He reached for the cliffs edge and pulled himself up. Rolling away, he ended up on his back panting, clasping his chest as he tried to fill it with air. The stars above him seemed to try to tell him something that he didn’t understand. He felt something was missing only to realize one of his arms was. A searing hot flash of pain suddenly ran through his head and had him screaming.


    Loke left the city hall with a dossier in his hand. The state official had been most welcoming to a man from the Hunters and gave him absolutely nothing useful. Still he had to go there first anyway, the city had kept it’s interests outside the war. Successfully to, apparently. Until a week ago they had no reason to go there. Neither had the Mavericks. No valuable resources, no real money, no land that would be any good for farming, no strategic use and no military defence. For a moment he wondered why people had moved out into the desert to begin with. He then put his mind to the task ahead and jumped into his all-terrain truck and drove of to the next destination. The science lab that had discovered some new, highly advanced machinery.
    Outside the city and even before he could see the geological institute, there were several ditches into the sandy ground. Long pipes with small pinnacle machines. According to a pamphlet he had read as he went to bed in a motel on the road, those were attempts on tapping into the ground water and making underground rivers surface. There had been limited success. The security fence around the institute was no problem to get through. Inside a young woman, Dr Orsina, met him and showed him to the man responsible for the find.
    “Good evening, Mr Loke, or is that Lieutenant?” the decrepit old man said with a strong voice.
    “Just Loke will be fine, Dr Sterchi”
    “Please, call me Aless” for Alessandro Sterchi. Doctor and Professor in Geological research and the man in charge of the entire area.
    “Of course” Loke started and looked towards the schematics on the computer screen next to the man “I take it you have been informed why I am here” it was to complex for Loke to grasp with a glance.
    “Yes, the new equipment. It’s actually what I am looking at, at the moment” he gestured towards the screen, then kept on talking “What have you been told about it?” he then put his hands together as if leaning on a stick but without the stick.
    “I’ve been told parts but I’d prefer to hear the full story from you” Alessandro started describing the machine while he pushed up other imagery on the screen. It had been discovered in their packaging halls without any address on. At first it had seemed as an elaborate joke to find a giant wooden box, well placed in the middle of the room but as they opened it up they found something completely else. A giant machine with sleek design and some form of rotor at the top and a compact disc laying next to it. Not trusting any of it, they checked the disc first and found the schematics and explanation for it.
    “It’s a weather machine” he simplified it “It makes rain by sending up a polarity field in the air that attracts clouds. It would revolutionize all forms of terra-forming and there would be no more deserts. As long as it is in the hands of people that knows what it does to the rest of the world that is”
    “Does it work?” Loke asked, in disbelief.
    “In theory, yes. We haven’t attempted to activate it as of yet” Loke was impressed. If it did work as planned it would be able to repopulate vast spaces of land and create an abundance of food. In the wrong hands, however, it would be able to have catastrophic consequences. Floods, drought or even permanent damage to the echo-system elsewhere on the planet.
    “And you don’t know where it comes from?”
    “None what so ever I’m afraid”
    “May I look at the machine and perhaps get a copy of that disc?”

    Meantime a dark man skipped over the fence outside and found his way over the courtyard to the buildings. He quickly moved through the corridors without as much as a notice or sound. Finding what he was looking for just as a door opened and he hid.
    “Here it is” Alessandro let Loke into the separate room. They had taken the machine out of the crate, which still lay in the corner of the room. The device surely was impressive. Almost 3 metres high with long black extrusions halfway through it’s length. Putting his hand against one Loke found that most of it easily moved sideways, being able to rotate. A simple control panel with a small black screen was in a dent-like cavity in it’s side.
    “Has it been activated at all?”
    “No” Alessandro shook his head “We aren’t completely certain what it might be yet. For all we know, it might all be a elaborate hoax or a bomb. We are slowly being convinced of it’s authenticity though and plan to start it up by Friday. Unless we find something that seem strange, that is”
    “Is that so?” Loke shone up “Might there be a chance for me to be present?”
    “Of course, we could go to the reception and have the paperwork finished right away” then the two of them left and the dark man smiled brightly. Now he had a deadline.

