Havok Publishing

The Cure for the Common Cold

By J. L. Ender

I settled into the cockpit, pulling my bomber jacket tighter. In spite of briskly efficient warming plates, the megabot’s interior always retained some of that perpetual Antarctic chill. The mech was 70 feet of gleaming steel, pure robotic poetry in motion. Sturdy legs held up a hefty, armored pod, and four arms boasted a variety of weapons and tools.

I cleared my throat as the megabot lurched into motion. “Hey, Skip. Mic check.”

Skip’s voice crackled from mission control, just behind me. “I read you, Sarge. Your target is seven miles out.”

I swept a strand of auburn hair from my eyes. “Copy.” I took a sip of coffee from the plaid thermos at my side. I never went into battle without something to combat the chill.

The megabot lumbered along the Antarctic as I made a beeline for the Devil Pit. Monsters crawl up out of the Earth’s core to eat us. Did I forget to mention that? The US Army built a wall around the whole of Antarctica and put a massive army base here to protect it.

My job? Kill the monster, protect Earth. We’re sort of like Greenpeace without the berets. Or maybe I’m thinking of something else.

“How’s the baby, Skip?” I needed to take my mind off pre-battle jitters. Small talk was my usual choice.

“She’s beautiful. Just started sitting up.”

I smiled. “Did she say Cecilia yet?”

“For the last time, no. She hasn’t even said mama or dada. Her first word isn’t going to be the name of my megabot pilot.”

“Gotcha. Well, there’s always the next one.”

“Keep telling yourself that, Sarge.”

The reflection of distant fire could be seen along the massive rim of the Devil Pit. A true hellscape. I hated getting this close to it.

My megabot shuddered as I guided it over a crevasse. I spotted a shape in the swirling gusts of snow. The monster I hunted had already emerged.

Dont get comfortable.

“Skip, I have a visual.”

“Yeah? Tell me what you see.”

“It’s a big turtle. It’s actually kind of cute.”

“Well, don’t let that stop you from kicking it back to hell, ma’am.”

The giant turtle was easily eighty feet tall. So huge, my megabot wouldn’t even come up to its shoulders. Double the width of my bot, it had a thickly armored shell. Spikes ran from the monster’s forehead to the tip of its tail.

I grinned, my jitters giving way to the thrill of the hunt. Time to have some fun.

I switched off my mic so no one could hear me and threw the robot into a full-on sprint. “Yeehaw!”

I felt the megabot leave deep prints in the snow as I charged forward. If all went well, I would deal a quick, killing blow, and shove the turtle back from whence it came. The eggheads preferred to study the monsters, but the brass wanted to send a message:

Stay down.

The monstrous turtle glared. Unwilling to get sucker-punched, it leapt. Stumpy green legs tucked in and twin jets of fire burst from the leg-holes in its shell. The monster flew above my head.

I gaped. Is that like fire-breathing in reverse?

Shaking off the stupor, I took aim with one arm, firing a jet-propelled grapple on a chain. It clanked uselessly off the hard shell, unable to find purchase. Swearing, I retracted that arm and raised one on the other side.

The high-grade military laser built into the palm cut the night, a slender ribbon of hell itself. The monster let out a high-pitched shriek that rattled the viewport, falling from the sky like a collapsing mountain and roaring in rage as it descended.

Pistons groaned as I thrust the megabot into a backward leap. The turtle impacted near the edge of the Pit, sending a shockwave of ruby red electricity across the ice.

The megabot’s consoles went dark as I landed. I blew another stray lock of hair from my eyes. Here we go.

The turtle roared again and sprang into the air, jetting across the Antarctic wasteland like a missile.

And I was dead on the ice. I hit the emergency generator. The megabot rumbled angrily, and a few of the consoles surrounding me blinked back to life. Only two arms had power, but that ought to be enough.

I activated one arm. A metal shield extended, brushing the snow. The other arm dug into the ice, a third support to brace the bot. A slit in the shield let me see the oncoming monster, which filled the window as it struck. The megabot dug three deep gouges across the ice as the monster pushed us through jagged expanses of ice and rock.

With a pleasant little chime, my systems fully powered up.

“Okay, time to end you.” I fired the grapple again, this time hooking it around the turtle’s shell. This done, I activated the jets built into the feet of the megabot.

We soared across the ice. The turtle tried to activate his own shell jets to counter, but I shoved the monster onto his back. The added flames only made us move faster.

We rocketed out over the Devil Pit’s expanse. For one terrifying second, I gazed deep into the crimson heart of the Earth. A seething cauldron of fire and terrifying monsters writhed far below. The blood drained from my face even as my heart pounded.

I barely remembered to retract the grapple cord. As a parting gift, I extended a blade and shoved it into the shoulder of the monster. It roared again, in true pain this time. Blood sizzled in the fiery air as the turtle-monster fell away with a strangled gasp.

The megabot landed heavily on the far side of the Pit, jarring me from hips to hairline. I did a quick systems’ check. All nominal. Grabbing my thermos, I took a long slug of coffee. Never enter battle without something to combat the chill.

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J. L. Ender is the author of the superhero series Steel Fox Investigations, as well as a number of novels and short stories across several genres. Ender has worked as a dishwasher, a beef jerky labeler, a warehouse worker, a shelf stocker, a greeter, a traveling technician, a laser engraver, a package handler, a copywriter, a graphic designer, a librarian, an editor, destroyer of worlds (in an unofficial capacity), a dispatcher, and a phone operator.

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