado will kick back to life and start walking again.

It doesn't happen.

You arrive at the cockpit and find Reia slouched over in her chair, laying on the dashboard, a trickle of blood running down between the controls. A small hole sits in one of the monitors, running all the way through the metal behind it, the outside air whistling in. A marksman killed Reia. Your mind rapidly sifts through all the possibilities.

Was there a leak? Did plans or blueprints that show where the cockpit is get into their hands somehow?

Did they have some sort of infrared or heat signature technology and spot her? This would be the area with the least ambient temperature disruption.

Was it just sheer dumb luck?

But one thought rises above the others: I don't know how to pilot him.

You'd never been taught how to pilot your kaiju, having been relegated to repairs exclusively. You need to find Karr, and fast. He should know how to pilot Amontillado.

You swiftly exit the cockpit, expertly navigating the tight passageways. The cruel hours upon hours spent in the hellish monster were paying off, you knew where you were trying to go and how to get there as quickly as possible.

You're turning a corner when you hear something drive itself into the hull, a loud CHNK! sounding out. Peering into another catwalk, you see what looks to be a kind of harpoon, lodged into the interior with claws that grab onto the hull. Faint thuds sound out, echoing to you, a steady rhythm, before stopping once they reach the harpoon. Moments later, the metal starts screaming, warning of it being cut into by some kind of power tool.

You take cover behind the bend, drawing your pistol. You've never had to fight someone inside your kaiju, but it's been a consistent fear in the back of your mind that now seems to be coming to fruition. Operators are stuck with 9mm handguns loaded with soft-point rounds to try to avoid ricochet as much as possible, a real risk given the tight and mostly metallic nature of a kaiju's innards. Still deadly, but you can't help but worry that you're at a disadvantage from the get-go because of it. Most likely, the enemy will have an automatic or semi-automatic rifle, ready to fire at anything that moves. While they may get hit by a bounce, the hail of bullets in such a small space all but guarantees that you'll be hit too.

You peek around the corner, just barely letting one eye over to get a good enough picture. Sparks are flying as you see a rotating blade slowly working its way through the thick hull. As much as you'd like to take the opportunity to run, you can't risk them finding you when you aren't looking and killing you, but you also can't take any opportunity shots until the breach is complete, leaving you both open and aware. You figure your best bet is to sit and wait, to try to take them by surprise.

It's an excruciating few minutes, listening to the harsh screeching of the metal as it protests against the power tool, waiting for the hatch to be opened. Eventually, the cacophony ends, the power tool winding down as the metal falls way. Seconds later, a dull crash as it lands on the ground below.

In the sudden comparative silence, you hold your breath, trying to be as quiet as possible. Any indication of your position could be fatal.

Footsteps slowly begin approaching, cautious, trying to stay silent just like you.

Closer, closer, closer…

You give little thought as you swing around the corner, firing off three shots as soon as you're parallel to the passageway. You miss the first two, sparks flashing on the metal guts, but manage to hit the soldier in the shoulder, jolting him to the side. He's got an angle grinder hanging from his hip and what seems to be an automatic rifle in his hands. You take the moment of opportunity as he's stunned to aim center mass, only to pull the trigger and realize that the cheap, mass-produced standard issue pistol has jammed. You don't have time to clear it, so you rush him, tacking him to the ground as he begins to take aim at you, a hail of bullets flying through the passageway as his gun is knocked aside. You feel a sharp pain in your back, likely having been hit by a ricochet, but you're too focused on trying to pin the soldier down. You reach for your bowie knife, undoing the clasp and drawing it before it's knocked a few feet away in the struggle.

Adrenaline takes over. You use your legs to finally successfully pin his arms down and reach to your back, drawing the welding torch. You quickly undo the valve, oxyacetylene beginning to flow as you reach to your belt for your striker. With a single shnk!, the gas takes to flame. The soldier begins to panic even more, trying his damnedest to throw you off, uselessly kicking his legs. The heavy pack on your back gives you significant help in keeping him down.

You drop your striker, placing a gloved hand on the soldier's head, keeping it still as you lower the welding torch to his opposite temple.