    Driving away from the facility, Loke had the disc laying in the seat next to him. Since they didn’t know the origin of it, there were most likely no evidence of it in the information on the disc. Which was a shame, he really wanted to read it through before Friday. For no other reason than pure scientific interest. Truth be told, he did enjoy the prospect of what he had to do as well. He’d have to find the people who made the device. To start he would have to find people capable of such a feat and he loved finding things out. The sky slowly turning red, however, informed him that it was time to get somewhere to stay for the night.

    Finally able to get to all three he wondered how he had gotten himself to this place. His head hurt. The ridge he had just climbed out of was very deep and finely cut straight into the ground. Something didn’t match, but his burning forehead didn’t allow him to think of that to much. Instead, he tried to find somewhere else. Anywhere else, really, as long as there was people that could help him there. He started crawling.

    As he arrived at the test area that Friday, Loke begrudge admitted not having found any trace of who the people were that had created the machine. He had talked to the people of the city, to scientists, hobbyists, mechanics and simple conveyor belt works. He had walked to every factory, engine hall, workshop and school and found nothing at all. Not even a trace. The current day looked better, though. Loke looked forward seeing the weather device in action. He and Alessandro Sterchi sat in a small bunker, watching through an aperture with several other scientists. Outside there were several other bunkers with people and, being top secret, armed guards. There were diagnostic machines, checking air temperature, tension, moist and so on, and a woman who had volunteered to activate the apparatus. The very same that had greeted him the other day. They communicated via a hand-held radio.
    The machine was activated. The screen lit up in Orsinas face. It took a moment before the bright blue eased down to a kinder light. A small flashing light activated shortly and scanned her complete upper body and afterwards the words ‘You are now registered’ appeared in big welcoming letters. Then it changed into a menu.
    “Everything goes as anticipated from the instructions” she reported into the radio. Orsina studied the different choices as she waited for the go command. There was a main menu, where different kinds of numbers would go. How much rain they wished over how big of an area and such, and another menu for other users and their access. Only she, being the administrator, would be able to add or remove other peoples access to the machine. To the side there were different kinds of meters and gauges showing how the surrounding area was. ‘Arid with low precipitation. Slight plant life. Low amount of constructions’ and a bunch of numbers telling the different variations. There was even a small map forming in the upper corner, showing the flat landscape and where and how deep the different trenches might be. Orsina hadn’t expected such a quick update of it all.
    “You are free to go” Alessandros voice. It didn’t seem as angry this time as when she told him that she wanted to do this. Orsina added the numbers she had been given and the machine reacted instantly, giving her what changes there would be to the environment. Barely none at all for this first field test. When all numbers had been pushed in, the upper half started to turn, slowly at first, then faster. It was silent and no wind from it. Nervously, she checked the Geiger-meter but there were no extra radioactivity.
    The test went along just as it was planned, they created small wisps of clouds in the sky. All the gadgets and machines gave testimony of an experiment that went along exactly as planned. As soon as the machine was completely turned off, about an hour after they had started the experiment a big truck suddenly smashed through the gates with a giant machine on it’s back. A maverick, Loke recognized, Crescent Grizzly. A giant bearlike creation whose main weapon were the giant claws on his left hand. As the truck slid to a halt in front of the machine, Loke had already started running towards his own vehicle. Grizzly stepped of the truck-bed and simply lifted the machine unto it, while a smaller humanoid got out of the driver seat and took Orsina. Then they were off again. None of the guards got time to react.
    By the time that Loke had gotten into his own truck and gotten off, the Mavericks had already disappeared into the distance and the trail ended in a giant pile of sand. They had gone into the ground and he had lost them.

