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  • Roy Loh

Crisis in Ovid | A.T.A.C.R Character Story

Updated: May 19, 2022

“Sir, do you reckon we’ll have time for some grilled lizard now?”

“No, Gaius. You already spent a full half hour at the merchant’s post on the way here. We’ll start eating into our fuel reserves if we keep getting distracted.”

“When are you giving back my cigarettes then?”

“You know the standard confiscation policies, don’t break the rules. Two weeks.”

“I bet you’ve thrown them away, just tell me now so I can start to ration for a new pack.”

“Gaius, you know they’re right where they’ve been for the last week, in my breast pocket. But I’ll consider shortening the confiscation period based on your performance today.”

Antonius rolled his eyes. This was typical of Gaius. Gaius had been his squire for almost a year now, and it hadn’t been without its difficulties. But Gaius meant well, and had an admirable sense of duty. He just needed to be kept in check every now and then.

Antonius slowed his A.T.A.C.R. to a stop at the base of the dune, with Gaius stepping behind him. His jovial mood was interrupted when he noticed an unusual smoke column emanating from the village. Looking around Ovid, he knew this would be like all the other reconnaissance missions they had been going on recently. But yet… Where was all this smoke coming from?

But no. He knew better than to be too paranoid, a fact that his squire constantly reminded him of. The radio towers were down, which could be unusual, but Gaius was correct about Ovid — the town was situated just a few hours beyond the border and the handful of stray dinosaurs left in the area were likely too malnourished to pose any threat to their steel plating. The cause of the disruption was most likely sand erosion: the last routine checkup to Ovid took place just a month ago and the engineers had mentioned nothing noteworthy in their reports. They were used to these reconnaissance missions by now, though it had been months since the Church had sent out an order this specific.

“Sir, I'll scout ahead,” Gaius volunteered.

Though he volunteered a little too enthusiastically, Antonius gave his approval. The mech that Gaius was piloting was called a Total Awareness Robot, or T.A.R., and it was lightly built for speed. Compared with his own mech, which was a frontline battle robot, while heavily armed with cannons, missiles and machine guns, it was not suitable for scouting. Yet his A.T.A.C.R, the All Terrain Armoured Combat Robot, was built to be versatile for both offensive and defensive actions. Antonius had always felt safe when piloting one.

“Turned a few corners, still nothing sir. I think I see where the smoke’s coming from, but town’s empty. I’ll-”

Gaius’ voice resumed, with a palpably wounded affect. “Sir, I think I see someone running to the church, it looks like a little girl…”

“Gaius, don’t engage. Stay in the T.A.R. and circle back to my location,” Antonius dictated. It wasn’t easy for Antonius to be strict. He knew Gaius meant well, but if he wasn’t insistent, Gaius would get himself into much more than he could handle. He was reckless like that.

“But sir, we can’t just leave her here, it’s not safe!”

“There’s nothing we can do here. Don’t engage.”

There was silence on Gaius’ end, so Antonius continued inspecting the faulty radio towers. He was shocked. Of the three reported non-functional, two were disembodied and unsalvageable, their carcasses strewn among debris and thick antennae. Antonius had seen wreckage of this kind before, but there was something uncanny about its extremity — not in the least because the last tower, which Antonius had been examining just before Gaius went silent, was entirely undamaged. None of this was indicated in the reports.

Antonius instantly knew something was wrong, and set off to find Gaius before something disastrous struck. Barrelling past lines of dilapidated blocks, Antonius eventually found himself staring at an abandoned mech outside a church. The air hovered still; there was no sign of life around him. With Gaius nowhere in sight, Antonius’ anxiety catapulted. He knew what the situation dictated, at least according to Church protocol: incinerate the building, and return to base. But this was no longer acceptable to Antonius — Gaius had to be inside. An instinctive groan escaped him: Antonius knew he would now have to account for leaving not one, but two mechs unattended. But the stillness of the town allowed him some composure, and he stepped out of the A.T.A.C.R., armed with his pistol.