His screams are almost inhuman, the flesh burning, charring, sloughing away. His right eye begins to distort before bursting, steaming fluid spilling out. The sweet, meaty aroma of cooking flesh mingled with a harsh, sulfurous stench from his burning hair fills your nose.

It feels like an eternity before his thrashes weaken, fading into stillness. You don't know if he's dead or if he couldn't take the pain anymore and blacked out. Grabbing your discarded bowie knife, you slice his throat, avoiding making eye contact with the burnt corpse.

As you sit in silence, your breath catching in your throat, the smell of cooked meat permeates the area, quickly over taking the acrid miasma of burnt hair. Your stomach growls, causing more shame and disgust to wash over your already sodden body.

Then, Amontillado begins moving again, shaking you from your stupor. Karr must have gotten to the controls. No time for dramatics anymore, Amontillado was alive once more which meant you were back on duty.

You shove the body out of the breach, wishing to hide what you'd done, but not before taking his angle grinder and the battery it's attached to. You briefly wonder at the amount of power it's able to store if it can power an angle grinder consistently for minutes on end as it cuts through metal, but the wonders of modern technology will have to wait. You reach through the hole, dragging in a length of the steel cable dangling from the harpoon to the ground. The angle grinder makes short work of the cable, sending the slack tumbling to the ground below.

Adaptation to kaiju warfare was hastening its pace.

Retrospection keeps you up at night. The more you look at the battles you've fought, the people that lay in their aftermath, you can't help but wonder. Maybe it was an oncoming weariness, maybe your mind was uncomfortable with the people you'd killed, indirectly or otherwise.

Town after town, city after city, you'd plowed through barriers and crushed militia underfoot, all from within the confines of Amontillado. Blind to the actual war being fought. But you've wandered the smoldering ashes left in your wake, peering at the detritus.

The destroyed homes and towns, crumbling ruins, don't bother you. The people do. You aren't sure what a radical insurgent looks like, but every corpse you see doesn't strike you as one. They seem like everyday people, desperate to protect their home. Regular civilians who took up arms because they wanted to protect their loved ones. You've also begun wondering why the Australian government was so quick to come to New Zealand's aid. Yes, they're allied with New Zealand, but the Foundational Minimalists aren't New Zealand, they're a sect of extremists. It was all so confusing, so frustrating to try to get straight in your head. So much of what has happened in the last few years plagues your mind, but it's what happened two weeks ago that's become the most haunting.

You were drudging through the ruins of a town a few hours after a battle with other soldiers. The official order of business was to search for survivors who may be hiding out and to take them as prisoners, but most were there to loot the buildings for souvenirs and valuables. As you shifted rubble out of a doorway, you saw a bit of a sweater poking out of a pile of rubble within the small house. A muffled cry came from within, the high pitch suggesting that a child was trapped.

You quickly got to work pulling the pieces of collapsed wall and ceiling away, slowly revealing the truth. The sweater that poked out was being worn by a woman as she grasped tightly to a man who had also been killed by the rubble, their heads covered in blood as their skulls were dented in spots from falling debris, their backs bent inhumanly. They were both leaned over, seemingly shielding something. That something made its identity known as the cries grew louder from beneath the man and woman. Gently prying the corpses away confirmed your suspicions, but you were only partially right.

Sitting huddled, having been protected by the people who were presumably their parents, sat a young boy and a baby. The baby was violently crying, completely red in the face, while the boy gently held it in one arm, the other arm aiming a pistol at you. His face was contorted in anger and fear, tears streaming down his cheeks as he gritted his teeth. He couldn't have been much older than fourteen. Taking quick glances at the parents' corpses, you saw that the father had an empty holster strapped to his belt.

You put your hands up, slowly crouching down as you tried to assure the boy that you wouldn't hurt him. He didn't speak at first, just trying to keep the pistol level with your head, fighting his trembling hands. You stayed crouched, keeping your hands up, not saying a word. You decided it was best to let him control the moment.

He only spoke once.

"Why? Why are you doing this to us?"