    As he returned to the test area the guards had just been able to leave. Slowest reaction time Loke had ever seen. The scientists had already started to take down all the equipment and Alessandro hurried up to him as soon as he was noticed.
    “Is Orsina in there?” he requested, already looking into the cabin. “Where is she? Did they get her?”
    “Calm down, Aless” Loke exited the truck and put a kind hand on Alessandros shoulder “As long as she cooperate Grizzly wouldn’t let anything happen to her. She’ll be released soon”
    “You don’t understand, the machine only lets humans operate it. You have to find them, she’s my daughter” Loke cursed at the realization. “You know who did this?” Loke nodded “Who”
    “Crescent Grizzly Slash” Loke began and continued to explain about an enormous reploid that was classified as a Maverick. A status that wasn’t completely honest. A mob-boss would be more appropriate. Grizzly was an arms-dealer, selling any form of weaponry to the highest bidder. Clearly there was an offer on the weather device. He was, however, quite peaceful compared to other Mavericks and quite often ended with making a bargain instead of fighting, though if a battle were to break out he wasn’t afraid to jump into it. “He usually only works in Russia. There must be a lot of money involved for him to get here”
    “Call for backup then, if he’s so dangerous”
    “I will, but it will be a few days until they get here. I will start my own investigation in the meantime”
    “Do whatever you have to, Loke, just get my Orsina back to me unharmed”
    “Certainly” Loke got back into his truck.
    “Don’t care about the machine, we’ve got the blueprints to make a new one. Take this and save my daughter” Alessandro handed Loke a piece of paper.

    He found a broken piece of metal beneath his hand. His eyes tried to focus upon it in vain, then looked up towards the thing in front of him. It was split apart, the machine, in a straight line. Sparks came up from it. Even in his numbed state he could feel the panic within him. It was broken, he was to late. Painfully he climbed and looked inside it, everything was cut perfectly and beyond repair. He started screaming and beating it. It wasn’t allowed to be broken.

    On the paper was a seismic wave analysis that showed him exactly where minor tremors in the ground had moved close to a straight line. Holding the map to his steering-wheel, he tried to figure out their target when he remembered about the reason why people moved to this part of the desert to begin with. Mines. The line on the map was going straight for a low mountain range. Knowing where to go, he kept his eyes straight and pressed the engine harder.

