Den Patrick is a good friend of all of us here at J For Jetpack, so naturally we wanted to get involved with the release of his new book, the Orcs War-Fighting Manual. What we didn’t expect, when we sounded Den out about writing something for the website, was to receive an original short story – specifically tailored for J For Jetpack, no less!
We’ll be giving away a copy of the Orcs War-Fighting Manual tomorrow, so check back then. In the meantime, here’s Den’s story J is for Jetpack.
Fifty years from now
The Latter Stages of the Vanden-Schloss Conflict
Just after a greasy but ultimately disappointing breakfast
Drill Sergeant Long arrived on the hanger deck and lit his cigar, earning him a long, cool look from Chief Engineer Kershaw.
‘There’s no smoking on deck, Sarg. You know that.’
‘I’m breaking in a new recruit,’ said the Drill Sergeant as if this were explanation enough. It wasn’t. The Chief folded his arms.
‘Some people need coffee to start the day, me. I need a cigar.’
‘Cause so much as one problem on this hangar deck and I’ll have you scrubbing the air ducts.’ The Chief had the unique talent of making even the most mundane punishment sound like a mythical torture. The Drill Sergeant had long ago come to the conclusion that one did not mess up the Chief’s pristine hangar deck.
‘Understood,’ grunted Drill Sergeant Long, who was more used to shouting and threatening than being the being on the receiving end.
Chief Engineer Kershaw retired to a corner of the hanger bay widely known as ‘The Pit’ and made himself a cup of tea.
Two figures stood on the far side of the hanger bay, one diminutive in contrast to its companion. The Drill Sergeant sauntered across deck and tried to get the measure of the smaller of the two. The larger figure was not simply big, it was huge. Thirty feet to be exact. The HK-377 Rapid Deployment Autonomous Mobile Weapons Platform.
‘Except it’s not autonomous right now,’ growled the Drill Sergeant around his cigar. A major software error had left the Mobile Weapons Platform without the rudimentary AI it needed to achieve missions without a pilot.
‘Which means it isn’t mobile.’
Which meant the HK-377 was nothing more than a loaded gun in hangar bay. A loaded gun some thirty feet high, but nothing more than that. It was also a loaded gun that had a bright yellow smiley face stenciled on the cockpit window, because weapon technicians think that graffiti is ‘cool’, and can’t help themselves. The anti-matter cannon bore the legend ‘I may be ugly but my mama loves me.’ The Drill Sergeant ground his teeth in frustration. He’d need to confiscate all paints from the weapons techs. This wasn’t ‘Nam. Hell, ‘Nam wasn’t even ‘Nam anymore. Not since the attack.
The second figure was not thirty feet tall and was to be the intended recipient of todays lesson. The second figure was Cadet Wiseall.
‘ATTEN-HUT!’ bellowed the Drill Sergeant, which would have would have been impressive if not for the fact his cigar popped out of his mouth, sailing toward the hangar deck floor. He managed to save the cigar in exchange for a slight singing to the palm of his hand. Cadet Wiseall failed to hide his amusement at this, but quickly composed himself when he saw the Drill Sergeant’s face darken.
‘Morning, Sarg,’ he tried for conversational, but achieved something between timid and anxious.
‘Are you ready, Cadet Wiseall?’ continued the Sergeant in a volume that threatened a reduction in faculties.
‘Sir! I was born ready, sir!’
‘I don’t care that you were born, hell, I maybe already regretting it, son. When I ask you if you’re ready you say “Sir, yes, Sir.” Understood?’
‘Sir, understood, sir.’
‘Goddamn wise asses. Up to my ass in goddamn, well, er, wise asses.’ The Sergeant relit his cigar and took a pause. This was not going as he hoped.
The Cadet and the Sergeant looked at each other with a sinking feeling in their hearts. Following the attack they were the last abled bodied Drill Sergeant and Pilot in the whole fleet. The figure that loomed over both of them was the last Rapid Deployment Autonomous Mobile Weapons Platform (currently not autonomous or particularly mobile). It did not bode well.
‘You’d best take a seat, son. I’ll relay training orders to you through the head mike. Good?’
‘Sir, yes, Sir!’
Drill Sergeant Long spent a long minute looking at the cigar and quietly wishing he’d brought a cup of coffee along too. Cadet Wiseall was climbing the many rungs of a metal ladder that terminated in a platform, not unlike a diving board.
‘I hope you like heights,’ growled the Drill sergeant into the mike.
‘Wouldn’t be much of a pilot if I didn’t,’ said Wiseall, grinning down from where the ladder met the HK-377. ‘Uh, I mean, Sir.’
‘So, when you finally take your seat, you’ll see a keyboard interface. I trust you can type, son?’
‘Sir, yes, Sir! I was a personal assistant for the–’
‘I was a PA, my typing skills are pretty sharp.’
The Drill Sergeant took a long look at his cigar, then dropped it, scuffing it out with one boot. A second later he was clearing up the mess, cramming the now flattened cigar into his pocket lest the Chief notice the littering.
‘Sarg? Are you still there?’
‘Sure am, wouldn’t be anywhere else.’ Except maybe in the canteen buying a coffee.
‘So, as you know from your simulations you need to hit Shift and E to bring the engines online.’ Cadet Wiseall did just that the hanger was filled with a basso hum that reverberated through the boots of the Drill Sergeant.
‘Next you’ll want to bring the targeting system online–’
‘That’s Shift and T,’ said Cadet Wiseall. A series of lights blossomed across his field of vision. All moving signatures were reported as friendly, this alone was an improvement on the nightclub he’d been in until 3 that very morning..
‘Now when you enter the combat zone you’ll want to hit Shift and W. This turns off the safety for the weapons. Once you’ve done this you’ll be able to target opponents using the joystick you’ve got in each hand. Do you understand?’
‘Sir, yes, Sir!’
‘Shift and K brings the–’
‘Kinetic booster online, allowing for fatser, smoother movement in the combat zone for short durations only.’
‘Very good. You’ve done the reading.’
‘What is it, son?’
‘What does the J stand for?’
The HK-377 began to make a series of whining noises that competed with each other and then became a discordant choir of shrieks. Several control surfaces on the legs of Platform shifted position. Drill Sergeant Long turned on his heel and ran as fast he could.
‘Sarg?’ I think I may have hit the wrong letter. Sarg? Sarg, what does J stand for?’
The last HK-377 suddenly roared into the roof of the hanger, launched upward on pillars of fiery light. There was a deafening chime as the Platform collided with the ceiling before the entire hanger shook with the impact as it hit the floor.
‘J is for jetpack,’ said the Drill Sergeant looking at the devastation, ‘although damned if I know why a machine that size needs one. Sharp keyboard skills my ass.’