You started to answer, but made the mistake of moving forward a little too quickly when you did and scared the kid. He fired off two shots, but missed both due to how nervous and shaky he was. You quickly dove forward, knocking the boy over as you pinned the arm holding the gun down. You pried the pistol from his hands, tossing it away. Three soldiers ran into the building, having heard the gunshots. They quickly assessed the scene as you let go of the boy. He didn't make any more moves to attack, he just tried his best to hold back tears as he reached to the ground to pick up the baby again, but stopped partway. He gently moved the blanket covering the back of the baby's head, revealing a blood stain as it continued to cry, louder than before. When you'd tackled the boy, the baby's head must have hit a piece of rubble.

The boy cradled the baby in his arms as gently as he could, cooing words of comfort and security. His barrier broke down and he began to cry with the baby; quiet, choking sobs intermingled with the intense, unashamed wailing.

He didn't fight the soldiers as they used zip ties to secure his hands, only asking that they be kept in front of him so he could continue to carry his little sister. You didn't help, you just sat on the ground in silence, wheezing breaths coming in and out as you tried to reckon with reality.

Deep breaths as you make your way through the hot interior, squeezing through a tight pathway, your face almost pressed up against the asbestos insulation. They didn't cover the guts inside because it'd make it harder to repair and, more importantly, it was cheaper to leave it exposed. You don't have time to consider the consequences, not until you're dead. Your job is to find what's broken and fix it, whether you want to or not isn't a factor.

You continue your search, inspecting machinery and trying to listen for anything that could give the issue away. The shoddy welding kit strapped to your back isn't making it any easier to traverse, but it's a necessary tool. The next few breaths you take tell you that you're near the problem. The air's thick with metal dust, you can practically taste the steel. Something's grinding down, an easy fix this time.

You keep slinking forward through the tight passageway, the air growing thick with particulates. A metallic clang rings out, quickly followed by more and more without stop as bullets pelt Amontillado.

The battle's begun.

You pick up your pace, trying to find the issue before you're responsible for a loss. One of the clangs rings out louder than the others before the passageway is filled with the sounds of a bullet ricocheting. There was someone with a high-caliber rifle aiming for chinks your kaiju's armor, trying to hit something internally that was particularly sensitive. You don't know if you were lucky that the ricocheting bullet hadn't hit you or unlucky that you were in the same place where the bullet had penetrated. Yet another moment of proof that Reia's death three years ago was just bad luck, one of the many you've been tallying up, bitterness calcifying in your heart.

You finally find the source of the grinding, applying a generous amount of oil, and even realign a few pieces to ensure that everything is in tip-top shape. All that was left was some minor clean up.

You're scrubbing metal shavings out of a tight corner to prevent a jam when two gears catch the tip of the gloved ring finger on your right hand. They only have a hold of fabric, giving you a moment of complete stillness as you try to process what's happening. Quickly, your free hand begins to shove your right sleeve up to get at the velcro fastening, but before you can the gears pinching your glove click forward, crushing the tip of your finger.

The pain is excruciating as the bone in your finger is pulverized by the hellish industry. You begin trying to jerk you hand back in a vain attempt to free yourself, but nothing budges. Some mechanism in the kaiju moves and the teeth of the gears rotate in turn, bringing your finger further in, now nearly at the middle joint.

You tug only a few more times before coming to your senses. In that moment, when the adrenaline's fully kicked in, you realize what needs to happen before your palm is drug in as well. The gears begin to turn again. Undoing a clasp on your vest, you draw your bowie knife. You slice the fabric that covers your trapped finger, separating the cloth finger from the glove.

You take a deep breath as you prepare to wedge the blade in the joint between your palm and finger, raising it slightly before plunging down.

Your body screams at you to pull the knife out, but you force the instinct to the back of your mind, digging the knife deeper into your joint. The overwhelming pain soaks into your very being, even your legs begin to ache and tremble. You twist and wiggle and push, going deeper and deeper until you're over halfway through.

The groan of the machinery fills your ears, ringing louder than your screams. The gears begin turning again. You're running out of time. You try to push in a little further, your body instinctively fighting the effort, before you change tactic and begin prying at the joint.

There's a sickening, wet pop as it comes loose. You quickly slice through the remaining muscle tissue, flesh, and ligaments, freeing your hand.