Antonius gripped the steel handle of the door and slowly inched forward. His eyes took little time to adjust to the darkness permeating the room. Pausing briefly to disable the safety on his pistol, Antonius proceeded to conduct a careful inspection of the church’s vast interior, making note of potential ambush areas. Immaculate tapestries, woven intricately from the finest silk, carpeted the floor in a field of white, save for a thin trail of blood stretching from the entrance to the back of the room.

A short figure stood at the end of the trail, arms wrapped around a large shape too distant to discern. As Antonius approached, he realised the figure was clothed in a white gown and had long, black hair that stretched down to the bloodied silk. The very sight sent chills down his spine. The figure was transfixed on the trail of blood with a sordid sheen on her expression. The object in her arms had a face, and blonde hair fashioned in a misshapen bowl-cut. It had latched on to an open wound on her arm, choking and gurgling while laughing at the warm liquid trickling out. Blue eyes gazed out at Antonius, pleading.

It was Gaius.

He trained his reticle on the object in white, keeping his finger lightly pressed against the trigger. He couldn’t believe his eyes. He approached the altar in shock, and called out to Gaius in agony. Piercing cracks echoed throughout the church as the girl twisted her spine. Antonius heard every bone in her neck shattering as it turned its head to face him.

“Isn’t this sweet?” crooned the girl, as Gaius burrowed his tongue further into her festering wound.

“You want some of it, too? It will make you more… powerful.” The girl moved her mouth, but her words descended upon him from every direction, outstretching around him.

Suddenly, Antonius felt paralysed. The voice began to morph, and a chorus of barraging voices invaded his mind — but only the girl’s mouth had moved. “We like powerful men!” The voices coagulated into layers of discordant wails and beckons, assaulting Antonius into lapses of incoherence. Instinctively, Antonius tried to pull the trigger, but the volley of voices drowned out his impulses. Unable to access his mind and unable to wade past his body’s reluctance, he saw his arm lowering to his side.

The protruding sound of quickening footsteps joined the voices. Overcome by a new wave of dread, Antonius salvaged some immense measure of strength to turn his body around. It was agonising and excruciating. He tried to train his eyes on the object approaching him. With a small stature and drying wispy hair, the figure seemed to resemble an old woman. Antonius blinked. This can’t be real. It can’t. But it was. The figure had no skin on her face, and her jaw, hanging loose from her exposed skull, teetered as she drew closer.

Behind him, the sound of a mangled laughter grew. The pack of volatile voices fused with the screams in Antonius’ mind, and he felt their weight crushing and trampling out his sanity. He couldn’t break free from the voices, now a parade multiplying and reverberating within his body, forcing down his raised arm. Antonius knew he had to act quickly, before the voices took over completely. He pushed his eyes downward to look at his hand, which was still clasped around his pistol but now down to his side. Antonius summoned a single, concentrated thought, and fired.

The next thing he knew, a torrent of warm blood erupted from the newly-formed crater in his thigh, splattering the floor in fresh crimson. For a brief moment, his world faded into deafening static — a searing agony had latched onto every fibre of his being, their hooks sinking deep into his flesh. Gritting his teeth, Antonius concentrated on the pain, allowing its tendrils to contort around the foreign voices in his mind. His plan worked. The cacophony quickly dissipated into silence and he felt control over his body returning to him.

Immediately, Antonius fired two shots in quick succession into the skull of the creature in front, smearing specks of flesh against the walls. By the time the creature had collapsed to the floor, Antonius had already embedded another two shots in the girl by the altar, sending her and Gaius tumbling to the ground in a flurry. The loss of blood was beginning to seep further into his mind, and he knew he only had a few minutes to get to the A.T.A.C.R. Antonius called out to his squire, hoping the death of the girl would return him to his senses.

