Chapter Fifty-Eight – Engineering
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Chapter Fifty-Eight - Engineering

“Now what?” I asked. We were still parked on the side of the dune, the long train splayed out below us, cars jackknifed across the entire thing. It was going to take a whole lot of effort to straighten it out.

That was if there were people able and willing to work on it. I could still make out flashes of colour, reds and greens and golds against the dunes. Either the gnomes were finishing off the last of the passengers, or people were fighting back.

“That would depend, I think, on whether or not we can help,” he said.

“Help, how?” I asked.

“How many gnomish mechs remain?”

“At least four,” I said. “Maybe more, but some or all of them are likely transports,” I said.

“Can you take them?”

“Easily,” I said. “The question is whether or not we should. I’m no hero, Clin. Risking myself unnecessarily isn’t how I managed to live as long as I have.”

“Aren’t you a hero?” Clin asked.

I turned in my seat, enough so that I could see his face by the slight glow of Rusty’s core. “What in tarnation gave you that idea?” I asked.

The elf’s eyebrows rose a fraction. “You saved me. You acted in Daggerwren when you didn’t need to, and you’re hesitating now. You know that leaving would be the pragmatic thing to do, but you’re also asking me to ask you to save those people down there.”

“I’m asking no such thing,” I said. Who did he think I was?

The bastard actually had the temerity to smile at me. Just a quirk of his lips, but about as much of a smile as I’d seen on him. “Charlie, do you think we could help those people down there? I think it would do wonders for our reputation, and having the favour of the Dreggar and whomever else wouldn’t want that train lost would perhaps help a lot. It’s also the right thing to do.”

I spun around and glared at nothing. “You’re a right ass, Mister Teast’wood,” I said rather tersely. I jammed my foot down, and started to climb back up to the top of the dune while making sure my rifle was loaded and ready.

I slowed near the top, then angled Rusty so that the mech’s head would be the first thing over the edge.

Turned out to be a decent idea. As I came around I could make out some reddish blobs below. Two mechs parked next to each other on the flats past the dune. Fat, six-legged mechs, each limb ending in tread-ed feet that would allow them to roll across bumpy terrain.

One of them had its sides lowered, and I could make out a decently sized compartment within, with seats down the middle and racks for weapons and equipment, all empty. The front of the mech was taller than the rest, with a turret set to one side and a dome of glass panels on the other.

So they didn’t need their pilots to jack in? That made it less of a mech and more of a plain utility vehicle of sorts.

A few orange blobs were moving about, gnomes checking on things, two of them were setting up a tent and at least one was sitting there smoking while the others worked.

Had they not heard the explosions and gunfire? Or maybe they figured that their side was fine. After all, they had proper warmechs attacking a civilian-filled train. There was no reason for any of them to worry.

I decided to give them one.

I tucked Rusty’s rifle against my shoulder and aimed down sights that Caroline had recently fixed.

Zeroing in on the mech nearest me, I hovered the centre of my crosshair over the centre of the mech, then moved to the front. “Clin,” I said.

“Yes?”

“Gnomish transport mechs. Turret on their... right side, smaller calibre, maybe 25mm, maybe a bit smaller. Dome on the left for what I think is the pilot.”

“I think I’m familiar with the model, yes. What of it?”

“The central part looks like it’s nothing but empty space. There has to be some piping in there, but I’m not going to waste a shot on that. Where’s the core?”

“Ah, yes. The core should be near the centre. There’s a three-person crew for those. The gunner acts as loader as well, the pilot sits in the centre, and the communications officer is in that glass dome.”

“So the pilot’s jacked in?”

“Yes. The pilot’s seat is near the rear of the forward section; they can access the main cargo space fairly easily.”

I adjusted my aim. “So the core’s near the centre of the forward-most section?”

“Just about. We’re firing from above? If you have any sort of explosive round, maybe put it through the communication officer’s viewport. It’s armoured glass but it’s not that armoured. The gnomes use those for policing, mostly.”

My aim twitched down. “Figures if I just wreck the interior, that’ll take it out of action in either case.”

“Quite.”

I fired. A lingering red beam sliced across the night with a crack-boom.

When the magic circle faded from the air around Rusty I aimed back down-sights and took in the mech. It hadn’t exploded, but the dome was shattered and the gnomes puttering around it were damned-certain that they weren’t as safe as they figured.

I aimed up at the second mech and targeted the dome again, adjusting my aim a little to account for range. My last shot looked to have been a pinch low.

Another shot.

I grinned as I felt a tremor through Rusty’s feet, the ground kicking out as the mech-transport exploded beautifully.

“That’s better,” I said.

The few gnomes down there scattered, some of them having been blown away by the explosion, others just running off to gather their things.

I didn’t have the time or ammo to take them all out.

A few rushed to the first mech I shot, but by the looks of it, they couldn’t get the thing started. I saw them crawling around the cabin.

“Clin, how good are gnomes at field repairs?”

“Fairly? They have a mechanics corps that’s impressively well-trained. They know how to fix their own things, but little beyond that. It’s a very focused sort of education.”

“You’re sounding snootier than usual,” I said as I glanced around. Didn’t need a shot in the back, and mono-focusing was a great way to get just that. Things seemed clear though.

“I respect the initiative, but their mechanics know how to replace parts and fix a few components and little beyond that. It’s disappointing,” he said.

“Could they fix that one mech there?”

“The core wasn’t hit?”

I shook my head. “Just a shot through that glass dome and into the interior. I figure it made a mess of things, but who knows?”

“No harm in taking another shot then,” he said.

I sniffed. “The harm is in using another round,” I said as I tucked the rifle up against Rusty’s shoulder. I overloaded the next shot. Not too much, but enough that when I pulled the trigger in the control glove and the round slammed into the transport mech’s cabin, it hit with a heavy bang and a burst of wild, uncontrolled magic.

Still no grand explosion, but not many mechs would be ready to operate after having an explosion go off in their cabin, and I was pretty sure some of the orange-y blobs I saw moving around in there were gnomes.

Moving in the past-tense sort of meaning. They were either dead or wishing they were. “Right, that’s that,” I said.

The gnomes still alive down there, and there were a good four or five of them, would only be a threat if they ran over to the train guns blazing, and they looked like communications people and their officers. Fat lot of good a chain of command would do when they couldn’t scream at anyone.

“Let’s move on,” I said.

“Certainly,” Clin replied.

I snorted. “How magnanimous of you. Ruling from your iron throne.”

“Are we calling this seat a throne now?” Clin asked. “I’ve seen thrones, I’ll have you know. They’re often uncomfortable as some sort of symbol of power and responsibility, but I think this one in particular is taking it a bit far.”

“I can walk with more of a bounce if you want.”

“I’ll pass.”

I grinned as I turned back to the train. Two mechs were coming down the hill with a wash of sand behind them. “Looks like the rest of them have come out to play too. I suppose it would be kind of us to help, but someone had better start paying me per bullet because this is getting expensive.”

“I’m certain that someone, somewhere, will be willing to sacrifice a few gold to replenish your stock.”

“We’ll see,” I said before locking Rusty’s legs in place to slide down the side of the dune. It was time to put an end to this little ambush, and then maybe I could get back to sleeping.

***

 

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