You stumble away, landing on your back as the gears pull the rest of your severed finger in. You slowly curl into a fetal position, tightly grasping the bleeding wound on your hand, weeping and coughing. All the while, the machinery within creaks and groans, clicks and bangs, an endless cacophony that stops for nothing, mocking your fragility. Amontillado's hyena cackle.

"Operator" is something of a misnomer, as most of the soldiers inside of a kaiju— six, at most— are there to do maintenance. Something along the lines of "Mechanic" or "Grease Monkey" would be more accurate, but it isn't about accuracy. The army wanted people to get grand ideas about working the inside of a kaiju. They don't tell you that you're going to be scampering around a tightly enclosed metal-flesh prison that's cooking you alive; sweeping away excess metal dust; oiling and repairing machinery, though most "repairs" consist of beating bent metal back into place with a hammer; and trying to patch holes with a rudimentary welder.

In reality, only one person is ever truly an Operator, but even then it's not all that grand. Kaiju function on strict commands issued via a panel of buttons and switches, there's no joystick in there; you give it a general idea of what it's to do, such as "USE SMALL MUNITIONS," "USE HEAVY MUNITIONS," or "PROCEED TO COORDINATES." Of course you can alter the path it takes enough to avoid obstacles, but not enough to leave the general area. Try to do that and the higher ups will seize control remotely and probably put you back to boots on the ground. The only reason they don't do it themselves all the time is simply because a "manually" piloted kaiju beats a long-distanced piloted one every time, the lag between input, action, and feedback being what it is.

You fell for the hype. The propaganda posters promised that the most decorated heroes were kaiju Operators, joined by art depicting a scantily-clad woman at the helm of a kaiju, joystick in one hand, the other throwing up a peace sign. Teens talked about the glory they'd earn if they could pilot a kaiju, the battles they'd win single-handedly. Others simply craved the destruction and brutality it promised a kaiju was capable to producing. It seemed to you that you had walked straight from the stage in your high school, diploma in hand, to the recruitment office.

In reality, kaiju don't win battles against kaiju-less enemies alone, not anymore; troops had quickly adapted to kaiju warfare without a kaiju. Maybe they tilt the hand of one side in the battle, but they don't win single-handedly. It's more about strategic placement, throwing a kaiju at a heavy defense and breaking it down as quick as possible before the enemy manages to give it enough papercuts. A couple of platoons on the larger side with their heads on their shoulders can take down a kaiju with some difficulty, but most soldiers can't keep their head when facing down a kaiju.

The odds were even worse in kaiju to kaiju battle, though you had yet to experience it yourself. It was a matter of dealing as much damage as you could before the enemy sent in their own kaiju. A fight between two kaiju is essentially a draw as one kaiju loses the fight directly and the other has to immediately retreat because they'll be too damaged to continue fighting.

Eight years into the war and disillusionment has taken hold. It's wrapped its cold hands around your heart and squeezed until all passion left your body. You stare off into the coast, sitting on the edge of the Australian mainland. Over half of Australia had been taken, the rest already in the calculating crosshairs of the higher-ups, and rightly so as the remaining defenses were their strongest.

However, given the weighty nature of the coming battles, all of that was on pause as the higher-ups demanded that all Operators be tested early. All kaiju Operators were required to undergo a physical and mental examination annually, barring special cases. These were conducted to ensure that each Operator were still fit to perform their jobs. You already finished your tests a week ago, having been called to the head sawbones' tent a few minutes ago to review your results. You feel as though you already know what the answer will be, but still hold out hope.

You'd most likely be reprimanded for being tardy, but you needed to calm your nerves before you went in so you could show off your best self. The cool air blowing in from the sea was soothing, you try to ignore the wheeze in your chest as you breathe it in.

As you pass the primary medical tents, you see a familiar face laying on a cot, coughing violently: Garret. You thank whatever god is looking over you that you don't work with the fuel and exhaust for your kaiju. That's the job of the poor soul currently infirmed. More than likely, it'd soon become someone else's.

A part of you wants to stop and see him, to talk with him and try to bring him some comfort, but you don't. In the recent years, the members of your squad had grown distant from one-another. Before, you all had bonded over a fascination with kaiju. Now, that very same bond had driven a wedge between you. No one wanted to talk about kaiju, but their life now was defined by a kaiju. So you just keep walking.