    Loke had sent for reinforcement before he entered the mine. That way, they would have somewhere to start if things went wrong. Wanting speed, he left his clothes in the trucks seat and started to change. His chest becoming a little wider, the metal plates beneath the surface skin turned around, his feet became longer and a long broad tail released from his shoulders and went down to the lower back. Afterwards he looked more like a giant mechanical lizard rather than anything human. The eyes changed colour as Loke adjusted to the dark vision. Going down on all four he started running down the mineshaft.
    It didn’t take long until he heard movement further down and shortly after there was vague light from a series of unprotected flickering lamps. He slowed down and started to sneak. Heavy steps and bitter snarls as a shadow appeared on the rocky tunnel wall. The silhouette seemed to be busy with something and it seemed to be alone. Loke slowly moved closer but scraped against the wall by mistake, metal to rock. It stopped moving, the silhouette turned towards Lokes location, then moved back a few steps and disappeared. Loke kept still, silent, trying to hear what was going on.
    Then with a rumbling roar, Grizzlys claws emerge through the mines rocky wall with Grizzly following. Loke barely avoided the slash had he been standing on two feet instead of two he wouldn’t have been able to. Grizzlys foot hit Loke in his side and threw him across the room, like a discarded towel.
    “Who are you?!?” He roared as he quickly moved closer, his claws beginning to rotate making a drill. Loke got out of the way before it buried down into the ground.
    “I don’t wish to fight!” Loke stated in panic. Thinking that if they were to fight, Grizzly would win. Beyond a doubt.
    “I don’t like spies!” the claws emerged from the ground, holding a big rock that he hurled in Lokes direction. Barely evading, he tried to get behind cover.
    “I’m not after you!” expecting the worst, he kept his distance of the rocky wall.
    “Then tell me who you are” Grizzly stood towering in front of him, covering almost the entire tunnel. Loke realized that he was covering the only escape route.
    “I’m with the Hunters”
    “It’s already sold, I don’t want anything to do with this”
    “Who bought it?” Loke and Grizzly both watched each other, slowly moving side to side. Loke, trying to find an opening to get past as Grizzly only wanted to keep him in. He couldn’t help but feel like it was a rat chase with Grizzly being the cat.
    “None of your business, Spy” Lounging forward, Grizzly scraped his claws against the ceiling, starting a small avalanche. Loke tried to break free but got a large rock on his back, not enough to hurt him but enough to slow him down enough for Grizzly to get a hold of his leg. Lifting him.
    “We’d pay you handsomely” Loke tried to convince him, dangling upside down completely unprotected. Hanging face to face, he could feel Grizzlys breath as the low rumbling voice said.
    “You have nothing I want”
    “I’ve got information, being a spy and all” the next instant he regretted the words as Grizzly swung him straight into the wall, roaring.
    “I HATE spies!!!” then he calmed down. Studied Loke “But you do have a point. Start talking”
    “Ah” Loke started painfully “Great… That thing you stole? Do you know what it is?”
    “Some kind of weather device. Sounded like a powerful weapon. I did get a rather handsome award for it”
    “I’m sure…” Loke muttered to himself “I know that one of your secret bases are planned to be hit in a few days?” Grizzly laughed.
    “I know that too, it’s a trap for you inquisitive bastards”
    “The one further in this cave?” Grizzly became silent, then let Loke go not minding him landing head first. Loke felt a rush of happiness for guessing correctly.
    “He took the girl and went north” Loke got on his feet and carefully moved around Grizzly towards the escape tunnel.
    “No idea, my sources didn’t find anything about the buyer. The only fellow capable of that is that wench Shade”
    “Sources? I didn’t think you liked spies”
    “I don’t, as long as they aren’t on my side” Grizzly then got a big rock from the ground and threw towards him “Now GO!” and Loke started running.

    Light came from nowhere and its sudden appearance got him to jolt back, falling backwards. The engines slow down and turn off. He pushed himself to his feet, trying to ignore the numbing pain in his head, and ran away from the light. Trying to leave it behind. He didn’t know who they were, but they weren’t allowed to see him. Stumbling and staggering he soon tripped and fell further than the ground should be.

    The sun had set as Loke left the mine. The stars started to appear in the vast darkness above. No moon. It would be dark in the desert, and very cold. He reverted to his human shape and got dressed before he drove off. Neither cold nor darkness would prove a problem for him. The weather device would look like a beacon if it was activated and he was a machine himself. Unless it would get really cold, he wouldn’t be bothered. Clothes were more to cover the machine parts that wasn’t hid when he changed shape. He drove north. Hoping to find anything, really, that would suggest a settlement or area where the machine could be activated. Hoping that the machine would be activated, even though it could do long-term damage to the landscape. Better in a desert than a city. Better now then letting it be lost and not knowing where to find it.
    Checking the compass again, he wasn’t certain that Grizzly had told him the truth or even if he knew the truth. Shade wasn’t a character to trust. That. That creature always had a plan and an escape route. Usually more than one. Many of the cases that was on it was loose ended and blamed on it only because no one knew who really was in charge. Not even Grizzly, who had met him, seemed certain.
    At first Loke didn’t notice it, but stars in the sky started to vanish. When he did notice it, it was like a big hole in the sky that he turned the truck straight towards. A perk with driving a terrain vehicle in the desert was that there was few things to avoid, he turned off the headlights. Soon he noticed the discreet blue light further down. Loke drove as close as he dared before he stopped the truck and changed to the faster shape, leaving his clothes behind again. Not wanting to scare Shade away again, so he ran.

