MECH: Age of Steel550
MECH: Age of Steel550
MECH: Age of Steel is a collection of 24 mecha-inspired short stories in the spirit of Pacific Rim, Macross, Transformers, Robotech, Gundam, Evangelion, and more.
The MECH: Age of Steel anthology features a vast array of tales showcasing giant human-piloted, robot war machines wreaking havoc in blasted cities, or on dystopian landscapes, or around space stations and asteroids against a cosmic backdrop, and more!
MECH is anchored by authors such as:
- Kevin J. Anderson
- Scott Sigler
- Ramez Naam
- Jason M. Hough
- Jeremy Robinson
- Jody Lynn Nye
- Peter Clines
- Martha Wells
- Graham McNeill
- Jennifer Brozek
- James Swallow and more!
This anthology also features illustrations for every story and is the perfect companion to its sister title, Kaiju Rising: Age of Monsters. So strap in. Activate your interface array. And let's rock!
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Professor of History and Folklore Ken Kraft flinched as the airman yanked the door open. "Are we sure this is the best way?" "Positive," said the airman. "After the massacre taking the island, the Heinies wouldn't expect anyone to do the same thing."
"With good reason," Kraft shouted over the engine.
On the other side of the airman, Dar Carter smirked. "If you're having second thoughts," he called out, "you should've mentioned them sooner."
"I did mention them sooner. I've been mentioning them for six days now."
Carter's grin got even wider.
"Once you two are gone," yelled the airman, "we're going to make some noise, convince the Jerries this is a nuisance bombing run. Should buy you an hour or so."
"I'm still not feeling very confident about this," Kraft shouted.
"Relax," Carter stepped forward and set his hands on the professor's shoulders. "You're going to be fine. Take a deep breath and hold it."
Kraft sucked in air until his chest swelled against the harness.
"Let it out. Take another one."
He held the second breath until his lungs burned. It trailed out between his lips and his shoulders sagged.
Carter gave him a punch on the arm. "Feel better?" he asked, reaching up to grab one of the dangling straps.
"Yes. Yes, thank you."
"Good," Carter said. "See you on the ground."
His foot came up and kicked Kraft out the plane's open door.
Kraft had been surprised when the car appeared with the summons to the Pentagon. After the Raider X affair with the Argo and the Sisters, Kraft had assumed his II-A status — important to the war effort — was given to him by the War Department as a small reward for his service. An assurance he wouldn't be sent off to the South Pacific or worse.
It hadn't occurred to him they might be serious about it.
He'd been escorted to a small conference room, where Commander Finch stood. Finch always looked like the model for a Navy recruiting poster. Narrow hips, broad shoulders, square jaw, perfect hair. His tan uniform actively repelled lint and wrinkles.
Across the table from him, leaning in a chair and sipping from a flask, sat Dar Carter. Carter, sometimes known as "The Roman," looked like Johnny Weissmuller's older brother. A tougher, more ragged brother. A single scar marred his good looks, a thin line starting at the top of his high cheekbone, just by his left eye, and running down his neck and beneath his collar. Kraft had never asked how he'd gotten it.
In certain circles, Kraft's peers and contemporaries referred to Carter as an aggressively active historian. In less polite circles, they just called him a mercenary treasure hunter. Regardless, the man knew Europe, Asia, and a large part of Africa better than Kraft knew his faculty library.
Trapped in a room with the two of them always made the professor self-conscious about his academic build and eyeglasses. He was Clark Kent bookended by a pair of Supermen.
"Kraft, you bastard," Carter called across the room. "Good to see you."
"How've you been, Carter?"
"Surviving," he said. He took another swig from the flask, then capped it and tucked it back into his coat.
"Thank you for joining us, Professor," said the commander, sticking his arm out.
"Anything to help," said Kraft. The commander's handshake was firm. Solid. Precise.
Finch, done with pleasantries, opened his files. "The Nazis took Crete last May. Bloody as hell. Over six thousand dead, all told, and they've had a few mass executions since then. Two months ago, the resistance there got word to us of a big construction project going on, just east of Rethymnon and two miles inland. If our English friends have the chatter right, the Germans are calling it Project Maria."
Kraft furrowed his brow. "Maria like ... a woman?"
Finch nodded. "No idea who, though. There are a few German chemists and mathematicians with the name, but no one we know of involved in engineering or weapon design. Might be a reference to a family member, but we still don't know most of the players behind the project. We sent some men in to meet up with a resistance cell. Last week they got these to us."
