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Kaze
Nino Isle - The Future Sucks
Thu Oct 7, 2010 3:49am
74.4.208.43

Work boots, work shirt, wool trousers, leather gloves, steel welder's mask. Kaze itched where the rotted elastic headband chafed behind his ear before lowering the facemask and switching on his arc torch. Or at least it looked like an arc torch. Heat burned green at the tip, joining together titanium X as easily as Elmers on popsicle sticks. Two months had gone by since he'd been dropped here, and he was past antsy over the odds of success of returning home. The world, he had learned, was covered in water. The pendant he needed was by all odds under miles of ocean, and this society didn't seem to know much about deep sea exploration. So with some reluctance, he decided to-

"What the ... is taking so long down there?"

Kaze grit his teeth as the general manager of the infrastructure department screeched down into the hollow under the flooring he'd been working in. Kaze had vast quantities of knowledge, but none of it applied on this tiny prick of land. At least not as long as there were no pirates to fight. Three weeks into his stay a small skirmish broke out, but they were dispatched handily and life went on. So basic labor was all he had to offer, and he did it in exchange for what passed as a fair salary. It got him a place to stay, put food on the table, and let him tinker with machines eons past his own era's. Unfortunately, he had also discovered that a lifetime of making his own hours and rules had left him galling when anything was asked of him outside of his normal routine. The howling foreman tempted being run through for not the first time by screaming down at his charge while he worked. Some part of Kaze realized the only reason the executive officers of the Stomping Grounds hadn't received the same attitude was because they'd mostly ignored him.

"This beam is shot to hell. I should be replacing it, not reattaching it." Kaze called up through the ajar access hatch, even knowing he'd be ignored.

"Well hurry it up!"

A simmering spite welled up in Kaze's gut, quelled only by the satisfaction of knowing his own establishment had been that much better upkept than this supposedly futuristic one. He flicked on the torch and went back to joining the metal beams, taking his sweet time. It was another half hour before the beam was in place, and the supplementary scaffold used to support the structure during construction was broken down and removed. Dusting black, burnt metallic dust from his gloves, Kaze heaved himself out of the tiny access hatch in the floor and finally placed the peculiar smell of the cutting tool as a combination of burning rubber, black licorice, and vinegar. The foreman would howl and scream about the length of the job, but it was impossible to give even the slightest amount of regard at the moment. After all, this was his last day.

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"Applicant #2254-1092, please approach the testing chamber."

Kaze looked up from the brochure he'd been reading and shouldered the standard issue assault rifle of the Ruminoa Anti-Piracy Forces. It had taken a while to save up for, but he wasn't about to take the Diggers License test without a weapon, lest people start wondering how he passed at all. Right across the waiting room was the receptionist's counter and an elevator that led directly into "the ruins", as the locals called them. A dangerous manmade underground filled with murderous "reaverbots" that protected the ancient halls savagely. And just as extravagant as the dangers of the place were the apparent rewards; indeed the entire economy of the topside world seemed to revolve around what could be found underground by the gifted few capable of surviving it. Welding girders simply wasn't Kaze's calling.

The elevator doors parted, and Kaze stepped inside. A long descent later, the opposite side of the elevator opened into a hallway of remarkably different architecture.

Walls of dim gray that must have been white in full light stretched out before him in a long hallway, adorned up and down with black geometric patterns and canals that looked partially magic-inspired, and partially like an elaborate circuit board. The ceiling was only just visible, likely a full 40 feet over his head and ephemeral in the gloom. Within the darkness shone pricks of red light, and it was soon apparent that red 'eyes' adorned the walls, watching the entire area with wide-eyed anticipation of... Kaze didn't know what, and it unnerved him. A wireless speaker mounted in the corner crackled before the receptionist's tired voice gave its often repeated warnings.

"Welcome, applicant #2254-1092. This test is for your Class C Digger's License. You've got five minutes to get to the end of the hallway. You fail if time runs out, you fail to eliminate all the reavers along the way, or you get in enough trouble for us to have to send someone in after you. Good luck." A siren wailed for a moment, signaling the beginning of the test.

After hearing about the massive sprawling underground complexes Diggers had to navigate, Kaze was surprised to find the test to consist entirely of a straightforward hallway with some general bootcamp-quality obstacles. Several times he would come across not particularly threatening robots, and a single three-round burst was almost always sufficient to put one down. They'd sputter and skitter across the floor before bursting into flames and falling over, and Kaze found himself finishing with nearly three minutes to spare on the clock.

The elevator at the end of the hall somehow delivered him at the top of the same one he'd taken down. A lukewarm congratulations from the staff and a photograph later, and he was officially a Digger. As he was about to walk out, a cheer went up from the crowd behind him. He turned to see a kid that couldn't have been a day over 15 in blue armor emerging from the same elevator, smeared with soot and bleeding lightly from a scrape on the side of his head. Panting, he looked over the room before grinning and pumping a still-smoking arm cannon into the air in victory, signaling another cheer. A young blonde girl in red met him at the counter where he received a bright red version of the identification card Kaze had just earned, and they both dashed out to celebrate.

"...The hell was that?" Kaze chewed on the inside of his lip, wondering what had just transpired.

