Underground a mega-city in constant civil war, there is a 4 foot mechanic known as Chains. His family is all dead, and his place is as a Formal, a favored slave. Metal links around his chest keep his ribs from breaking while he works on weapons for a massive cult. But he is going stir-crazy, and he finds himself having second thoughts about the nature of his work, and the nature of freedom.
The 4-foot-tall man had become used to his abnormal heart beating like a drum while he worked. And he worked carefully, because his dark clothing, far from antique 'cloth', only had basic chemical proofing. His medium-sized workshop was filled with strange and deadly machines, mostly illegal, along with an out-of-commission S-Class flying automobile. It was a jail cell of freedom for the Formal, surrounded by dirt and dust, and chemicals, and small artificial lights with no view of the mega-city above, Terracatra.
The mechanic had only one personal hologram which was in his living corner, him and his dead wife. The machine hadn't captured her face because the middle-aged man had taken the virtual picture at the level of his face, and she was too tall. His hair was always a mess now, not styled and gelled like it was in his twenties, like in the picture. So it was a hologram of him baring no teeth in a stressed smile, and the faceless middle of a thin but healthy woman in business attire.
The short man kept rubber-plated, titanium dog chain wrapped around his chest for the rarity that his heart would palpitate uncontrollably; it was how he got his unconventional name.
Chains stood on a ladder looking at a bundle of wires connected to a couple of batteries that could disintegrate everything in the room and then some. The two mechs in his possession he would have to climb or use ladders to work on, The Mother of Plagues demanded that they be made operational as soon as possible for the skirmishes above. The mech in front of him was the more problematic one, the more dated one, but that was part of the challenge.
Chains was proud of his machines, and steered his mind away from the great carnage that many of them would cause. He was born into a world where the only conflict was between wicked and evil. He felt a sense of integrity that the mechs he worked on were remotely controlled; they were not the corporate monstrosities above, where human beings, brainwashed and naked, were placed inside of the war-machines for life.
He pulled some wire cutters off of his belt and cut one green wire, than a blue one, his hands didn't tremble. Chains slowly put the two wires together. He wasn't ready for the electrical light that emerged, and tried to pull his gloved hands back in time as an enormous spark shot out.
"Fuck!" He punched the side of the twenty-year-old machine as smoke rose out of the opening. His heart reacted to the adrenaline and began pounding against his upper ribcage. His workshop was still, but as he looked side to side he felt that everything was moving far too fast. He breathed deep and quickly like death was approaching, and made a fist over his sternum and held tight to the ladder with his other hand.. until the brutal panic attack subsided.
A half hour later, a tall machine beeped, sandwiched between a small, one-man-table and Chains's bed. He was underneath the mech when he heard it, the notification that a late dinner was ready for him; the remote on his belt was what delayed it. It was around 1 AM, and later than he usually stayed up. First he pulled out a scanner off of a shelf full of tools, then went over to his living space, and ritually made sure the food that had been dispensed wasn't poisoned.
He sat alone at the table eating his sub and dried fruit, and drinking flavored sparkling water, it was all delicious but expected. Chains turned his chair and peered up at the vents, it had been over three months since he had actually been outside, and the feeling of stir-craziness was alive and well inside of him.
Apart from vents that he could very well fit in, which were hidden in quite high-up and almost wavy rafters, the only entrance or exit to his workshop was a large metal door that took a keycard; of which only six existed, including his. As an inventor he had thoughts about making those vents available to him, knowing that the people he was slaving for had given him his present heart.
Chains had only one dream which he could call common, and tonight it came to him again, where he stood bodiless at the littered streets above and outside. The street lights had long since rose out of the ground and seemed to seer the segmented rubber sidewalk with white light. But the nocturnal air here was strange, permeated with silence and lacking criminality, like the massive bridges to the North where people took their lives.
There would always be a bony man with long white hair leaning against a thin, dark alleyway. The stranger would stare down into the shadows with what looked like a dangling black and gold cigarette as he spoke. "Come to the surface, we have to save the city."
And then the dream would end.