Finch spun one of the photos, then another. They showed distant crisscrosses that Kraft recognized as some sort of superstructure. He'd seen newsreels of planes being built, with shots of them before the plates went over everything. In the second picture, he could see a welder working on one of the intersections.
"There are three of them so far," said Finch. "Getting underway on a fourth when these were taken. Our people give them a diameter of seventeen feet and a length of thirty-five."
Carter tapped his chin. "Are those exact numbers?" "Best estimates, going off the welder's equipment." Finch tapped the man in the photo.
"That's ... an odd size, isn't it?" Carter turned the photo to get a better angle on it. "Too big for a fighter, too short for a bomber."
Finch nodded. "It doesn't match up with anything we've seen from the Germans before."
"Maybe it's not complete? The pieces might join together."
"Bad construction method, if that's the case."
"Something new then?"
"Perhaps," said Finch, "but if it's a plane, why go all the way to Crete? Hitler's got dozens of factories in Germany churning out planes and tanks."
"Maybe it's not a plane," mused Carter. "Some kind of ship?"
Finch shook his head. "Two miles inland? And as far as we can tell, the Germans haven't been bringing in engines or fuel."
Carter shrugged and pulled a flask from inside his coat. "Maybe they're manufacturing it all there?"
"I'm sorry," said Kraft. "I don't mean to interrupt ..."
Finch's gaze locked onto the professor like a targeting system. "Yes?"
"Well, why am I here? I'm willing to help in any way I can, of course, but I don't see how any of this would involve me."
Finch nodded. "Going off some of the preliminary work they've done, our current theory is that the Nazis might be using resources there on Crete. They've looted museums across Europe, and some of our boys thought they might just be pulling what they need for raw materials from archeological sites. And Carter here thought you might be able to give us some insights in that area."
"Ahhh," said Kraft. "Well, then, to be honest, that doesn't make a lot of sense."
The commander's jaw shifted. "Why not, Professor?"
Kraft gestured at the map. "There are dozens of archeological sites across Crete. Maybe hundreds, depending," he added, glancing at the Roman. "But even if you ignored proper techniques and just ripped everything out of the ground as fast as you could find it, there just wouldn't be that much. Not compared to what you need for a plane or a ship."
Finch's brow furrowed. It always did when the professor shot down his theories. "Are you sure of that?"
Kraft nodded. "Absolutely," he said. "It wouldn't even be steel. It would all be bronze and some iron ..."
Carter glanced up from the photos. "Kraft?"
The professor frowned. "I think I might know why they're building this on Crete." He looked at Finch. "None of your intelligence people are film buffs, I take it?"
Kraft crouched on his hands and knees and let his head hang limp. The ground of Crete felt warm to his wind-frozen fingers. The hot air he sucked in just added to the nausea that churned his stomach. At least he hadn't eaten in the past six or seven hours. His stomach had nothing to throw up.
He retched anyway, spraying yellowish stomach acid between his hands.
Then he retched a second time, just to be safe.
He straightened up and fumbled with the straps of his harness. Get loose, hide his chute. Bury it if possible. They'd drilled that into him.
He got himself free, gathered up armfuls of dark blue silk and cord, and shoved it between two sprawling bushes. A few rocks weighted it down. A few dozen handfuls of dirt and leaves made it vanish. Kraft had no idea how effective the camouflage would be come daybreak but, by then, he hoped to be many miles away.
Something scuffed the ground behind him. He spun and crouched at the same time. After a beat, he fumbled with the holster on his hip and tried to get the strap loose.
"Easy, Kraft," murmured a low voice. "It's me." The big man stepped out of the shadows and into a dim shaft of moonlight.
"Thank God," said the professor. "How'd you find me so fast?"
"I watched you on the way down. I landed about half a mile that way."
"Yes," said Kraft, "about that."
Carter batted the fist away before it got close to his jaw. His expression didn't change. "Feel better?"
"You need to throw any more punches?"
"Good. Next time, don't put your thumb inside when you make a fist. Would've hurt you more than me." He pointed at a dark ridge. "The plain's about ten klicks that way, on the other side of the hills. We should be able to make it in two hours."
"Wasn't there supposed to be a resistance team meeting us?"
"Yeah. You want to wait around for them or get this done?"
Kraft snorted. "I want to be back in my office grading papers."
Carter's teeth gleamed in the night. "Let's get moving."