But before Antonius had time to fully process the sight in front of him, a ray of light entered the room, illuminating the wall above — something had opened the church door. Training his crosshairs at the entrance, he watched as a lone figure entered the room, stumbling forwards in his direction. Another soon followed behind, then another, and another — the creatures had found his location. He fired his weapon, striking each of them with anxious precision, but more continued to usher through the door. A warning flashed on his pistol’s visual indicator: ten bullets left in the chamber. He knew he had to move.

Stumbling through the tributaries trickling down his leg, Gaius’ laughter grew only louder as Antonius approached. Lying face up in the pool of blood that had formed on the ground, the young man continued to thrash in unconstrained ecstasy, writhing like an overturned insect beside the girl’s motionless body. The only sign of sentience that remained were his eyes, stretched wide in stark, permanent terror.

Were it not for his wound, Gaius’ malnourished frame would have been of little burden — having fractured an ankle during his very first training session at Fort Lyros, Antonius could recall being pleasantly surprised at the lightness of his new recruit when he carried him to the medical tent. But now, standing in a puddle of wet scarlet, with his mind fading further into the darkness, Antonius knew he had to leave him behind. Looking down, he waited, solemnly, until the boy met his gaze.

“I’m sorry, Gaius,” he choked out.

A gunshot echoed through the room. The flailing stopped.

But there was no time to mourn. He couldn’t let Gaius die in vain. Returning his attention to the horde behind him, Antonius fired another volley while staggering backwards in a haze. But for every cultist he downed, a dozen more stumbled through the church doors. Fresh blood spurted from his wound into a pool on the silk floor; he needed to get to the mech adhesive in the A.T.A.C.R. immediately. He quickly activated the mech to head towards a pickup point behind the church, and soon its droning whir closed in around him. A huge blast shook the ground, collapsing the back wall of the building, and in the crater stood the A.T.A.C.R. Antonius turned and sprinted into the mech, collapsing into the seat. The creatures, still clamouring towards him, seemed entranced by the blood trailing and settling into the silk. Some were writhing and squirming to taste it, smearing themselves with it.

Antonius reached under the control panels, fumbling for a second before pulling out a half-empty adhesive spray used for emergency mech repairs. With one hand on the controls, he wiped at the pulsating wound with a grimy flannel. Suddenly, a sharp force struck the side of the A.T.A.C.R. Antonius jerked away from the church, but could still feel the weight of the creatures shifting above him. In the corner of the visor, Antonius thought he saw two horned creatures with scythes perched on the spires above him. More and more creatures sprawled out of the church, hurdling past one another to climb onto the mech. Their hoarse, cajoling wails were now joined by a series of obsessive, ravenous thumps. Antonius gracelessly sprayed at his wound until he was numb, and activated the mech’s repulsor shield. A glowing green dome burst from the A.T.A.C.R., and the creatures were knocked back by the blast.

Antonius let out a sigh of relief as the A.T.A.C.R. cooled down. The invulnerability field might have knocked these monsters unconscious. But they could prove more durable and recovered to swarm him. He had to leave quickly. What were they? Why was nothing in the reports? He hated himself for what happened to Gaius. Remembering the horned creatures on top of the church, Antonius looked up. Still perched on the spires, they met his gaze. A wave of intense anger surged in Antonius. When faced with an unknown adversary, church edicts dictated a policy of cautious escalation — ammunition was a costly expense, so they usually packed light for missions. But Antonius was not in a bargaining mood.

Timing the creature’s descent, he waited until it was right on top of the A.T.A.C.R. before opening fire. A seething mass of energy erupted from the mouths of the mech’s twin cannons, sending the creature hurtling through the village in a smouldering heap. Turning his attention to the other horned figure, Antonius fired another blast in its direction, obliterating the church’s dome in an instant. But it somehow avoided the weapons by dashing away just before impact. It was agile and was able to learn, a dangerous combination.