    Creeping closer to the dune ridge, the first drops of rain started to fall. Loke could see the weather machine standing in a trucks bed. Orsina stood next to it, well lit by the blue light from its screen. There was another shape, but in the darkness Loke couldn’t make out more. Turning to dark-vision didn’t help much. It seemed to be dancing.
    Loke found his way nearer by scuttling behind the different dunes. He could hear a strangely gender-neutral voice, screaming excited “More, more! I want lightning!” soon after which the rain grew in intensity. Great for Loke, whom used the extra noise and obscured sight to find his way under the truck. A quick survey of the chassis, he removed a few important parts that would make it move. The lightning terrified him. It struck at the same moment the world turned white, immediately after the androgynous voice started to laugh.
    Taking brace against the ground, he shot out from underneath the car and jumped onto the unknown form, knocking it down. Sitting on top of it, Loke noticed that it indeed was unknown. Human shaped, but completely dark brown. A mouth only on its face that didn’t seem to happy about Lokes appearance. Taken by the surprise, Shade easily pushed him off. He looked up towards the woman shaking by the weather device, pointing towards Loke “Send one into that” not daring to do anything else Orsina started to press the buttons. “Oh no, you don’t” Loke shouted as he got up and jumped Shade again, this time missing. He quickly turned around and noticed in the corner of his eye how Orsina seemed to hesitate. Shade fired a shot right next to her, hitting the trucks cabin, then looked over towards Loke “Hold it right there” Loke kept still, knowing full well that Shade would shoot her if provoked.
    “You know, Loke, I knew you’d find me sooner or later” Loke got uncertain, what had he missed? He didn’t let it show. “I admit I just wanted to gloat, last time we met I didn’t get to do that much” More uncertain, he started wondering when the last time was. “With this machine I would be able to control the environment. Decide where there should be a lake or a desert”
    As another flash of lightning covered the world in white and noise, a giant blade cut through Shades arm. A person covered by thick rags held the sword, about a third of the swords length. “It was not meant for you” the old dry voice said as the sword lifted sideways and hit him with its side, sending him flying through the air. The man then turned towards the machine, completely ignoring Lokes presence. “Get away from it” he asked Orsina, who quickly jumped down from the truck-bed and away from the truck. The sword didn’t seem to hit anything as it passed through the machine. The earth shook greatly when it split apart. As it shook, the truck got swallowed into the dirt, Loke almost followed and had to keep climbing to not sink.
    When it was over the rain was already easing up and both the old man and Orsina had vanished. The former weather machine had sunk partly into the ground with only a small part of the trucks cabin as a neighbour. Looking around he couldn’t find Shade either. Feeling confused by the whole situation, he went back to the truck. Loke marked down the coordinates before he drove towards the scientists. Hoping there would be someone awake.

    He kept bumping into the side, almost as if he fell along the earth with an altered gravity. Until the real ground stopped him. Forcing his head up, he heard voices closing in to the ditch he found himself in. There was a small cavity next to him where he hid as circles of light seemed to scan the sand, then going away. He stayed there until first light, feeling most of the pain easing off. Then left to get to base. Admitting defeat wouldn’t be easy.

    Orsina had arrived before Loke did and thanked him a lot for saving her. As she embraced him she asked him to keep the robed man secret. So he did. He gave them the coordinates for the broken machine, if they wished to recover it and people were sent soon afterwards. Alessandro thanked Loke a lot as well and wished he could do more to aid the Hunters. Loke asked for the Hunters to be present in the facilities, both to study the inventions and progress of theirs as well as to guard them. The idea was welcomed, as long as it only was a small force at any given time.
    Later, Loke was informed that the disc for the weather device had vanished with the scrap parts of the machine. The disc he had with himself he made a secret copy of before leaving it in the hands of the Hunters scientists. The original vanished as well only a short time after that.
    Grizzlys cave was empty when found only leaving traces of a quick move.
    No one ever found out where the machine came from or who made it.

   Story is © Peter A Svensson 2010
All characters are coyright respective owners.