They made their way across wide fields and small groves of trees. Twice, Carter stopped them as a patrol of German soldiers wandered by. The second group, four men, paused to share cigarettes and mutter amongst themselves. Kraft and Carter stayed flat against the ground a dozen yards away, hidden among what looked like short, stubby orange trees. After fifteen minutes, the Germans crushed the cigarettes under their boots and moved on.
Kraft counted to twenty and let out a slow breath.
Carter sat up. "Well," he murmured, "that bit into our schedule."
"How long until sunrise?"
"It's going to start getting light in about three hours. We want to be in our best position by then."
They headed across the field, weaving between orange trees that grew larger and larger. Carter double checked his compass, pointed, and they made their way through the grove, over a low wall, and across a barren plot to where twisted trees grew more or less in a row.
"I still don't understand why I had to come along," Kraft said, pitching his voice low.
Carter glanced back. "You're the expert."
"A research expert. There's no reason for me to be here."
The Roman raised his hand for silence. They stood in the shadow of an olive tree for a moment while he cocked his head and listened. Then he gestured them on, adding, in a low voice, "I asked for you to be here."
"Because, Ken, you've got the brains," Carter said. "And I trust you over anyone Finch would've sent along."
"They're U.S. Marines. They're completely loyal."
"It's not their loyalty I'm worried about," said Carter. "I've seen some of the bravest, most loyal men crack when they're confronted with the unknown. With something their minds just aren't able to accept. You saw it happen on Paxos, and again on the Sea Ghost when we were heading home."
"I recall," Kraft murmured with a shiver. He'd never forget the Sisters they'd found beneath the island of Paxos. Or the things that had found them on their voyage back to England.
"Well, it didn't happen to you," said Carter. "Twice in a row you've faced the impossible, and you didn't blink."
"I blinked," muttered Kraft. "I'm not ashamed to admit I pissed myself a bit when Scylla woke up."
Carter snorted. "Didn't say you weren't scared. Everyone gets scared. You didn't snap."
"Sergeant Thater didn't snap, either."
"And if he wasn't dead, I'd've asked for him, too. Face it, Kraft. You're smart, you're strong, and you're a survivor. And if you're right about what's here ... well, that's who I need with me. Because if things go bad —"
Carter's leg snaked out even as his arm shot up at the shadow's throat. The figure spun in the air and crashed down to the ground with a grunt. The Roman dropped a knee on the man's chest and a knife to his throat. "Talk quiet, talk fast."
"Constantine Zaimis," wheezed the rail-thin man. He had dark hair streaked with white, a thick mustache, and a stubbly beard. His voice strained as his chest tried to rise. "I'm your resistance contact."
Carter's knee didn't move. He tipped his head to the bulging sack laying in the shadows. "What's in the bag?"
"Iron rations. Thirty meals worth."
Zaimis managed a sad smile. "Resistance members wandering around at night can get a bullet in the head." He slid his arm along the ground to point at the bag. "With this, I'm just a low-end thief and black market smuggler who deserves a good beating."
"Pleasant," muttered Kraft.
"We all do what we must," Zaimis said. "May I get up now?" Carter tapped the edge of his knife thrice against the man's Adam's apple. Then he heaved himself upright and extended his free hand down. "Sorry for the body slam."
Zaimis gathered up the sack and threw it over his shoulder. "As I said, we all do what we must."
"Why weren't you at the drop site?"
"I was delayed," said the resistance fighter. "Patrols have doubled over the past week since they got close to finishing their machine."
"Close to finishing?" echoed Kraft.
"Yes. A ship came in yesterday with more workers. They have almost two thousand here now. Prisoners they've enslaved."
"Two thousand? Are you sure?"
Carter pointed up at the ridge. "Can we still get to the plain where they're assembling it?"
The resistance fighter shook his head again. "Not that way. They dropped an observation team right on the spot I had planned to take you. We'll have to go to the far side." He swung his arm and pointed at a steeper hill to the west.
"Can we make it by sunrise?"
"Maybe. It's rougher terrain."
"Well, then," said Kraft. "Let's get moving."
Zaimis led them out of the olive trees and toward the rocky hills. He guided them across a field, then down a dirt road for half a mile. They hid in a ditch when a truck drove by.
"You know what they're building?" asked Zaimis as they continued down the road.
Kraft and Carter exchanged a look. "We have a good idea," said the professor
"What is it?"
