Rifts character sketch

John Fernberg. RPA Elite, SAMAS 261.

I’d wanted to be “Sam” ever since my fifth birthday. It was Freedom Day and the local garrison had staged a fly by as part of the celebrations. I can remember the smell of pop-corn and fresh muffins, sitting on Dad’s shoulder so I could see. The whole town had turned out and there was a crowd bigger than I’d ever seen. I sat on a rock in a sea of heads. We stood at the edge of town and watched as the dust cloud grew closer. Then we could see them. Thirty two black metal figures hurtling across the plain towards the town in a perfect arrow-head formation. Such power and perfection. I was in love.

The SAMAS platoon roared past our crowd. Flying at over 150mph only a few feet from the ground. The armoured figures were gods. After several complex manoeuvres the Sams dispersed. Their commander and his personal guard landing, retracting their wings, and marching into the town to deliver a rather boring speech whilst the rest powered down and joined in with the festivities.

Once the crowd had dispersed and I’d slipped free of Dad’s iron grip I approached one of the machines. The SAMAS towered above me but I wasn’t afraid. I slipped past the pilot, who slept cradling an empty beer bottle to his chest, and spent a blissful hour marvelling at the Sam which bore the number 261. Eventually its pilot began to stir and I fled back to my father. The scolding that I received for “getting lost” was worth it. I knew that one day I would command one of those armoured suits. From that day on I set my heart on being a Sam.

The academy was hard work and I had to work harder than most. From the age of ten I’d made myself useful around the garrison, and by fifteen I’d become a kind of mascot. I did all kinds of odd jobs for the Sams and on my sixteenth birthday the commander informed me that he could get me a place on his platoon. He liked my attitude and his brother-in-law could pull some strings, but I’d have to go to the academy and work hard. I did. Four years later I walked into the garrison and climbed into my SAMAS for the first time. Corporal James Fernberg, RPA Elite, SAMAS 261.

Eight glorious years serving the Coalition. Destroying D-Bee’s, Mutants and Magicians, protecting the weak and serving my brothers. Eight years of being a hero and all that heroism entails. But that’s all gone now. All gone. And for what? Did I lose my nerve under fire? Did I let my brothers down? Did I grow weak, become a sympathiser or a Mutehead? No. Eight years down the sewer because some shit-for-brains Psi got into my head. I followed orders, they needed someone to take the blame.

Poetically enough it was the Freedom Day parade that was my downfall. I marched into town leading a platoon of Skelbots. Fresh from the factories in Chi-Town these beauties scared the crowd shitless. This was the first time that we’d shown the world our new creation and the world was suitably impressed. Never again would an area be considered too dangerous for Coalition troops. Even then we’d been deploying the bastard things in the Magic Zone for months and they’d been doing just fine. Robot assault troops were expendable and utterly obedient.

At the town square they’d performed well. Human troops could never match the precision with which their robot counterparts performed the age old manoeuvres. Twirling energy rifles and marching perfectly in step they put on quite a show. Nowhere near as impressive a show as what was to come, mind.

The girl must have been about nine year’s old. Blonde with pig tails, a red check dress and grubby knees. I can still see her face. “Are they dangerous?” she had asked me, wide eyed and innocent. “Not to good people,” I had said, “they’re on our side. They fight the D-Bee’s and Necromancers for us”. She’d smiled and I’d lifted her up onto my shoulders. She sat there, like a little queen, between my wings, staring down at the Skelbots and the crowd of envious children.

I think it was one of the red-haired boys that set off the fire-cracker, but my memory is a bit fuzzy at that point. Whenever I try and think about it I just see the little girl, all smiles and curls. Whoever it was, it shouldn’t have mattered. The platoon were standing to attention, their computer brains idling, their metal bodies like statues. I never noticed No. 1 turn and take aim. The first I knew was when the energy bolt passed six inches above my head and the little girl hit the ground behind me. All smiles and curls, she looked so beautiful lying there, so peaceful. Her dress was smouldering, I knew it shouldn’t be, but couldn’t work out why it was. Then my eyes were drawn to the blackened hole, almost the size of a competition basket ball, which had ripped though her small body.

I screamed into my mike for No. 1 to cease fire and shut down but by then the whole platoon was moving. Frantic commands that were “guaranteed to be effective in all situations” failed to elicit any response from the metal murders. I stabbed at the emergency power-down stud but the robots ignored me. Energy beams lanced out into the crowd and people died. The crowd reacted like a single creature and, as it rushed to get away, people died. The Skelbots moved with faultless precision. Every shot was on target. Every shot killed. All around me people died. I raised my C-40R and blasted No. 4. before it could kill again. The robot exploded, demolishing the speaker’s stand. It didn’t matter. The mayor was already dead.

It was a war zone. The dead were everywhere. Yet it was quiet. There was no crying from the injured for there were no injured, every shot had killed. I spread my wings and punched out of the square. Blasting No. 13 and No. 6 as I did so. The flame from my boosters ignited what was left of the little girl’s dress and she smiled up at me. From my vantage point I could see the remaining Skelbots spreading through the streets. The dead were everywhere. I thumbed my main boosters and flew towards the nearest group of mechanical murderers.

Seven of the bastards marched along the main street, occasionally taking aim and killing. I took out three of them before No. 1 blasted my left wing and I executed a rather ungraceful landing. Energy bolts tore into my armour, warning lights flashed and internal fire extinguishers washed my lower body in foam. I couldn’t stand but I fired the right-hand boosters and rolled onto my back, launching a mini-missile at No. 1. The missile struck and ripped the bastard apart. Then everything went black as No. 6 emptied his clip into my head.

The wonders of modern technology. I awoke in hospital two weeks later, my legs and buttocks were badly burned and my left arm was in a plaster cast but I was alive. I wish I’d died though. If I were dead I wouldn’t keep seeing the smiling little girl every time I closed my eyes. Once my condition had stabilised I was moved to the high security section of the prison. 261 people had died that day, and they blamed me for it. The court marshal was a farce. They even had recordings from my Sam where I could be clearly heard ordering the Skelbots to attack. The shrinks declared me criminally insane, after about a week of “little chats”, and I was sentenced to death. No more the hero of the people, I was a brutal murderer.

Two days to go and I was tired. I hadn’t been able to sleep properly since I’d awoken in hospital. Every time I tried I saw a little girl, all smiles and curls, and the tears began. At that point I wanted to die. I kept seeing the recordings in my mind, over and over. The square-bashing finished and I ordered the bots to open fire. I was guilty. I murdered those people. I sat in my cell and cried.

I must have managed to sleep, because I dreamt. The little girl, all smiles and curls, stood in my cell. She was in one piece, her dress was dirty, but not burnt, and she still had grubby knees. She smiled at me and told me that it wasn’t my fault. I felt better. She told me how a Psi had got into my brain and made me do the things I did. She knew it wasn’t my fault that she had died. She forgave me.

I was shaken awake by an officer. I never saw his face. He wore his helmet with visor down. He told me his name was Stevenson and that he had a few jobs for me to do and he took me from my cell on death row. I don’t remember leaving the cell block, but now I’m in this bunker, miles from anywhere.