Harrow and the Crawling City


Harrow stood on the forward deck, leaning against the railing and staring out at the barren landscape far below. The rumble of the engines was a constant vibration that he thought he would never have gotten used to, and now, after only three days on the crawling city, he barely noticed. He spit over the rail and watched as it sailed downward, tossed about by the swirling winds until it landed in the dry dirt, to be run over moments later by the huge treads.

It tasted like blood, which was not a good sign. It meant that his nanites were having trouble keeping up with the levels of copper and lead he was absorbing, and was extruding it through his saliva. It was the best immune system he could afford, military issue, and even that did not make this hell-hole planet livable.

He saw movement near one of the rocks in the distance, some little critter hiding in terror as the monstrous factory-city came rumbling toward it like the wrath of some slow-moving god. It looked like the critter's little rock was just to the left of the city's path, so it would be another two weeks before the city finished this pass, turned, and swept back past here again to ruin the little critter's world.

He looked to his right, where the factory had been before, sweeping back and forth, extracting everything valuable from the land and leaving destruction in its wake. Then to his left, where the little bit of life that managed to hold on here had not yet been digested. He felt sorry for the inhabitants of this world. It was a horrible, barren place, but if it was his home he would be pissed if some aliens came down and started eating it.

Granted, there was no sentient life here. The mining operation could never have gotten a permit if there was, and all their add literature made a big deal of that fact. As if the fact that no one could protest meant that chewing up a planet was morally unimpeachable.

Whatever. It wasn't like he could change things. And anyway, this arrangement presented certain... opportunities... that would otherwise be unavailable. Like, for example, when a bunch of environmental activist are staging an orbital protest in a ship that's not quite up to snuff, and it crashes, nobody on a planet like this is going to go looking for the wreckage. Even if the original owner of the ship was an old fart with more money than sense, and had put out a bounty for the ship's AI core. “Sentimental value”. Ugh.

There was a flash of sunlight off of something on the ground, to the left, and his breath caught. Was that... it was. The ship. Mostly buried in the sand, but that was definitely it. And a whole day early. The crawler was not supposed to reach it until tomorrow morning! He wasn't ready!

That's what he got for getting his information from an alcoholic mechanic. Not exactly the most reliable of sources. But now what? His kit was back it his quarters, and by the time he got there and back the crawler would be long passed. It didn't look fast, but that was just a problem of scale.

Nope, no time for that. He would have to go without it. The wreckage was already almost past the middle tread.

He grabbed hard to the metal rail, and vaulted over. He was already falling when he triggered his one-shot maglev. It slowed him just enough that the landing hurt, but didn't kill him, and he was up and moving moments later. Out of the path of the treads, and behind a rock, and he crouched down and let the auto-camo in his long jacket hide him.

From here, the factory-city was much louder. The rumbling was enough to make his teeth chatter together. It passed soon enough, and he started walking toward the wreckage. Fourteen days was not long for a salvage operation, but that was all he had before the crawler came back and turned this strip of land into processed dust. Fourteen days, and then all he had to do was stow away on a giant crawler before it ate him, without being crushed to death. Assuming his immune system could keep him alive that long, and assuming he didn't die of thirst or hunger before then, since he had left his pack on the crawler. Well, hopefully there were some supplies in the wreck that he could salvage. Oh boy.