"I think they're not so much building as reassembling," said Kraft. "And reinforcing."
Zaimis glanced up at the sky. "Something crashed here during the invasion?"
The professor shook his head. "No, it's been here longer than that."
The resistance fighter furrowed his brow and gestured them off the road onto a path. "The Great War?"
"Much earlier," Kraft said.
"I don't understand."
"Tell me about these workers," said Carter, changing the subject. "You're sure they're prisoners? Slaves?"
Zaimis nodded. "They all wear thin, gray uniforms. Most of them are chained together at the ankle so they can't walk." He shuffled along the path for a few feet with short, halting steps.
Kraft could see Carter's frown in the dim light. "Is that a problem? I mean, aside from the obvious?"
"You don't put slaves in chains that short," said Carter. "Not if you're expecting them to work."
Zaimis snorted. "Have a lot of experience with slaves, do you?
"Enough to be ashamed of it," Carter said without looking at the man. "So, if they're not a workforce, what are they doing here?"
They hid behind some bushes as another patrol walked by. Five soldiers again. Much more disciplined than the ones Kraft and Carter had encountered earlier. One of them passed within a few feet of them, and Kraft found himself aware of the nervous sweat that had dried in his clothes.
The soldiers continued their route.
"This is the riskiest part," Zaimis murmured to them. "After this patrol is out of sight, we'll have fifteen minutes to make it up to those boulders before the next one comes by." He pointed at a line of slab-like rocks up along the ridge line. "Once we're there, we're good. But the way up is open country, no cover, and the sky will be bright when we're near the top."
The soldiers vanished around a bend and the trio launched themselves at the slope. Zaimis moved with the casual grace of familiarity. Carter marched up, not so much climbing the hill as attacking it with non-stop downward kicks. Kraft trailed them, huffing out breath but somewhat proud that he didn't lag too far behind.
Zaimis led them into a shadowy split in the hillside. The crevasse went almost thirty feet down into the hill, although it looked like centuries had filled the bottom ten feet with enough stones and dirt to make a crude floor. "Keep your voices low," he murmured. He gestured at the stone walls on either side of them. "We're distant and they're making noise, but expect this to double the volume of anything we say or do."
He guided them through the dark crevasse. Kraft could see a wedge of less-dark up ahead, growing brighter even as they got closer. They slowed as they reached the opening.
The plain spread out three hundred feet below them, twice the size of an athletic field. The whole area had been scoured down to bare soil and leveled out, like a construction site waiting to break ground. With the surrounding hills, it could've been an amphitheater. At this distance, most of the figures that moved back and forth were an inch tall.
They settled into position, using the boulders and scrub in the crevasse for cover.
Excerpted from "Mech"
Copyright © 2017 Tim Marquitz.
Excerpted by permission of Ragnarok Publications.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
FOREWORD MELANIE R. MEADORS,
INTRODUCTION MATT FORBECK,
PROJEKT: MARIA PETER CLINES,
ALL TOGETHER, NOW RAMEZ NAAM AND JASON M. HOUGH,
TOY SOLDIER JAMES SWALLOW,
TRAVAILIANT KEVIN J. ANDERSON AND DAVID BOOP,
EASY AS PIE JODY LYNN NYE,
THESEUS IV VS MECHA-MISHIPESHU C. L. WERNER,
JÄEGERMEISTER J.C. KOCH,
THE TEMPERED STEEL OF ANTIQUITY GREY SHAWN SPEAKMAN,
AFTER THE VICTORY M L BRENNAN,
THE COLD AND THE DARK JAMES R. TUCK,
OF THE FIRE PAUL GENESSE,
MACHINE HEART PATRICK M. TRACY,
FADEM ANTON STROUT,
I. AM. THE. PILOT. JASON M. HOUGH AND RAMEZ NAAM,
VULTURE PATROL JENNIFER BROZEK,
INTEGRATION STEVE DIAMOND,
HERE WE GO! FIGHT! KANE GILMOUR,
LADY AND THE WOLF SCOTT SIGLER,
THE STARS SHINE HOME MALLORY REAVES,
THE BONUS SITUATION JEFF SOMERS,
A SINGLE FEATHER MARSHEILA ROCKWELL AND JEFFREY J MARIOTTE,
BIRTHRIGHT MARTHA WELLS,
ROGUE 57 JEREMY ROBINSON,
ALL FOR ONE MARK TEPPO,
ORDO TALOS GRAHAM MCNEILL,