Pietro felt around in the tank’s guts. With his arm fully extended through tangles of oozing hoses and pulsating clusters of bioengineered circuitries, his fingers barely reached a hard-plastic protrusion. It was the cap to the circulatory waste pan. He gripped it as best he could and gave it a twist. Nothing. Another twist and cap gave. Pietro turned it slowly; it popped loose and a burst of brown clotted blood spewed out.
Pietro cursed as he yanked his arm out of the access panel. He shook his arm to rid himself of the putrid chunks of rotten biomatter. He took a step back as the liquid oozed onto the floor and crept toward his feet.
Well, he thought, I guess I’ll go get the hose.
“Can it be fixed?”
Pietro flinched slightly, partially because he had forgotten the sergeant was behind him. However, it was mostly because the sergeant had a voice like a wheezing bicycle horn.
“Once I’ve got her cleaned out,” Pietro said, “I’ll be able to see how clogged up she is. Going by what I’m seeing here, I’m guessing you haven’t had her flushed in a while.”
The sergeant was a whisper thin lad, bald from radiation and sporting an expensive set of nu-arms named Higgs. Higgs rolled his eyes and snorted, “what I do with that tank and when I do it is my business, mechanic. Just fix it.”
Pietro pushed up the sleeves of his coveralls and went to the slop sink in the corner. Hands washed, he dried them with a ratty old towel. He looked at the sergeant, sized him up. He was the kind of runt, in the old days, Pietro would have put on latrine duty.
“I’ll have her running smooth by tomorrow,” he said, “I can show you how to check the waste levels when you pick her up.”
Higgs squared his shoulders in a pathetic attempt to make himself look larger. Pietro might have laughed had the young sergeant not had one of his titanium nu-hands resting on the handle of his shock pistol.
“Don’t worry sergeant,” Pietro said coolly, “she’ll be ready for you. I’ll forward the proper forms to your office.”
Sergeant Higgs relaxed, took his hand from his weapon and ran its metal fingers over his bald head as though he still had hair. Without a word, he turned from Pietro and stepped briskly through the open roll up door. He disappeared into the darkened streets. Pietro, sure that Higgs would not be coming back before morning, brought the door down and punched in the lock code.
A soft low groan emanated from the tank. The old machine was as much a patchwork of metal and plastic as it was flesh and blood. It had seen better days. He ran a hand palm along the rusted filter housing. This one, pitted and scarred by decades of heavy wear, looked like an original E26. If Pietro ignored the late-model blast shielding and top mounted gas launcher, this one was nearly identical to the one Pietro had commanded on the eastern borders. The crew had called her “Daphne” and considered the giant killing machine to be one of the team.
Where was it we lost her?
He exhaled, slow and deliberate to ease his nerves. He wished for a cigarette.
Pietro wondered at the jumbled memories of his war days. Years had passed since he and his crew lost their loyal tank somewhere along the Mississippi River. He felt the loss of Daphne as much as he did for any of his fallen comrades.
“Don’t worry old girl,” he said with a grin, “we’ll get you fixed up. Maybe charge that little turd Higgs double.”
The tank shifted slightly, settled, relaxed slightly on its treads.
Pietro lit a cigarette, a cherry flavored GMO hybrid of khat and marijuana, and wondered where he had left his flush out kit.
Someone banged on the rollup door. Pietro exhaled hard, grey smoke shooting from his nostrils like steam from a boiling kettle.
They banged again. The aluminum door’s squeaky rattle echoed through the garage.
“Hold on, I’m coming,” Pietro grumbled; his cigarette held tight between his lips and bobbed as he spoke, dropped ash on the floor.
He flipped open the locks and pulled up the door, ready to shout a few curses into the face of Sergeant Higgs. What the hell does he want now?
But it was not the smug young Sergeant Higgs. It was someone unknown to Pietro. He squinted, tried to make out the face. The face changed. What had appeared a middle-aged man became a young girl. It changed again and again, shifting faster than Pietro’s mind could process. A blur-mask?
Before he was able to fully process the implications of this, a searing pain spread through his chest. His legs failed him. Sprawled out on the floor, a warmth moved through his limbs. His mind was weightless. His vision darkened. He wondered if he’d see Daphne.