Shoving the flap aside, you enter the doctor's tent. She's sitting down at a makeshift desk, looking through papers with a cold eye, letting no detail slip by. Your commander stands off to the side of the desk, watching over her shoulder. You clear your throat, breaking both of their focuses.

"Ah, Trip. Please sit down," your commander says, gesturing to the seat in front of the desk, his face turned into a frown.

You sit down, being sure to look as prim and proper as possible. Seems they either don't notice that you were late or don't care.

The doctor searches through some papers sitting to the side before pulling a select few out. She skims through them, already aware of what they said but still double checking. The grimace on her face doesn't inspire confidence, dread slowly beginning to fill your stomach.

"'Olivia Gyre Tripptern, single, AB+, Kaiju Squad 20, assigned to KJU-93-2002.'"

"Yes ma'am."

"Well, Ms. Tripptern, I've been looking over the results from your examinations and I'm afraid they aren't good."

The doctor picks up one of the papers sitting on the desk, a glossy black paper with some faint white splotches on it. She walks to a light strip hanging from the pole that holds the center of the tent's top up, turning it on before clipping the paper to it. The white parts light up brightly, showing you an x-ray scan of your lungs.

"Now, it's a bit unrefined due to the limitations of the field technology we have, but it's still readily apparent that your lungs are far from healthy." She points to the inside of your lungs, filled with white fuzz, like cotton candy. "Do you see all of this here? This should be mostly dark tissue. There would still be some white strands and clumps near the center, your alveoli most abundant there, but there is far too much all over the lungs which is indicative of extensive damage."

She mercilessly pulls two more sheets from the pile, pointing out certain results on them. "All of this is corroborated by your consistently high-blood pressure and, according to your examiner for the physical endurance and fitness examinations, your constant shortness of breath induced by little strenuous activity."

The doctor puts the papers back on her desk. "I don't have the tools or means to diagnose it out here, but I heavily suspect you have either COPD or pulmonary fibrosis. Of course, there exists the possibility you have both, however the comorbidity is very low, if that gives you any peace."

You don't know what "comorbidity" is and are too engulfed in dread to try to use context clues to figure it out, all you know is that you heard "morbid" in it and it's begun to hollow out your chest. So you nod your head, pretending that you found some semblance of comfort in the jargon.

The next few papers are taken from the desk. "Now, the psychological examination. The doctor who conducted the interview suspects that you may be suffering from some form of a post-traumatic stress disorder, but isn't certain. He noted here that you're definitely prone to anxiety, however. Alongside that, he seems to think your outlook on both the war effort and your position as an Operator has become cynical, 'sometimes even bordering on hatred,'" she reads directly from the psychologist's notes. "While the loss of your finger wasn't significant enough to be of note in your physical examination, it's noteworthy here as you lost it while repairing KJU-93-2002, which the doctor suspects is a contributing factor to all of this. He also makes note of your incident in Alice Springs with the two children."

Everything is cascading down, mudslides of anger and sorrow, crushing you underneath the weight. It's coming, you know it is, part of you is trying to surface from beneath the torrent of mud and dirt by welcoming the inevitable, but you still find yourself praying that in spite of it all you'll be sent back to be entangled in the innerworkings of Amontillado, to be set free to drink the succulent motor oil and terror as you fight for your life.

"Now, physical and psychological evaluations like that aren't enough to bar you from general service, not with our current need for as much manpower as possible, but Operators need to be fully with the program, fully able to perform their duties, not only physically, but mentally too."

You've reached the event horizon.

"I'm sorry to tell you this, but, having reviewed the results from your examinations—"

This is it, here it comes. Your fate, your doom, your freedom.

"—it's been concluded that you are no longer fit to be an Operator. You'll be transferred to a boots-on-the-ground platoon, effective immediately. Do you understand?"

The words ring through your mind, they came so bluntly and quickly. You'd known they were coming, but the denial of it made it hurt all the worse. You stare for a few moments before speaking up. "Yeah."

