In time, the few who knew how to operate the ancient machines of old became pariahs. Their skills, once so useful to the builders of empires, now shunned by those who lived in their weed-choked ruins.

Some tried to use their machines, their great engines of war, to carve new empires for themselves. But they could never extend their authority beyond the reach of their vehicles’ steel arms, and there was no more fuel to replace that which they burned, and no stores of missiles and bullets to reload their emptying racks and magazines. Such petty hedge-empires fell as quickly as they arose; even working in concert, the pilots who had been behind the ruin of their world needed just what they had destroyed too much.

Then there was Hobb.

Hobb’s machine was still functional, if battle-scarred. Its legs had been shot off at the Tombs, and it had lost its right arm holding back the 83rd from the gates of Helion. All but two of its external missiles had been fired, and its countermeasure flares were limited to a single fresh magazine of six–all the techs at Ouroboros had been able to load before the city fell. The pilot’s station was unarmored and exposed, its composite and multiplex stripped off to keep other units running during the Long Retreat.

Still, Hobb might have carved himself out a minor fiefdom with his machine and a little skill, and brought him something greater than his rude shack on the outskirts of what had once been Helion. If only for a bit.

Not Hobb.

He used his machine’s repulsordrive sparingly, to carry him on clear nights to heights undreamt-of by the people below. There, he’d watch the moon rise and the city slumber.

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