An Antibody

I plug my USB key into the central console. A vast control panel lights up in front of me. A status panel reads green for all elements of the machine.

Bullets ping off the reinforced glass of the front cockpit window. The security guards are firing their full clips at the XAEA-12. I place my hand on the joystick. With a slow, grinding certainty, the machine lumbers forward and turns, hydraulic actuators thumping and gears meshing, as the miniature nuclear reactor in its core powers up. I flip off the safety on the twin cannons.

A colossal roar shatters the air. The security guards are obliterated, leaving only a hole in the hanger floor sheeting. The Antibody behind them shrugs off the cannon fire with ease, rounds ricocheting behind and through the hanger wall.

The mechanics scurry like ants, fleeing from my sight.

Now for the hard part.

I turn the joystick and the lumbering behemoth breaks into a run, the ground shaking with each step as the structure struggles to transmit the immense force. It bursts out of the hanger and onto the VTOL pad, still at an ungainly sprint.

There are cries from the hanger behind as I continue, running full pelt towards the edge of the skyscraper.

At the last second, I thumb the control for the jump jets. The cockpit rears up at me, with a fierce push from below. An immense rumble is added to the cacophony, as the jump jets in the Antibody’s legs fire.

I’m thrown through the air like a particularly ungraceful baby bird thrown from its nest, flapping desperately with the jump jets, legs akimbo. Below the XAEA-12, seventy stories down, people go about their business, as I half-fly, half-fall over the gap between skyscrapers. The Federation Times building in front of me is not quite as tall, only sixty stories high. The roof is littered with HVAC equipment and a huge billboard advertising diet pills.

I crash-land atop an air conditioning duct with all the grace of a drunkard stumbling from a pub, sliding with momentum. It shatters, and the beams underneath creak and moan. Then the structural beams fail, giving way with a fearful crack. The roof begins to fall, slamming into the floor below, which holds for a split second, before itself failing. The building becomes a cascade, as the roof slams into floor after floor, now mangled and shattered. The screams from the building and its occupants are dreadful to behold.

I fire the jump jets again, struggling against gravity’s bounds. The building continues to collapse below me, falling away to the streetscape below.

An immense jarring explosion slams into my back, throwing me forward at speed. Shrapnel scatters loose from my rear armour plating. I twist in midair, and see another Antibody, perched on the edge of the Euphrates hanger. The Loyal Subject.

Another rocket hurtles past my side, barely missing the XAEA-12.

I twist and pirouette my machine, as I fall sideways toward the side of another building. I need to use this momentum for my escape – if I stand still there are another pair of rockets barrelling toward me. I slam on the jump jets at afterburner level, delivering an immense push perpendicular to my motion. The building slides past the edge of my machine with a whistle, as the rockets slam into its facade.

I flip my machine, rotating 180 degrees in midair, as my momentum carries me toward another building. I afterburn the XAEA-12’s jump jets again, as I careen towards the face of an office tower.

The machine’s legs slam into the glass facade, sending fragments scattering across the floor, even as it continues to fall. The concrete slabs thump the machine, as it falls through several floors before the jump jets reverse its momentum and toss me back out into space above a rail line.

A missile slams into the back of the XAEA-12, sending it spinning out of control, even as it falls toward the earth. I frantically juggle the joystick, trying to arrest the nauseating spin. Another rocket whizzes past as I struggle with the controls.

I regain a measure of control, and slam on the jump jets in the hope of arresting the machine’s fall. I see in the distance, lumbering along the city streets, the Loyal Subject making chase. It lets loose another pair of rockets toward me.

I spin back to follow my machine’s momentum, and see the ground closing fast, as the XAEA-12 careens toward a railway station.

It takes someone particularly desperate and a little insane to attempt a heist like this. To make an enemy of one of the largest Corps on the planet. Why not cap it off with something especially crazy?

I engage fine motor control on the machine’s legs, and line them up with two locomotives, speeding in parallel beneath me. A few little bursts on the jump jets, to align our vectors. A little prayer to whatever gods might exist. The milliseconds feel like hours as I fall toward the railway lines.

Then suddenly it happens all at once. My Antibody’s legs slam into the trains with all the force of a thirty ton war machine, crumpling them to twisted metal. The force is so great that the legs pass through the trains, slowed little until they smash into the rails. Two rockets soar over my head, slamming into the ground ahead of me. The XAEA-12’s legs buckle at the force of the impact, but the hydraulic actuators hold firm, and it slides along the rails, still speeding with forward momentum.

The impact jars the cockpit, throwing me briefly into the air before I land back in the pilot’s chair with a bump and see the interchange coming toward me at speed, as my Antibody surfs the rails. I reach for the jump jets, but find no response. Burnt out.

My machine breaks through several advertising billboards like a thirty ton war machine through cardboard, as I speed toward the station.

There is a jarring thud from the machine’s chest as a rocket hits hard, followed by another. In the centre of the railway station stands the Loyal Subject, firing rocket after rocket at me. The XAEA-12 groans, as the front ablative armour cracks free, taking the energy of the impacts. The barrage continues, smashing through the armour and threatening vital components. A burst of radiation makes my head swim as the nuclear reactor is jarred by a hit.

But all this energy has managed to kill my momentum. I hit the emergency override on the legs, and they groan but step free of the rail line. The XAEA-12 may lumber like an ill-coordinated drunk, but it is ambulant again. I spool up the cannons for a barrage of return fire.

The twin cannons on the machine’s arms scream like banshees, loosing hundreds of rounds of high calibre cannon fire back at the Loyal Subject. My adversary hops up on his jump jets, and the rounds crash into the highway pillars behind. They return fire with rockets, but my cannons pick them off in midair, as I continue my onslaught, the automated aiming system following behind the moves of the Loyal Subject. But my adversary is too fast. The cannon can’t keep up with an agile Antibody, and it serves only to litter the streetscape with holes.

A voice crackles through the radio communication channel. “We’ve got Tasha. Surrender now, if you want her to live.”

I stop firing. For a brief moment, all is quiet.

The same voice, through the radio orders me, “Exit the Antibody. Now.”

Tasha is my friend. We grew up together, we were in the same EduDebt classes. I can’t just abandon her to the machinations of these Corp bastards.

If I surrender now, all this will have been in vain. They’ll probably kill us both anyway – why would they keep their word to a couple of lockdown rats like us?

So fuck it. I thumb the comms switch and reply, “Stay safe, Tasha, wherever you are. I’m coming to get you.” The cannons whirr back up again, as I resume my onslaught.

The cannon rounds briefly slam into the Loyal Subject before its pilot resumes their ballet. I flip off the auto-targeting switch and focus my fire on the highway’s support columns just behind my adversary.

Another rocket fizzes toward me, and I deftly shoot it out of the sky, before returning my fire to the highway pylons.

The radio channel buzzes, “You’ve taken a lot of damage, kid. Can’t even shoot straight anymore. You don’t have to die in that metal coffin today. Power down. Give up.”

A deafening crack pierces the air, as the highway pylon collapses, sending the elevated road tumbling toward the earth. Hundreds of cars are caught up, as the concrete roadway shatters and falls. It lands with an immense crash, right on top of the Loyal Subject. The concrete blow smashes hard into the head of the Antibody and buries it in rubble.

I power down the cannon and the XAEA-12 lumbers along the streets, striding toward New Haven.