"Good. Here's what happens next. We'll begin the process of…" The doctor kept talking, droning out procedure and reinforcement that only the most capable can be an Operator, but it all dies in your ears, the world collapsing in on itself as your thoughts run wild.

Why are you upset? Isn't this a good thing? You don't understand, you hate the kaiju, you hate the hell it holds for you, but the thought of being anywhere but inside it crushes your spirit. Your leaden pride and desperation for identity drags you down and down into the depths of cognitive dissonance where you writhe blissfully, wishing for relief.

Was it pride? You don't feel proud of your work. You're an Operator, it's your job. There isn't any glory, not anymore, but the promise still stands out in the distance, a light in the darkness drawing you ever closer in.

You begin to suspect that behind the bioluminescence there lies only teeth. Amontillado sat waiting, hungry.

He was going to devour you whole, your body running through the burning guts as fiberglass insulation sticks to your skin, asbestos flooding your throat, and your bones being pulverized. You'd become a crack in his body, one to be closed up by a slave in fire retardant clothing, her eyes obscured by the black lenses of her goggles as she grins and grins and grins, ivory teeth coated in blood and metal shavings, her oxyacetylene torch lighting to a heinous crimson flame.

The war was seemingly coming to a close. The campaign to take Southern Australia, the last remaining bastion of the enemy, was beginning and you were on the frontlines, though not like you used to be.

You're crouched in the mud as rain pours down, obscuring anything past maybe two-hundred feet. Ideal conditions for a kaiju blitz attack, but not ideal for foot soldiers who depend much more on vision. You squeeze your eyes shut, trying to ignore the water slowly seeping into your boots. Rainwater pours over the lip of your helmet, some of it catching on your nose and running over your lips. The rifle strapped to your back, its sleek outer chasse betraying its cheap make, digs into your spine.

You reach into your pocket and pull out a small, damp red box, its only décor is the product name in black block lettering: "JUDECCA". You open the top and reach in, pulling out a cigarette. It's completely waterlogged, pathetically drooping in your fingers, some tobacco spilling out. You stuff it back in with its brethren, peering inside to check the others. They're all sopping wet.

Placing the cigarette package back into your pocket, you gaze around the area. Hundreds of other soldiers are scattered around, all waiting in anticipation. No one seems to be making conversation, distracting themselves in anyway. They all stare forward, tapping fingers, rubbing arms, chewing anything they can, or some other nervous tick. Standing amidst them all, his hyena frame seemingly almost panting in excitement, was Amontillado. The name and painting of a wine bottle has almost completely faded away, Garret no longer around to touch it up.

You've never truly noticed his height before. Of course you were cognizant that he was gigantic, but you never felt it until now. He somewhere around seven stories tall on all four legs. His massive, glowing yellow eyes pierced the darkness and rain, beacons warning of imminent danger where the olive drab painted metal hid such threats. Staring at the monster, you can only feel terror. You wonder if this was how soldiers have always felt on the battlefield with him. Inside, away from it all, you'd always had grand visions of inspiring the troops on the ground, leading massive charges filled with the impassioned war cries of people ready to lay down their life for what they believed in. Now you feel like cattle to be driven into the grinder.

Your fit of existentialism is interrupted by the massive cattle prod revving up before beginning to run towards the enemy. No one makes a sound, there are no shouts, whoops, or cries of any kind. Everyone just stands up and begins sprinting to keep up with the hyena kaiju.

Running through the war trashed field is a grim reminder that it was a forest mere weeks ago as you have to dodge fallen trees, stumps, and all matter of clumped foliage. Keeping up with the other soldiers and Amontillado becomes more and more difficult as the sprint goes on. Your lungs are burning, every breath coming out as more of a wheeze, making your esophagus feel like it's trembling. Your augmented legs are performing perfectly, not even a twinge of strain, but it doesn't matter if you aren't breathing.

You keep pushing forward, boots sinking into the muddy terrain. The edges of your vision begin to haze, the sound of your labored breathing filling your ears. Tunnel vision takes over, the jolting feeling of your feet hitting the ground and pushing off is replaced by the rapid beat of your heart as it tries harder and harder to move oxygen to organs hungry for more.

