The mech stomped into the clearing, its two stumpy legs and broad feet crushing the undergrowth and flattening smaller bushes. This time it had managed to circumnavigate the small wood without either falling over (very heavy to push back upright again) or getting stuck between trees (very difficult to get out). All in all, it was looking like a success. Terbald Neice sucked his teeth as the mech completed its routine, coming to a stop dead centre where all the grass had been pummelled into paste by its previous circuits. Joints and various mechanisms whined and shuddered to a halt, dropping the mech from its fully extended legs down to its knees. While those legs were indeed stumpy, it still stood twice Terbald’s height at a full stretch. Once it had accomplished its version of kneeling, his face was level with the top of the hatch on its side. A further hiss, pop, no small amount of swearing, and a hefty thunk and the hatch opened.
Terbald had expertly judged the distance and it swung past his nose with an inch to spare. From within emerged his brother, Ormald Neice, plastered in sweat and red in the face. With a bit more effort, Terbald helped Ormald out of the mech. Another success: they didn’t knock it over. His brother out of the way, Terbald stuck his head through the hatch to inspect the mech’s innards. He looked rather like a bin-diving gull with his skinny legs and round body. That was at least one good reason to do the hard work of building the mech rather than piloting it – he left that to his thick-legged yet skinny torsoed brother.
“Worked alright? Nothing went bang on you?” Terbald’s voice came muffled by the machine.
Ormald shook free his hair from the band that held it and its load of sweat, made the best effort he could to tug the sopping wet t-shirt and trousers from his skin and sat down on one of the camping chairs they’d set up earlier.
“Nothing actually exploded, but that radiator from the engine is red hot.”
“Well it is a radiator.”
“I know, but can’t it point somewhere other than my back?”
“Maybe. Can’t afford to dump too much heat if we want to go unnoticed for long.”
“You don’t think it makes enough noise to make up for any heat signature?”
“Version four problems,” muttered Terbald, yanking something free from inside the mech. He inspected the hexagonal plate and tapped it lightly with a screwdriver he’d extracted from somewhere about his person.
“Visibility’s good though, especially considering how narrow that slot is. The groundview mirrors are helping a lot too.”
“And that you’ve already stomped most of those bushes flat by now.”
“That too,” Ormald yawned and stretched enormously. “I… am knackered.”
“Right then, let’s cover her up and find some peace elsewhere.”
Terbald withdrew from the mech, having replaced the part he was fiddling with. The brothers hoisted a thick canvas sheet over the mech, tethered by pegs in the ground, and a camouflage net over the top.
As the pair left the clearing, the sun was just about ready to give up on the day too, but not fully prepared to surrender to the twin moons and their bevy of stars. It had little choice though, and would soon be replaced by them. In the fading light, nothing was more evident than the stark triangular shapes that hung in orbit, evening sunlight glaring off their hulls. Some kind of invasion, or at best an aggressive greeting was coming; there was only so long they could lurk up there without at least saying “hello.” That was the general consensus anyway, and while revving up the military might be taken badly by a visitor from beyond, there was nothing to stop backyard tinkerers like the Neices from setting their own plans in action. “Be ready to be ready” had long been the family motto. The sprawling farmhouse and its associated outhouses that contained the equally sprawling Neice clan were filled with such inventions and half-thought out, half-complete rainy projects. The two-legged mech (“Forest Stalker,” as Terbald insisted it should be called) was only one of their ongoing developments, rushed into an accelerated programme by the arrival of the alien shapes in space.
On their arrival at the homestead, they were greeted by a neat line of red eyes that bobbed up out of the grass, bleating a warning to intruders. With a wave, Ormald dispelled the guardians’ attention and they crossed safely. A stuttering roar erupted from a nearby outhouse and the brothers dove to the ground, avoiding the pulsed fire that stitched through where their shoulders had been and pulverised chunks of the drystone wall behind them.
“Berold’s getting on alright then,” Ormald joked as they brushed dirt off their clothes and approached the outhouse at a crouch. Peeking around the edge of a doorway whose once-solid lines were punctured with the results of the experiments within, Ormald whistled to attract their uncle’s attention. A series of ominous lights faded and Berold’s cheery face appeared to wave them inside.
“Almost took both of us out there,” said Terbald with a lingering trace of resentment.
“Ah sorry – yes, forgot to put out the, ah, the barriers and signs,” their uncle half-apologised. “Still, cuts through stone a beauty don’t it?”
There was no denying the effect of Berold’s tractor sized cannon, though they’d need to find some way to mount it, in case the enemy didn’t approach only the twenty degree window of fire it had from the outhouse. Perhaps on the roof… With their uncle in tow, the brothers continued their return home. The main farmhouse building bulged with extensions and additions. Within, it thronged with yet more members of their extended family. Parts and chests of random mechanical oddments were laid as unintended booby traps throughout the dwelling, intriguing enough that Ormald lost both his relatives to prying through heaps of components on his way to the kitchen.
The heart of the home, its kitchen and extended dining rooms were the only spaces free of technological incursion, barely. From outside the wide patio doors that opened into the dining room Ormald could see his mother at work with a complex array of pipes: the poison gas appeared to be coming along well. Inside, the table was already surrounded by cheerfully chattering tinkerers and mechanics, thick with oil and grease anywhere but their brightly scrubbed hands. No one knew how events might play out over the next days and weeks, but Ormald was confident that the Neices would put up a good fight, no matter what.