LOST IN THE DARK
Tora Umi looked carefully across Tiger’s Claw. His custom mech, a symbol of his pride as a warrior, and the backbone of his corporate branding. From the catwalk of his workshop, he glared down, casting his eye over it, looking for any faults, and damage that needed repairs. As he had every day, he thought about the broken mess as it had been warped back, not even in a single piece the darkened chunks of steel and mangled pieces of engine. Dark thoughts swirled around his head. His net worth had taken a huge hit after that last fight, both his own stock price and his capital for the exorbitant repair costs.
This loss of value hadn’t broken just the symbol of his pride. His impotent rage still swirled around him, the symbol easier to repair than his mind. That vile pilot, Tomasu, would not be tolerated. His pitiful mech was an embarrassment, completely lacking in power or durability, relying on those awful sneaky tactics, refusing to close range and have a fair fight, right up until that one moment, and somehow it was on top of him, tearing his mech apart. The fact that such cowardly tactics had worked against him took his already painful loss and turned it into an insult.
He thought back to that day. He had roared with victory as he watched the explosions of his rockets. The spread of laser fire bursting from him had been incredible. It had been an amazing display of force. Any warrior with even a shred of courage would have faced down that power with some dignity, and accepted their defeat. He had the entire crowd backing him, all roaring with him all falling behind his raw power. A smoldering pile of slag and smoking escape pod was all that should have survived those blasts.
But somehow, after firing such power, that tiny mech had erupted out from behind the smoke. Somehow it had pulled back from his firepower and used it’s speed, with a couple of cheap, light weapons, he had torn Lions Rage apart with steel teeth and claws. The battle had ended without an explosive force, without cheers from the crowd, just some new up and comer tearing his mech to shreds before he could even counter. He felt the low growl start in the back of his throat at the memory.
But now wasn’t the time for that. He crushed the darker emotions down, keeping them to motivate him later. Today was a day of glory. Finally, the long awaited repairs had been completed. And not just repairs, the new Tiger’s Claw was stronger than it had ever been. The frame reinforced to carry even heavier weaponry, new arming points had been added where guns and cannons could be hung, the frame had been built with more weight, allowing it to take greater recoil. Looking over this new masterpiece, he could feel the first few rays of light break through the storm clouds that had been his constant mood ever since the battle. He lowered himself down onto the steel beast, and clamoured into the cockpit. He checked one system after the next, each coming back green, and for the first time in months he felt his lips pull back into a smile rather than a snarl. His cruel teeth shone menacingly in the artificial half light that shone from the screens and monitors of the cockpit.
This next combat would be fantastic, he couldn’t wait to crush Tomasu’s fragile mech. He had called in more than one favour to ensure his return would be a rematch against the same pilot. His manager had been against it, insistent on the risks if he lost twice to this newcomer to the tournaments, but they didn’t understand. His loss was just some chance occurrence that would follow him, haunting him, a black stain on his reputation. The only way to restore his pride was to take back the victory, and with these upgrades, he knew it would be no problem. It was pure luck that he had even survived that first round, that somehow he had dodged the entire missile barrage, laz cannons, and even the warp cannon he had been trialing. Having that much luck in one fight was one in a million. Twice in a row? Not possible.
He restarted the internal diagnostics again, watching each light in the sequence come up green.
Tora sat back in the cockpit. He was alone in the workshop, the repair crew had finished hours ago. He flicked over the diagnostics one more time, watching each check light up green one after the other. He must have been over it a hundred times now. Every inch of Tiger’s Claw was pristine. Finally, as the last light turned green, he accepted it was ready, and climbed out of the mech. He would need some sleep before tomorrow’s faithful match.
“LAAAAAAAADIES AND GENTLEMEN!!” the announcers voice roared to life across the multitude of screens in the bar. “WE HOPE YOU ARE AS EXCITED AS US TO SEE THIS FATEFUL REMATCH BETWEEN THESE TWO UNEXPECTED RIVALS” His over enthusiastic voice was nothing new to the patrons bar’s patrons, and it resonated in them as they watched.
“It was a few short months ago that Tomasu Sumitsu shocked the worlds as he tore through one of the most feared pilots of a generation, and he has been causing a scene with one amazing match after another across the professional circuit ever since.” The announcers voice had lowered a few decibels, drawing in the crowd to the details of his story, slowly building their hype. On the screens, the slim mech could be seen, standing ready on the battlefield, waiting for the arrival of his challenger. Various HUDs could be seen showing his mech’s stats, armaments, win loss records, and increasingly detailed statistics of the mech and pilot, all of which were lapped up by the fixated crowd.
“But now, with an upgraded Mech, he is back for revenge! He’s the King of the Ring, The Warrior of the Wild, you know him, you’ve missed him, and now, without any further ado, he is back, make some noise, for the return! of! TORA UMI!”
There was a blast of theme music, lights across the arena dimmed as spotlights shot out in an incredible light show, and then, in the middle, the incoming warp beam blasted down from the sky, coating the area in a blue-white beam of light. The crowd roared and screamed in exhilaration. Tomasu’s mech could be seen crouching down in a ready position. No attacks could officially be launched until the announcer declared the fight started, but in a fight like this, who knew what would actually happen.
The warp beam started to fade and the crowd collectively held its breath, ready for the first sight of the new and improved Tiger’s Claw. The silence of anticipation held… and kept holding… turning from excitement to dread, then fear, then panic. As the warp beam faded, instead of a proud and powerful mech, there was just an empty space.
Tora took some deep breaths listening to the announcer. Any moment now, he would be back in battle. Any moment, and he would hear the roar of cannon, the clash of steel, smell the afterburn of laz… He would be back where he belonged. He could almost taste it. He would destroy that upjumped beginner, and from there, he would push forward until he could reclaim his position at the top of the mech pilot food chain.
He heard the announcer scream his name, and let out a roar as he powered the warp that would take him to his combat. The bright light blasted down, surrounding him, taking him from the warp pad of his hanger. He felt the strange, timeless sensation of the moment between worlds.
And then felt a lurch.
That was strange. That… That shouldn’t happen… He couldn’t say how long he had been in the warp. Was this still the moment in between worlds? He didn’t usually have time to think more than a glimpse of a thought during this moment… Something wasn’t right here. Any moment now, he would be on the battlefield. Any moment...
The light of the warp was gone. Everything was dark outside the cockpit. Not the darkness of a cloudy night. Not even the darkness in a deep underground cave. This was darker than dark. The kind of darkness that you know, somehow, there’s nothing behind. The silence was perfect, pure. The kind of silence so complete that even if you screamed, it would absorb the noise away, leaving you with barely a whisper.
The location tracker on his mech’s screen was blank. There was no saying where he was. Or how long had he been here. It had surely only been moments. But he could remember years of this place. Or could he? A moment ago he was in his hanger. Any moment he would be on the battlefield. He was so ready to fight. But... Where was he? He was on the way to the match. On the way... That lurching feeling...
The slow voice in the back of his mind screamed danger. He had been lost in the warp, he somehow knew. He was somewhere between worlds, lost, without ever hoping to return. Was this the first time he had realised that? How long had he been here? Where… where was he again?