The next day was almost like any other, the dust that had settled stayed settled, and the prison of freedom was more like a prison. The difference in the day was that Chains was looking at his tools and looking at the shelves to find a way to access one of the vents. He had done nothing to cause distrust, and so there were no cameras on him. And like any modern engineer, he would know if he was being monitored with his tenacity towards technology.
There were ordinators which could come at any time, but had almost always come during the day. Chains stood at the entrance and calculated the hardest place for anyone to see where he would drill to break into one of the vents.
He could climb up the shelving and use some sort of hookshot with an electric-powered spring for the feet he would need-- noise wasn't an issue. But then he would also need something else to keep him attached to the rigid ceiling, since his hookshot would be anchored to the vent cover, which he would need to unbolt. He looked at the mechs he had been working on, and realized he could just climb up one of them to make it easier to hookshot to the vent. Then he would have to use the second largest drill he had to attempt to drill his way through the ceiling, and use that as his second harness.
Chains went over to get some caffeinated, flavored water. He would need it as he worked on rough schematics for his hookshot. Though he already had plans in his head, it seemed most appropriate to write it out. It was a new invention, after all.
It was a little over an hour and a half later. The Formal had worked as fast he could, eating quickly somewhere in between. He took the hook gun and tested it on a shelf, the chains around him eliminating the recoil as the hook sprang out and latched onto the side of the shelving. The gun was probably a little overpowered, but it worked like a charm.
If his plan was to fail and he was to fall, he knew that best case scenario would be breaking both his legs. Then he would have to create mechanized splints and continue his work. The ordinators could never know and he would have to completely hide the pain in their presence, it was too much a risk that they were nothing more than monsters with masks. But then he looked at his bed and at a mech and had another idea: he could pull the massive warmachine underneath him, and use his mattress on the top of it to cushion his fall.
The light on the door turned green, as the metal shifted, an ordinator appeared standing in the organic tunnel that connected to the room; the biological hallway around him was full of luminescent yellow veins.
The ordinator's name was Relhal. His outfit was standard, adorned, twisted, and bulletproof. His skin was different shades of green which matched his glowing irises. He was as human or less than his mother, and he represented the pride of The Mother of Plagues: because he was obedient, and because he was something that survived.
Behind Relhal was a mech, newer and sleeker than any Chains had ever seen before. Like the other warmarchines before it, the ordinator dragged it in by a large chain on a wheeled platform.
Relhal had a slight grin as he spoke, "We have a new mech for you to work on, Chains."
The short man had a bad feeling at first glance of the towering machine. It looked too sophisticated.
"She looks like a beauty." Chains lied with an outgoing tone.
"Don't worry." The ordinator said, probably grinning under his mask as petted the machine. "You won't be the one to go in it. You're not big enough.. and you're not a fighter."
The bad feeling in Chains's stomach got much worse.
"Forget these two and work on making this operational."
"Melagom won't be happy about that." The engineer replied.
"You let me take care of him.." The ordinator turned around and slid in his keycard to pass through the massive door. "I'll leave you to your work."
When the ordinator left, Chains went and stood over the toilet. He looked down, trying not to puke. It didn't work, and he lunged forward, losing his lunch.
Relhal enjoyed asserting his authority with a manipulative subtlety. When the ordinator wanted something done he would make surprise visits. The mechanic thought it might be better to speak to him, and ask for some time outside the room. But Chains knew if he did this, there would be no trying to get into the vents; hidden cameras or sensors would more than likely go up, and he would not have as much merit to work on if he scanned for them and destroyed them again.
He looked at the new mech. It towered there, sleek and carnivorous, with giant machine guns on each arm. Chains didn't understand it, nor think it totally possible, that a person's mind could be suppressed by the machine. But then, the idea of the programmed discipline it probably had in its deepside memory banks made him shudder.
He quickly rigged the new mech to make it look like he was studying it by pulling off one of the panels underneath its primary batteries. Chains hoisted the large chain attached to the trolley underneath the mech and pulled it under the vent he was planning on breaking into. Then he spent about 20 minutes getting one of the machine's arms, attached to a giant machine gun, to reach high and lock in place.