Your foot catches on a fallen tree limb and you tumble forwards, rolling into the mud. When your focus comes back moments later you're staring up at the dense clouds, their gray masses obscuring the night sky. You're covered in mud, more seeping into your clothes as you lay there, but you don't move. Your chest rises and falls rapidly, desperate to make the most of the moment of respite.

Slowly, your breathing eases. The beating of your heart fades away from your ears, giving way to a surprisingly quiet moment. In the distance you can hear the faint sounds of stomping, most likely from Amontillado as he continues onward. You know you need to stand, catch up with the other soldiers, but you don't. You lay in the mud for a few moments more, savoring the stillness.

Gunshots ring out. You can't stay behind anymore.

You stand up, shaking off excess mud and beginning a steady jog towards the battle, hoping to avoid overexerting yourself again.

The fight is well underway when you arrive, insurgents firing down into the field from concrete bastions and walls, pillboxes dotted throughout from which machine guns peer through. Amontillado is slowly making his way through the fortifications, crushing insurgents as he fires off small shells from mounted guns. You take position next to a group of other soldiers, hunkering down behind a crumbled wall, taking pot shots at enemies.

As the battle rages on, progress slowly being made— mostly by Amontillado— you begin to feel a sense of dread. Something's amiss, but you aren't certain what. As you push inch by inch closer to the fortification, taking in the battle, you try to piece together what feels wrong. As Amontillado passes by a machine gun nest, you realize what's been gnawing at you: people aren't very focused on your kaiju. The machine gun nest Amontillado passes by doesn't take a single shot at him, instead continuing to focus on the approaching soldiers. But why?

The answer comes barreling onto the battlefield.

From behind the enemy fortifications comes what seems to be a massive crocodile, willingly crushing its allies and portions of their wall as it sprints towards Amontillado. The Australians have a kaiju, one they must have been working on perfecting for the past few years. But this one is different than the ones America has been utilizing in battle, it seems to be almost purely organic. It's covered in metal plating, industrialized limbs propelling it forward in ways nature never intended, but it was all fused and woven into its flesh. The American war kaiju were built on the framework of an organic beast, but were outfitted and gutted to be almost entirely machine.

You stare in awe as the crocodile kaiju stops near Amontillado, instinctively blinking cybernetic eyes that don't need moisture, seemingly sizing him up. It slowly shifts its body to the left, searching for the best opening. The kaiju's movements were so fluid, every little motion purposeful. Amontillado's movements were stiff and jerky, broad strokes of motion, lacking the subtle little movements the crocodile kaiju showcased: a twitch of a claw, the blinking of eyes, its jaw slightly trembling.

Their kaiju wasn't piloted or controlled. It thought like a wild animal, acted like one. The kaiju begins to open its maw, revealing a yellow-white interior with metallic teeth capped with what seemed to be diamond. A guttural growl rises from it's throat, so deep that you can feel the bass in your chest from hundreds of feet away.

In that moment you realize that Amontillado stands no chance against the crocodile. Everyone used piloted kaiju in war because it was trivial to fight animalistic kaiju, so it became irrelevant to train against them. Now the crew inside was facing not only a threat that they had idea how to fight, but what seemed to be a more refined, more perfected iteration of animalistic kaiju. All the ones you'd seen before were barely there mentally, dull eyes with little fight behind them except for what brain augments could coax out, but this kaiju had a demonic bloodlust.

Amontillado makes a lunge for the crocodile kaiju, trying to bite down on its snout, but the crocodile swiftly scoots out of the way with more dexterity than you'd expected. It continues to stare at Amontillado, still growling with its mouth open wide. With a kick of its legs, it leaps forward, gripping Amontillado's neck between its teeth, crushing the metal with ease with its powerful jaw. Amontillado struggles, thrashing as best he can, trying to break away from the crocodile's grasp, but the teeth have sunken in too deep, folding the hull like it was wet clay.

There's a sudden stillness, Amontillado stops writhing and the crocodile stops squeezing down, either satisfied by the grip or confused by Amontillado's struggle coming to a halt. You can imagine the panic within Amontillado, the pilot trying to decide what to do, the other Operators futilely trying to conduct any minor repair they can. The damage done was already colossal, the only solution would be to retreat, but that was impossible while the crocodile had its teeth sunk in.