Standing in the rubble of the church, the creature raised its scythe towards Antonius, its mouth contorting into an unsettling grin. Then unexpectedly, it picked up a fallen pillar and launched it at the A.T.A.C.R., throwing it over its shoulder like a javelin. Antonius gazed at his monitor with a certain curiosity as the makeshift projectile soared towards his A.T.A.C.R. — he could finally witness the pulse armour in action.

A technology implemented at the end of the First World War, pulse armour consisted of two hyper conductive reinforced steel plates separated by a thin gap of air. A network of cables connected these plates directly to the A.T.A.C.R.’s solar energy core. Upon sufficient kinetic impact, the two plates are pushed against each other, releasing a devastating pulse of solar energy as the circuit is closed. Designed to withstand the church’s heaviest armaments, Antonius had long waited for an opportunity to utilise the new technology. He counted the seconds before impact.

FZZZT! The pillar disintegrated as soon as it came into contact with the A.T.A.C.R., vaporised instantly into an orb of green plasma. Will you look at that? As much as he distrusted the Church, he had to admit, their technologies proved effective. But his experience and renewed paranoia told him he couldn’t just sit there. Blasts from the pulse armour drew heavily from the solar energy core, limiting the amount of times it could be used. He needed to strike back, but he would have to alter his strategy in order to counter this agile foe.

Switching his ammunition, Antonius fired several large canisters from the A.T.A.C.R.’s secondary turret towards the church. The creature swiftly weaved through the volley with little effort, laughing as it evaded each projectile. But before the creature could counter with another thrown pillar, it found itself surrounded in a thick impenetrable smoke. The canisters fired were created to quell envious protestors back at the capital and contained a chemically-thickened smoke designed to sear airways and obscure vision.

Having turned on the A.T.A.C.R.’s thermal surveillance system, Antonius watched as the creature thrashed around in the smoke, blinded, before punching a red button positioned directly under the monitor. The entire machine began to shudder as the on-board targeting system slowly came alive, its inner cables now pulsing with undulating solar energy. Perhaps the most deadly technology in possession of the church, the on-board targeting system utilised a heavily-guarded technology that granted brief future-sight, enough to allow for the prediction of moving targets. However, such a feat requires an immense amount of solar energy — the A.T.A.C.R. had just enough left in its core for two charges. Antonius had to make this one count.

Raising the A.T.A.C.R.’s main cannons at the creature, Antonius fired a quick burst, sending the horned figure flying through the crumbling walls of the church. Antonius reached his arm forward, disengaging the auto-targeting system. Specially-designed mechanisms immediately unleashed a wave of liquid coolant into the solar core chamber, emitting a violent burst of steam from the A.T.A.C.R.’s rear vents. A faint siren began to blare from the overhead speakers as the last of the coolant evaporated, accompanied by a flashing warning on the corner of the mech’s monitor. Antonius tightened his fists in frustration — the engineers in charge of the cooling systems must have failed to account for the desert’s scorching temperatures again. Twisting a handle attached above him, Antonius reluctantly disabled the solar core’s spark mechanism, shutting down the A.T.A.C.R.’s primary source of power. The cockpit’s light’s automatically dimmed as the backup generators shuddered on, flooding the room in an eerie red hue. The A.T.A.C.R.’s diesel reserves were designed to carry enough fuel to last a full day, but the strict rationing policies enforced due to their dwindling supplies meant he only had enough for fifteen minutes of combat at best. Fortunately, this battle will soon be over, Antonius thought to himself. Moving the A.T.A.C.R. around the back of the church, he readied his main cannons, preparing for the final blow. But the sight he was about to witness would remain with him for the rest of his life.

