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Tall Tales (Chapter Cover Art)

The Main in Black - By JA Baker[]

The Main in Black
Author JA Baker
Series Name Tall Tales
Alternate Universe Name
Year Written October 2019
Story Era Succession Wars Era

I work for Defiance Industries on Hesperus II.

Not anything impressive sounding, like CEO or senior test pilot. No, I run one of the massive forges that turns raw metal ore into armor plates and 'Mech chassis. Most people have no idea just how big the foundries at a place like that are, and believe me, I do mean big: standing in the middle, even without the smoke and the glow of molten steel and titanium and the constant moving of machines the size of a house, you'd be hard pressed to see the walls. Not that you're ever likely to get the chance, as not only do they hate shutting down the forges for anything but the most important of maintenance, but you need a pretty high security clearance to get anywhere near them.

I will admit that I have always enjoyed the idea that a bunch of working stiffs have a higher security clearance than most military types.

No, big foundries like Defiance Industries run around the clock, seven days a week, 52 weeks of the year. Doesn't matter if it's Christmas, the Archon's birthday or your kids piano recital, the flames never go out and the hammers never stop. It's loud, hot and dirty work, but it keeps food on the table, a roof over your head and the barbarians from the gates, so I always took a certain amount of pride in doing my small part to help defend the Commonwealth.

Places like Defiance run three shifts a day, eight hours each, and you soon get to know everyone on your shift by sight. Which is probably for the best, as what with the noise and the safety gear you have to wear, you can't near a damn thing unless someone is literally shouting right into your ear. Sure, we had radios built into our ear protectors, but they never worked right. Fortunately, everyone knew what their job was, and you quickly fall into a routine.

First time I saw him, I assumed that some Higher Up had gotten lost and somehow made it past all the warning signs and checkpoints, but by the time I was able to stop what I was doing long enough to inquire, he was gone. Nobody reported any unfortunate accidents, so I assumed that he'd gotten out without falling into a vat of molten titanium or something equally deadly. I put him out of my mind and simply went back to work, same as it ever was.

The second time... now, the second time I saw him was different. I was getting ready to hit the showers at the end of a particularly long and tiresome shift, when I saw him walking through a hallway. His stride was long and purposeful, yet he seemed to pass unnoticed by everyone else, which seemed odd, as it was shift-change, so the hall was filled almost to capacity with people heading to or from their work stations. Yet nobody looked at the stranger in his immaculate black suit, shit and tie, shoes you could see your reflection in and a pair of black sunglasses on, which were even more out of place. I turned to ask a friend if he was seeing what I was seeing, but when I turned back, the stranger was gone.

Third time... the third time was, thankfully, the last time.

I was on the late shift, and while the forges run around the clock, the 'graveyard shift' tends to be smaller because they hate having to pay unsociable hours rates. As such I was alone, working one of the smelters at the far end of the secondary foundry. Thankfully that meant being sat at a bank of consoles that had been built during the time of the Star League and could pretty much run themselves with minimal oversight. So that left me sitting in a soundproof and air conditioned observation bay, drinking coffee and listening to the radio while the computers took the strain.

Everything was going great: the smelter was running like a dream and they were covering the Skye Sentinels verses Coventry Cavaliers game, a match I had 50-kroner on (Go Sentinels!). I just happened to look up to see the stranger standing on one of the supports above the smelter, arms out wide, an oddly serene look on his face. Well, my coffee cup dropped from my hand and smashed on the floor as I ran for the hatch, convinced that I was mere moments away from watching someone kill themselves. It's not something that's talked about much, but people get killed or hurt in places like that all the time: you're lucky if you can go a year without seeing something horrible happen.

There's an emergency stop button by the door that's supposed to shut everything down in under sixty seconds, but nothing happened as I slammed my hand down upon it. I hit it again and again, but still nothing. Not so much as a bleep from the computer. Throwing open the hatch, I ran out onto the gantry, trying to figure out the best way to get to the man.

"Glorious, isn't it?" he asked, his oddly accented voice somehow carrying clearly above the roar of the machines, "So much raw potential? So many different ways it can molded into weapons and armor?"

"I don't think you're supposed to be here, Sir." I did my best to sound calm and reassuring, "Why don't you come back over here and we can..."

The blaring of a loud klaxon cut me off, one one of the massive smelting cups rumbled across the room on massive tracks, stopping just behind the man before unleashing a flood white-hot molten metal. I looked away, not wanting to watch him die, as quick and painless as it would probably be. But instead I heard his voice, cool and calm, reciting what sounded like a blessing in a language unlike any I had ever heard before. I looked back, and saw him standing with his arms out, his hands buried in the flowing metal. But, in defiance of all logic, instead of instantly setting his entire body ablaze, it didn't seem to as much as singe his suit. Rather, it flowed through his open fingers like a cool mountain waterfall.

"What...How..." I stuttered, unable, unwilling, to believe what my own two eyes were telling me, "Who are you?"

"Who am I? I have been known by oh so many names: Ares! Mars! Tyr! Bast! Horus! Bandua! Teutates! Chiyou! Kartikeya! Hadúr! Bishamonten! Belus! Mixcoatl! 'Oro! Kū! Maru! Resheph! Svetovid! Kyzaghan!" he flung his arms out, the furnaces seeming to spark on command, "I am War, the first and greatest of human endeavors, born of rage and spite and greed. I am the arm that swings the sword and draws the bow, the feeling of adulation you feel when you kill someone who was trying to kill you! I am the stories of honor and glory that statesman and leaders weave for their followers to drive them into a killing frenzy. I am the all consuming hatred that you feel for your fellow man simply because they live under a different flag and speak with a different voice. I am ten thousand years of split blood and shed tears, the wailing of mothers for lost sons, children for missing parents. I am the cut and the thrust, the attack and defense. In the beginning it was all so small, but now? Now you have taken me to the stars! And look how they run red with your blood, a endless sacrifice in my name, the last, despite words of the dying endless prayers offered up to my glory! Yes, I am War, who rides upon a white horse and on whose head sits the crown of conquest. I am humanities finest creation and one, true God!"

He took his glasses off and looked me in the eye... or, rather, he would have had his eyes been nothing more than dark, empty voids of pure darkness.

"This great place is my temple, a city dedicated to my worship." He smiled like a predator stalking its prey, "And you... you are one of my chosen priests! You, who run the forges and foundries that fuel this endless, glorious war! You, who's every days labor keeps the blood flowing and the flames burning. Oh, to you, my friend, I give my deepest thanks."

He bowed, deeply and extravagantly, then a shower of sparks from the forge seemed to envelope him, and he was gone.

I don't remember the rest of that shift. I was told later that I somehow exceeded my quota by a considerable amount. But I wasn't truly listening. No, it was a long, long time before I was really back in my right mind after that night.

Twenty years have passed since that night, and I haven't seen him since, even though I still work the foundries and forges, all be it now as a senior supervisor. But I can still feel him, when the fires are burning hottest and management is demanding we work harder to meet higher quotas. He's still there, in the smoke and shadows, basking in our endless, unknowing worship.

The End

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