A kindly old gentleman with the fire of youth still in his eyes responded from the waiting room bench. "That young man just passed the highest clearance level test the Digger's Guild has to offer. He's now ranked as a Class-SS Digger." He spoke with a kind of intoned awe that communicated just how important this status was in the community. Kaze understood why his test had been a joke. It was just to weed out the terminally stupid and mortally incompetent. It carried no more significance than a driver's license. The kid in blue had just become a Green Beret in comparison.

Kaze looked very suddenly at the receptionist. "Run it again."

She stared back, shrinking in her chair slightly. "Ex-excuse me?"

"What's the next rank above mine?"

"That would be a B, sir."

"And above that?"

"A... and then S. And if you know the Guildmaster or otherwise have connections or exemplary service, you can be invited to attempt for an SS." She shuffled some papers, trying to appear very formal.

"Then run me for S now." Kaze crossed his arms and shifted the weight of his rifle.

"I'm sorry, sir, but you have to run them in sequence. I can set you up for a B-"

"Do it." He took his position in front of the elevator, and the doors opened.

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B was easy, but he missed an occasional shot on some faster targets. A tested his reflexes as the Reavers became more aggressive and brought actual weapons to bear. He had just gotten comfortably assured with himself that he was going all the way when he started S. Once the doors opened, the air was different. Thick with eerie malicious smog that clouded the mind and soul, and yet the halls themselves were even more deadly silent than the previous challenges' gloom. Red eyes glowed in the distance, bobbing. Kaze's eyes probed the blackness, finally picking out ghostly doll-like robots that floated soundlessly. He took a step forward, the the nearest of the dolls began to float towards him, descending from its high vantage point. It carried no obvious weapons, aside from a modest spike on its head. Kaze let it float over so he could get a better look at it; it was painted powder blue and stared blankly into space. When it was 20 feet away, Kaze raised his rifle and put a single round into its head.

The explosion was instant and immense in the confined space. It picked Kaze up off his feet and slammed him flat against the wall before he slid six inches down onto his feet. Wet copper flavor filled his mouth as he realized he'd bitten his tongue. He coughed, hacking blood onto the floor before looking up through the lingering haze of burnt incendiary compound. Two dozen more sets of eyes blinked to life in the darkness and started their approach. Swearing violently, Kaze threw the rifle into full automatic and emptied the remainder of his magazine into the crowd. He was rewarded with three similarly sized explosions, all painful in the enclosed space but nothing like the first. As he switched out magazines, he realized that there were no sympathetic detonations; the suicide drones were completely immune to the blasts created by their own kind. Back to single-shot, and the rifle bucked onward. Explosion after explosion battered Kaze's senses, and dull aches began to develop all over as nearly two dozen shockwaves all told pulsed through the chamber.

He fought his way through the hall, and his ammunition reserves began to run dangerously low. He was just about to start wishing for a good old fashioned plasma weapon when he slotted his last magazine and pulled the bolt back. A set of double doors slid open at the end of the hall, and Kaze relaxed his aim as he passed through. The ground was littered with small robotic snakes, each a mere 15 inches in length. Kaze was about to try and kick one when another reared up like a cobra, but launched itself like a sprung catapult. A quick twist saved him from being skewered, and the snake punched a clean hole into the wall wide enough to stick three fingers through. Kaze grabbed its body as it tried to wriggle free and, finding it strangely soft, crushed it in his hand. Parts sizzled and sparked as green fluid leaked from the insides, and every snake in the room suddenly took keen interest in him. Their numbers totaled over threescore easily, but even more concerning were the green variety who, unlike the normal orange ones, cloaked themselves in plasma as they approached.

Calling on his magic, Kaze summoned an azure mist across the ground. It beaded and clung to the bodies of the tiny robots, glowing and whispering strange sounds. When the mist was expended, a surge of will flared in Kaze's mind, and the magic burst into unnatural flames that stripped apart the snakes at the atomic level. No heat went up from the dozens of little fires; only cold light and hollow moanings of moving air. Kaze moved around the edge of the room, never turning his back to the snakes. He was fairly sure none of them had survived, but nobody ever died being too sure.

The next room was worse. More suicide drones, this time spawned en masse from a central unit. The room after featured a number of massive walking pillars that generated impenetrable electrostatic forcefields and attempted to crush him between them. When that failed, they deactivated the fields and simply tried to barrage him to death with strange floating balls of energy. Bunkered enemies with flamethrowers, dummy boobytrapped treasure caches, and suicide drones in every other room forced Kaze to rely on his magic when his bullets ran dry. By the end of it, he was caving the heads of his enemies in with the stock of the rifle.

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The elevator doors slid open, and Kaze stepped out. He smelled of fire, gunpowder, and sweat, and he dropped his spent and dented rifle next to the receptionist's desk.

"Thirty seconds to spare." He grinned, which sent the receptionist pale and far down into her chair. Blood tinted his teeth a grisly red. "SS tomorrow." It was all she could do to nod and fill out the paperwork, clearing him for S and arranging the SS test for the following day. He was truly a brute from a less civilized time. S-rank qualification safely in his wallet, he scooped up his weapon and began retracing his steps to find where he'd bought it in the first place. He'd come unprepared today, but tomorrow he'd be fully loaded.

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