It was difficult to describe what Nic found waiting for him out in the wilds of Gibson.
A mess to be sure, there was no ifs, ands or buts about that. Anything and everything even vaguely related to the craft of electronics was here, of both the magical and the mundane aspects. Stacks of circuitry and chipsets, snarls of wire and cable, raw metals as varied and numerous as stones along the banks of a river. Mixed with these there lay an array of monitors, keyboard, peripherals, bots, and tablets in equal variety. Some were so old Nic hardly recognized them, relics of truly ancient product lines, while others could have been fresh off the shelf from any store in Ronteele.
It was a kind of mess Nic was not unfamiliar with, having seen many just like it during his time at Greytower. It seemed no matter the scale, be it back room or backlot, techne were a messy breed.
But there was also something about it that just felt different. It was a mess not in the way that a room or a desk was a mess but instead in the way of rolling hills or old growth forest. Nic had been likening the pile to a mountain from the beginning and that comparison had only grown stronger since. Time and its own crushing weight had lent Gibson a sense of almost natural permanence, transforming it from a pile of castoffs to a feature of the earth itself.
Traversing certainly felt like a hike through the mountains if nothing else. There were no clear paths to follow, Nic being forced to navigate a maze of twisting chasms and barely passable gaps. They stretched away in every direction, formed not by intent but instead by the random ebb and flow of the scrap itself. Unpredictable in the extreme, often leading nowhere, looping back on themselves, or ending in sheer walls that terrestrial feet could never hope to overcome. Even those few that did lead somewhere were rife with treacherous ground. Nic had long since grown envious of the hauler bot for its ability to just hover over everything, never having to worry about a hidden trip hazard or missed step.
About the only unalloyed positive that Nic could claim for the whole thing was that Elmcroft’s assessment of treasure had been dead on the money. For all the genuine trash, there were always a few things of value buried in the metal like precious gems. It took work to find the best of them but for what he paid to get in, it was effort well spent.
Chucking another bauble into the bin, Nic’s attention was drawn towards the sound of a thunderous crash. He found Zephyr hovering next to a discarded server tower that was settling into its new home on the ground, a cloud of dust wafting overtop.
“Will you please be careful?” Nic said. “I don’t want to explain how you got crushed.”
“I didn’t do anything!” Zephyr proclaimed. “It fell on its own!”
“I definitely believe you.”
Zephyr gave a quick chirp before drifting away over the next rise. Rolling his eyes Nic stood to follow, scrambling up the pile after the little sprite. The hauler drone followed, riding a bit lower from the burden it carried. Glancing into the bin, Nic saw he’d already managed to fill it over halfway. Space enough for a few more goodies but he’d have to start getting selective before he ran out of space.
Cresting the ridge, Nic was met with the most promising site yet. A chance valley nestled between several large piles on all sides, mostly chunks of steel that clung together a dense mangle. In the center there lay a gold mine of material, all in as close to pristine condition as you could hope to find out here.
How it had formed Nic had no idea, but he wasn’t about to question it as he saw some of the best morsels he’d yet come across. Very expensive things sat near the surface here, some half buried, some just lying on the surface as if to present themselves. All for Nic to take as he so wished, the kid in the proverbial candy store. He had a sneaking suspicion that this was going to be the last place he searched.
Descending the slope, Nic began to idly pick through the mounds, resisting the urge to start grabbing every shiny thing that caught his eye. The drone would be full up in seconds if he did so. Discretion was the key here, seeing what was available before he started making selections. More importantly, he had yet to track down anything of use for rebuilding his power cell, the very thing that had brought him here in the first place.
That last thought had just crossed his mind when he found the rig.
He wasn’t sure that it was one at first, the poor machine having suffered badly on its trip to Gibson. Most of it was missing, no sign of any input controls or a harness in sight, leaving little more than a brick the size of a breadbin behind. The central processor at a guess, its casing smashed and scratched, looking like it had been through a tumble dryer full of shrapnel and glass.
Curious, Nic began working it free of the surrounding pile. It grew worse as he lifted, pieces of the casing falling away to reveal the circuitry beneath. Turning it over, Nic discovered a small screen built in the front, bordered by several data ports and unlabelled buttons. The screen was cracked down the middle but everything else seemed intact, though nothing happened when he pressed some of the buttons. Not a surprise, Nic couldn’t imagine someone being stupid enough to throw this away without disabling it first. To do otherwise would be the height of folly for a tremendous number of reasons, chief among them being that it was basically throwing away money.
Still, it intrigued the young techne all the same. Despite the damage, he could already see several useful components on the device not beyond salvaging. Even better, the presence of one rig meant there was a good chance that others might be about for him to find. A treasure trove within a treasure trove.
One thing at a time. Taking a small tool kit from his belt, Nic began to strip the rig of its less useful bits. Anything burnt, battered or otherwise beyond the pale were discarded to save on weight. He was just working at removing the last of it when another mighty crash sounded nearby. Nic looked up, more annoyed than startled, completely unsurprised to find a gusty little sphere circling over yet more fallen debris.
