Size / / /

One day Mouse returned to one of his many lairs in the deep metal forest of the scrapyard, only to find it blocked by Lion, half-covered in debris. Mouse was enraged, and approached the slow-moving and outdated Lion with the intent to scurry with his fearsome claws and gnash with his fearsome teeth until the sad beast's scrap was fit for nesting. As Mouse approached, however, Lion signaled a plea: "Spare me, little master! Men chase me and my bearings have lost coherence. Help me flee and I shall pay you back this favor, somehow."

Mouse was tickled—and between this amusement and his hatred of Men, he set himself the task of righting Lion. This was no large feat for Mouse, for he was both a hoarder and interpreter of knowledge, and he soon found the scrambled mechanics tangled through Lion's clockwork spine. It was a simple matter for Mouse to rip apart the thorny mess; and with that hindrance gone, even Lion's outdated meta-processes began to salve stressed joints and reconnect wounded couplings. Thanking Mouse profusely, Lion recalculated his entrance and A*'d his egress.

It was some cycles later that Mouse encountered, in his wandering, an oblong ball of molybdenum that engaged his learning routines. It was a touch warmer than ambient, and emitted broad spectrum white noise to no discernible purpose. Mouse searched the noise for the most complicated of signals, but found nothing. Further intrigued, he caged its EM in a scrap Faraday cradle and dragged it home for detailed study. Even in his lair, however, he was unable to crack the code.

Lion had made a regular habit of skirting the scrapyard—to check on the Men and stay alert for any chance to repay his benefactor. This cycle, a strange pattern of current echoed against his speakers, generating something other than the clunk-clunk of his own padding paws or the background thrum of the scrapyard jungle. An audio signal was repeating itself with strange regularity, tingling backwards through his circuits. Lion prepared to prowl.

He sensed the Men first by their shouting, second by the static of their close-range communications. They were gearing up for war—Lion remembered war, had been made for war. He remembered his roar, so long unused. Lion snuck up on the Men who had no thoughts for him and unleashed his roar, then ran, scampering up a tier of scraps, setting off small avalanches of metal and rubber parts in his wake. The men scattered in disarray, but regrouped quickly, seeing that he'd retreated. He knew he had only a short time to warn Mouse.

Lion fell more than flew across the top of teetering piles, barely managing to control his movement. Still, it was enough to triangulate the sound-wave repeater. From his precarious vantage, he could see that the Men were making steady progress—but he could jump walls where they had to detour time and again, their soft flesh not cut out for such varied surfaces. Lion took particular joy in sending larger chunks tumbling in their path, forcing them to keep their heads to the sky and slowing their hunt further.

Heedless, then, of subtlety, he began a multi-channel alert: "Mouse, Men are coming! A sound-wave repeater!" Though Mouse was in a different lair entirely than the one Lion had last seen, Lion knew he was closing in as the source pushed more current into his speaker. And it almost seemed as if the repeater was closing in on him as well—

Mouse scampered out of his lair and scoffed, teeth-bared; "Why do you bring such a racket upon me?"

Lion was shocked to see the signal source in Mouse's paw—that very piece of molybdenum that had so intrigued the smaller beast. "Do you not sense it?"

Mouse set his prize down and pounced on Lion, digging through Lion's back into his sensors and actuators. Lion stood still, for there was nothing he could do against Mouse, even if he willed it. Soon, Mouse had spliced himself in, tingling from a multitude of old, outdated inputs. And sure enough there was something strong coming from his puzzle, and it made sense that the men closing in on him were coming for that. As that truth bled through him, Mouse hatched a plan. He fed directions to Lion, instructing Lion of levers and buttons.

While Mouse climbed out of him, Lion began to crawl, tenderly now, towards a large non-int machine. The Men couldn't know he was there. The Men wouldn't know he was there. They weren't after him, after all.

Mouse grabbed his puzzle back up and began to limp-slide down the rubble, broadcasting distress. He sensed the Men's joy as more frequent short-range bursts leaked to his sensors—but he didn't look back, and he didn't pick up his pace. He limped determinedly towards what he knew to be a dead end, just fast enough, he hoped, to make it there. Each broken limp, he shunted some small mechanical energy into reserves . . .

And so it was that Mouse was backed into the belly of the scrapper, Men back-patting each other over his broken actuator, thinking the Lion must have gotten a lucky shot; keeping Mouse in the sights of their EM guns. And so it was that Lion engaged the controls and set the scrapper in motion, its five walls sweeping in.

Mouse released his wound up energy, springing out over the startled Men's heads, scraping against the lip of the ceiling as it closed in. The Men fired their EM weapons as he leapt to no avail—and even less as the walls closed in, tighter and tighter. The uncomplicated walls met no resistance from either the EM weapons or the Men's shouting, or the Men's horrible screams as they were compressed into a sludge of component bits.

Re-setting his leg, Mouse rubbed the molybdenum ball, thinking it a nice keepsake. Mouse and Lion surveyed their new demesne and found it, devoid of Men, to be good.

Kaolin Fire is a conglomeration of ideas, side projects, and experiments. Web development is his primary occupation, but he also programs open source games, edits Greatest Uncommon Denominator Magazine, and occasionally teaches computer science. He has had short fiction published in Tuesday Shorts, Opium Magazine, Escape Velocity, and Alienskin Magazine, among others.
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