Chains went to his bed and pulled off the mattress, and began dragging it. He quickly felt the sense that it was too burdensome to take up a ladder and place on the machine; so he dragged the mattress back onto the bed, and took his pillow instead to cushion a potential fall. It was the best that he could do.
The mech was over 6 feet tall and Chains struggled to climb it. Especially being weighed down by the hook gun and giant drill he had strapped around his chest, along with the pressure of the chains, making it hard for him to breathe. He sweated as he tried to make his way up the arm, grasping at a barrel of the machine gun, and throwing the drill over it by the strap. He leveraged one of his legs on the ridge of the gun, which was followed by the other. Then with his demon heart beating slightly faster than normal, he sat on top of loaded machine gun barrels with a hookshot and a drill the size of his chest.
The tech shot his spring-powered hook at the vent and stuck it the second time, reeling himself up to the vent. Now he was hanging at the top of the ceiling with a giant drill on his back. He looked down, but it didn't scare him.
Chains shook, gritting his teeth as he drilled into the ceiling with the vent he would soon be unbolting in front of him. His drill-bit was a rare metal that was an inch and a half thick and hard as hell; but it still made its way slowly into the roof's material as smoke and green sparks poured dangerously close to his face. When the drill seemed lodged, he had realized that this was it, that getting it out would mean destroying the drill. And asking for a new one, even at some later time, would ultimately look suspicious.
A feeling came over Chains as he looked at his drill bit, then down, and around. Escape or die. Even though there were ruthless people on the surface, the cloud of fear and repetition he lived in was already driving him to the grave.
Knowing he had to leave for good, Chains carefully made his way back down. It was time to think fast about what was important. He had a thick fireproof briefcase in which he kept some of his tools. The mechanic fashioned a strap around it with some sticky putty. Then he opened the machine with food in it, part fridge and freezer, and took about half of what was there, leaving room for tools he would need.
He went over and stood in front of the hologram of his dead wife, but didn't touch it. Maybe it was the years that had passed by, or the numbness in being so far underground, but Chains struggled remember her face. Even more imprinted in his head, was the uglier image of that gaunt, fictional smoker who lived in the darkness of his reoccurring dream. And he thought that even though dreams were too abstract to be entertained, Terracatra was a city that was better to run from, than to save.
Once Chains had everything he needed, he crawled back up the mech and along his hookshot line, unbolting the grating to a high up vent and making his way inside. There were fast moving fans in front of him, blowing away from him, probably towards the old sewers underneath the surface. In gaps, behind the deadly movement of the fan blades, he could see a vertical opening.
A familiar beeping sound came from behind. It was the sound of the door to the workshop about to open. Chains was about to be considered a traitor and a possible test subject.
With his heart starting to attack his ribs, Chains took a risk, and lodged his metal pack into the fan and then pulled at the chains on his chest and gnashed his teeth. The fan turned out to be weaker, and stopped spinning, smoking as it short out. He coughed from all the smoke, took his dented pack, and crawled past the fan.
The tech would need to crawl up the vertical exit ahead by any means necessary to reach whatever was above him. He knew it was a bad idea to waste a drill for a foothold, but at the same time, he knew anesthesia would be released into the vent as quickly as the ordinator could do so. He took his hands off the chains and steadied his heartbeat a little more. His chemical-proof clothing proved to give him the traction he needed to make the awkward, vertical climb.
At the top of the vertical vent, Chains looked through grating into what was an antique sewer system. It was strange to see tunnels made of cool, dark brick rather than something moving and alive. He struggled to keep his footing and open his pack, pulling out a small, portable saw. He kept his mind off of his surroundings and began working on busting the covering off as quickly as possible.
When the short engineer finally crawled out of the vent system, he noticed that the slimy, old hall was lighted by LEDs. The sign of civilization in a place that was supposed to be abandoned was ominous to him. He could hear a group of people approaching, probably a gang; he sensed the faintest whiff of a strange gas pouring out of the vent he had just been in, and he ran for his life.