His weary eyes stretched wide in horror as he gazed at the disfigured creature stumbling towards him. Its scythe was embedded deep in its navel, just below a massive gaping wound; the creature had disembowelled itself, and a twitching mass had begun to emerge from within. Long black claws gripped the sides of the creature, digging into its fleshy abdomen as it slowly pulled the rest of its form out of the wound. With each lurch forward, the beast appeared to grow in stature, tearing its host further apart in the process. As it continued its grotesque emergence into this world, Antonius began to understand its monstrous physiology. Four bulging arms extended from its torso, each flexing in an uneven rhythm as it began to adjust to its new form. Its writhing tail, tipped with a razor-sharp spike, thrashed callously in the air, slicing through the nearby marble pillar with frightening ease. When it finally straightened its bony spine, its hulking silhouette towered over the A.T.A.C.R., casting a long shadow down the aisle of the church. A row of twisting obsidian horns lined the stop of its fleshless skull, forming a misshapen crown. Two unblinking eyes, stained a pale sickly yellow, gazed down from its orbitals, staring directly at the A.T.A.C.R.’s front mounted camera.

Tapping a series of switches, Antonius fired a short burst from the A.T.A.C.R.’s secondary turrets, wary of his limited fuel supply. The bullets chipped away at the wall behind as they glanced off the beasts’ hardened scales, leaving no discernible mark on their intended target.

“Let’s try something a little heavier,” Antonius muttered, unsurprised at the lack of damage. Looking down at a series of complex dials, he switched the ammunition in the secondary turrets to a larger calibre. But before the A.T.A.C.R.’s reloading mechanisms could complete their task, a deafening screech filled the cockpit. Antonius looked back up at the monitor, trying to figure out what had happened. The beast had vanished. In the corner of the screen, he noticed the A.T.A.C.R.’s left turret lying about twenty feet away on the ground. A deep sense of dread began to fill Antonius.

Where did the beast go?” Antonius instinctively spoke into his mic.

A series of steady metallic clangs began to reverberate from the back of the cockpit in apparent response to his question. With his heart now pounding against his chest, Antonius slowly powered on the A.T.A.C.R.’s rear cameras. Can the beast hear me through all this metal plating? A yellow eye filled the screen as the rear cameras flickered on and Antonius quickly figured out the source of the mysterious noise. Having torn off the turrets moments earlier, the beast had positioned itself right behind the A.T.A.C.R. Resting its crowned skull against the back of the mech, pupil pressed against the camera lens, it was gently tapping its claws against the metal frame of the machine. The beast was taunting him.

Antonius immediately spun the A.T.A.C.R. around and shoved the main cannons into the mouth of the creature — he knew he could no longer afford to conserve fuel. Tensing his arms, he squeezed the triggers as hard he could, unloading a full clip down the throat of the beast. A timer on the monitor began to count down — slowed down by the backup power supply, the main cannons needed another thirty seconds to reload.

The beast quickly darted back, stunned briefly by the sudden onslaught. Stomping on the throttle, Antonius smashed the A.T.A.C.R. into the creature before it could fully recover, sending it crashing into the walls. But as it slowly picked itself up from the rubble, seemingly unharmed by his attacks, Antonius knew he would have to go all out to defeat this beast. Looking down at the A.T.A.C.R.’s temperature gauges, Antonius calculated the time it would take for the solar core to cool down.

Two minutes. I just need to hold out for two minutes, Antonius thought to himself, wary that the beast could still be listening. Training his on-board reticule on the forehead of the beast, Antonius steadied his breathing, waiting for his main cannons to come back online. But before he could fire again, the beast had lunged towards the A.T.A.C.R., swiping at the mech with its razor-sharp claws. Antonius activated the throttles, spinning the A.T.A.C.R. just out of range of the strike, before unloading the freshly reloaded clip into the abdomen of the creature. The soft thudding of spent shells falling on silk echoed throughout the crumbling church as the beast shrugged off the blow, unharmed.