The stillness is ended as the reptilian kaiju jerks itself to the side, taking Amontillado off of his feet. Massive amounts of mud and dirt fly into the sky, almost obscuring the view of the fight, as the crocodile begins rolling with Amontillado still between its teeth. The earth under you shakes, knocking you to the ground. Every one has stopped firing, watching the execution.

The attack only lasts for maybe ten seconds, but the cacophony of shredding metal and earth being dug into seems to echo through the field for long after. Amontillado lays on his side, his body bent and broken, his neck mangled. The crocodile stares emotionless at its downed prey before sinking its teeth around Amontillado's skull, eliciting more metallic crunches. It begins thrashing, shaking almost its entire body side to side.

Amontillado may have been alive at one point before the army had mutilated him, but he was very much a robotic corpse by the time he entered service. Never did he strike you as living, but as his head is torn from his body, being crushed between the jaws of the crocodile, the screeching of the metal being torn becomes the screams of an animal being slaughtered mercilessly, so loud that you feel an ache in your ears. Black blood pours out of his neck, pooling in the ditch created by the death roll. Some shredded electronic sparks, setting the oil and diesel ablaze.

Standing in the inferno, the crocodile kaiju raises its head, letting out another deep growl, much louder than before. It wasn't crying out in pain, it was declaring victory as it slowly waved its head left and right, the standing water in the area shaking with the vibrations. When it finishes its cry, it looks back down onto the battlefield, searching for its next prey. You could swear that the red-orange eye stops and stares at you, the trench of a pupil tightening as the two eye lids open and close.

You run.

You run as far away from the battlefield as you can. You can hear generals and captains shouting to push forward, to take aim at the kaiju, but you don't stop. You run even when you feel as though you can't anymore, the faint sound of warfare still behind you. Your lungs feel as though they could collapse at any moment, but you keep running. You never look back.

The animalistic kaiju were the turning point of the war, the beginning of the end. An underground government project working in tandem with various bioengineering companies, with hundreds of hours spent perfecting them, the Australian's kaiju rampaged through battlefields, eviscerating the Americans' robotic monsters. These brutal abominations, metal fused to festering flesh, pushed America back and out of their territory. After the last American kaiju was killed, the white flag was raised. All in all, America suffered the loss of all fifty-two kaiju sent overseas, while Australia lost only nine.

The occupation of New Zealand was ended, not a single American remaining. Even those who'd established roots outside of any war effort were forced to pack up and leave, a sense of national purity rising in many who'd had to spend the last decade and a half under the cruel and cold eye of Americans. Alongside the mass exodus, America would pay New Zealand a hearty sum of eight hundred million dollars and Australia six hundred million dollars.

Post-war Australia, in disarray, many peoples' homes, towns, and entire cities in ruins, wallowed in despair. Many questioned why they'd joined the war with New Zealand in the first place, decrying their alliance. They'd won, but their lives had been reduced to rubble. Desperate for a twist in public opinion, for a positive outlook in spite of the nation's war-torn infrastructural deficit, the government began producing propaganda meant to unify the downtrodden and bitter people. They dredged up national pride not only in their victory against an overwhelming invasion, but in the tools that had carried the torch: the kaiju. The people, pining for hope just as much as the government did, devoured the idea. A shift in the cultural zeitgeist of Australia quickly emerged around the kaiju. A population once almost indifferent to their existence became fanatical. But they didn't take pride in the kaiju of foreign nations, they took pride in Australian kaiju alone, the kaiju that showcased the power, ingenuity, and prowess of the Australian people. They began to see themselves in the kaiju they revered, projecting a sense of scrappiness and lust for victory onto them, one that corporate institutions were all too happy to feed.

Kaiju battles in Australia became their lifeblood, what they defined themselves by. Southern Australia became a central hub of kaiju fighting, a place infamous for being the battlefield where an Australian kaiju proved its mettle as it faced down the Americans' most formidable kaiju, Amontillado. Where the Australian kaiju, who would soon become a fighting ring champion known as Road Train, brutalized Amontillado in a matter of minutes, massacring the unsuspecting army and knocking down the first domino that led to America's defeat.
Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License