“Zephyr for gods sake!”
“It wasn’t me!” Zephyr said. “I’m not fibbing this time!”
“That’s supposed to convince me?”
“Well yeah, it’s the truth!”
Nic gave an aggrieved sigh, tossing the last of the good rig into the bin. “What are you even doing up there?”
“There’s a weird thing.”
“Weird meaning?” Nic pressed when no explanation followed.
“Meaning not, not weird.” Zephyr flew in a corkscrew, pointing at the ground below him. “Come see.”
Nic was very, very tempted to just move on but genuine curiosity got the better of him. If there was any place in the world where Zephyr’s definition of interesting may align with his own, this was certainly a strong contender. Against his better judgement, Nic began climbing his way up. It took a moment, the slope being deceptively steep, leaving Zephyr bobbing with impatience by the time he made it to the summit.
“See, see!?” Zephyr demanded as zipped about in excitement. “See the weird thing!?”
Nic did not see the weird thing. What he saw was exactly what he’d expected: a tangled mess of scrap that he had neither interest in nor opinion on. He was about to turn away when Zephyr made another flitting movement and Nic realized the little sprite had indeed found something weird.
It sat just below the very crest of the ridge, almost completely buried beneath the trash he’d been so quick to disregard. Nic doubted he would have been able to spot it on his own and even with direction was only able thanks to it being a slightly different colour. A kind of rain cloud grey, mixed with a strange, almost bluish hue too uniform to be a stain.
But what really made it stand out was its shape, as even with only a glimpse, Nic could tell it was a hand.
A fully armored human hand, the metal plate sitting over the back of its palm with four fingers and a thumb radiating out in the appropriate directions. He could even see the barest hint of a wrist beneath, though it quickly vanished beneath the surrounding scrap.
All sorts of morbid thoughts immediately ran through Nic’s head. He dismissed the more extreme ones, the most likely explanation being that he’d simply discovered another rig. They could get quite extensive in how much they covered, Nic having seen many designs that fully encased the user. Why anyone would wear such a thing he had no idea but to each their own.
Still, that perfectly reasonable possibility didn’t do much to dispel the idea that he’d stumbled across a dead body. He had just as much proof such was the case, namely not a bit, but that did very little to dissuade his imagination. Images of broken bones and spilled blood danced away in his mind, along with thoughts of the kind of person that might have dumped it there. And what they might do to him now that he’d found it.
With a shake of his head, Nic banished the thoughts as best he could. Freaking himself out over nothing wasn’t helpful. He needed to think clearly, the techne way, and for that he needed more information.
“Help me dig this out,” Nic said to Zephyr.
The little spite obliged with a quick bob, moving down to begin shifting material with blasts of air. Nic did the same, focusing his efforts on clearing the hand itself. This proved a much more difficult task than anticipated, the limb turning out to be deeply entwined with the surrounding metal, frustrating his every effort.
Zephyr saw more success, his approach undisciplined but packing a punch. Nic eventually stood back and let him take over, his sharp motions proving far more suited to the task. Metal clanged steadily down the slope as more and more the object was uncovered. In minutes a sizable pit had been dug and Nic waved Zephyr back, leaning in to see what they had discovered.
What lay revealed was a suit. A large, armored shell of overlapping metal plates in the shape of a person, easily a head taller than Nic himself. It was broad in the shoulders and thick enough across that Nic probably could have fit inside just the torso section if he curled into a ball. Though Nic certainly wouldn’t be wearing the thing, both because he doubted he could lift it and because it was missing an arm and a leg. The left of the former and right of the latter, the ragged remains of both stumps indicating they had been torn free rather than cut off.
A theme that extended to the rest of the suit really. It looked old, the metal worn and degraded, pieces not fitting together properly and caked with layers of rust and dirt. Looking closer, Nic could see several places where rough welds and rivets had been used to patch up holes, mismatched bits smashed together from many different sources.
About the only part that didn’t look like it had been cobbled together was the helmet. This didn’t mean it was pretty, far from it as age and wear had been even less kind. Dents dotted the entire curve of the dome, the worst caving in one entire side of the helm deep enough that it would likely have killed anyone inside. The faceplate was a mess of scratches and grooves, zigzagging like scars that hadn’t healed properly. Several neatly bisected the long slit cut out where the eyes would be, only strengthening the comparison.
Nic knelt down next to his find, looking it over with intense interest. He had no idea what it was, certainly none about what it was doing here. It probably wasn’t a rig as he’d initially thought, he couldn’t see any kind of power source or processor. No sign of anything electric or mechanical at all in fact, ruling out a bot. Maybe it really was just a suit of armor, the kind you were supposed to strap on and move under your own power.
Curious, Nic reached out a hand and tapped on its chest plate. To his great surprise the sound it produced as a muted clunk, not the hollow ring he’d been expecting. The kind of sound it would only make if it were solid. Oddity upon mystery.
“What are you?” Nic asked.
In reply, the suit sat up.
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