The beast lunged again, but this time, as the A.T.A.C.R. swerved to evade the attack, it swung its tail out with violent speed, striking the mech before it could get away. The blow took Antonius by surprise, knocking the air out of his lungs as he slammed against the A.T.A.C.R.’s safety harness. Taken off guard by the attack, Antonius had failed to brace himself for the impact and was now struggling to recollect himself. The ground beneath him shuddered in time with the beast’s lumbering footsteps as it approached the A.T.A.C.R., its grotesque silhouette slowly filling the on-board monitor. Before Antonius could pull the A.T.A.C.R. away, the beast had already latched on to the remaining primary cannon, tearing it off from its fastenings with ease.

One more minute. I need to protect the missile turrets. A ray of flight penetrated into the cockpit as the reinforced glass began to crack under the beast’s assault. Antonius knew he would have to remain still in order to survive – the solar core had just enough left for one last strike and he couldn’t afford to miss. The red lights in the cockpit flickered off, followed by the monitor, as the creature’s claws made their way into the A.T.A.C.R.’s power lines, severing the backup power.

Reaching down, Antonius pulled a cigarette from the pack in his breast pocket. Thumbing Gaius’ lighter in his hand, he lit the cigarette, slowly inhaling as the ceiling above him began to cave in. Just a little longer now. Antonius shut his eyes, his mind now drifting to the cool autumn nights of his adolescence. The sound of shattering glass and crushed metal faded into the background, replaced by the roaring campfires he used to build by the village river. Surrounding him were a group of young men, laughing in unison at his pained expression. Gaius was among them.

“Why do you look so glum, Ant? Unlucky in love again?” The men seemed to speak in unison.

“A life of solitude would be easier to endure than an hour in your company,” Antonius couldn’t help but grin. “But unfortunately for me, our time apart looks like it's finally coming to an end.”

“Ant, giving up already, are you?” The men laughed again, gesturing warmly at Antonius to join them by the fire.

Antonius walked up to them and embraced each one, tears filling his eyes as he passed through the crowd in recognition.

“I’ve grown weary, dear friends,” Antonius paused for a while before continuing. ”I miss our times together.”

The laughter grew only louder.

“Oh Ant, you fool! Those times still await, fret not… You’ll understand one day. But for now, you must return to your world. It is not your time yet.”

Antonius wanted to protest, but he knew deep down that they were right.

“Before I go, can I join you by the fire a little longer?”

“Of course, Ant, come take a seat! You’ll always be welcome here.”

But before he could sit down, a high pitched beeping started ringing in his ears, sending him tumbling back into reality. A steady alert signal was pulsing through the cockpit’s speakers and the power cables below him were emitting an intense green glow — the solar core had come back online.

Antonius’ instincts immediately took over. Slamming on the accelerator, Antonius sent the A.T.A.C.R. tumbling into the beast. Standing over the creature, he counted under his breath, waiting for the perfect time to strike. As the creature raised its ugly claws in retaliation, Antonius swivelled the A.T.A.C.R. against the beast, placing the missile turrets directly under the base of its skull. This was the moment he had been waiting for.

“Burn in hell.”

Antonius pushed down on a switch. A volley of missiles exploded out of the launcher in an unending barrage, vaporising the creature’s thick scales into plasma upon contact. The beast’s pained roars thundered throughout the church as the missiles continued to pour out of the launcher, filling the air with thick smoke and flame.

Antonius slowly inched his A.T.A.C.R. towards the beast’s partially liquefied corpse, now smouldering on the ground, and activated the cockpit’s release mechanism. The whirring of the A.T.A.C.R.’s motors began to wind down as the last of the diesel sputtered through the fuel lines. Harsh desert sunlight flooded into the cockpit as the hatch rose open, illuminating the dark unpowered room. Antonius now stood face to face with the creature.

Walking over to the A.T.A.C.R.’s open hatch, he took the time to light another cigarette before taking a final glance at the blinded beast.

“For Gaius,” Antonius whispered.

He tossed the lighter at the beast, igniting all that was left.

Story by Roh Loh, Laura Lau and Jonathan Wong

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