Excerpt: First We Take Manhattan

They’ve just turned onto 42 when Jed Tansen’s voice crackles over the comm. “Uh, guys? My dash just turned red. Says something about a heat sink warning?”

Gabe grins and pulls Archangel to a stop. “Classic rookie mistake, greenhorn.” He hears Dave choke back a laugh. He’s bringing up the rear in Stonewall, but Gabe can picture him grinning too. “These aren’t like the Assault mechs they give the marines. You have to go easy with Enforcers; too much too fast, and your system will overload.”

He turns Archangel around. Through his transparent canopy of reinforced crystalline, Gabe watches Jed’s Enforcer slow to a stop. “Just wait it out,” he adds. “Once the heat sink starts working, it will cool everything off and you’ll be as good as new.”

The comm crackles when Jed huffs. “Is this why you two had me ‘practice my shots’ on the range just now? And then insisted we fly right out to the beat?”

Gabe scratches his forehead. “I’m pretty sure I have no idea what you mean.”

“The same way you have no idea why you made me climb in and out of the cockpit a hundred times?” Jed asks wryly.

Gabe smirks to himself. Enforcer cockpits are located in the mech’s chest. There are no footholds to help the pilot in, so as to avoid hooligans hitching rides and other potential dangers. Instead, pilots are drilled until they know all the right nooks and crannies to grab and to push off on, until they can leap into their cockpits in a few swift hops. It was the first thing they’d told Jed to do, mostly to settle his nerves, although they’d left out that pertinent detail.

Dave says, “Sometimes, in order to teach them how to walk, you have to let them fall.”

“Bullshit,” Jed says, but Gabe can hear the amusement in his tone. “You assholes are hazing me. Is this how the Mech Enforcer Division hazes?”

“The MEDs don’t haze,” Dave says matter-of-factly. “We educate.”

“We also don’t call our superiors ‘assholes,'” Gabe says.

Jed is undaunted. “Dumas, you and Cortez are sneaky bastards. Tech would’ve had my balls in a sling for bringing them back a downed Enforcer.”

“Yep,” Dave says.

“It was a test,” Gabe explains. “You’re not snug and cozy in training anymore. This is the field; you have to keep an eye on your dash—watch your meters and levels. Remember how much punishment your mech can take. It’s no different from when you were in the mech division in the army.”

“Well,” Jed says, “yes and no. When I piloted Assault mechs, I didn’t have to watch my dash like a hawk.”

“True enough, but remember the trade-off: more precision means more care. Enforcers are smaller, they have more controlled ammunition, and they can bank like nobody’s business, but all those little adjustments come with a price. Learn how to balance between pushing ahead and easing off, and you’ll be a pro in no time.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Oh,” Dave says, pleased. “Love it when he says that. Almost as beautiful as your little Parisian twang, Gabriel.”

Gabe stretches in his seat, growing restless. “You can take the Private out of the marines …”

“I hope not,” Dave cracks. “I want to keep calling him Private.”

“Feel free,” Jed says. “Unless you want to call me Private in private. Pretty sure Isabel would have something to say about that.”

“So would Tim,” Gabe points out with a grin. “How is Isabel adjusting to life in the city?”

Jed makes a noncommittal sound. “Eh, you know … It’s different. We’ve never lived in one of the megacities before. She’s worried about raising the baby here.”

Gabe looks out his canopy. 42 Street stretches out before them in all its filthy glory. It’s a quiet area, mostly residential apartments lining the street with dull grey cement and brick. Tenants are used to seeing MED march up and down under their windows. Apparently people acclimated—like living near an airport or a train, someone once said.

People from the suburbs or rural areas like Jed and Isabel tend to believe that the megacities are overwhelming and untamable. The truth is the megacities haven’t changed much since they were regular old cities. Sure, they’re considerably larger, having expanded to accommodate population growth. The expansion had come with some drastic changes, too; megacities are neatly and clinically divided into easily navigated sectors. Still, the more things changed, the more they stayed the same. New York is still the business and fashion capital of the world, the international trendsetter, and the image that comes to mind when people say “America.” Very little has changed—although New Yorkers swear the pizza hasn’t been the same since the Old City was razed in 2132.

Gabe’s parents had moved here when they got married, coming over from Nice. Back then, it had still been the Old City. The designation had changed by the time Gabe was born, but his parents had maintained that New York was New York—the same one they’d fallen in love with all those years ago.

Still, they are currently in Sector Twelve, the twelfth precinct. Sector Twelve is right smack in the middle of the New York megacity, and it sees a lot of action. So he says, “Well, they say only the crazy ones ask for this sector. Why didn’t you apply somewhere more low-key?”

There’s a moment of silence before Jed answers. “It’s hard to explain. I did my time in the army. I came home for Isabel, because she couldn’t stand the idea of me away for so long anymore, not knowing if I was okay—you know, that kind of thing.”

“Couple stuff,” Dave puts in. “I get it.”

“But you don’t—you don’t come home from a footlocker life and just adjust to soft beds and heavy meals. I want to be here for Isabel and the baby, but I need to be doing something. She wanted me to get a desk job. That would drive me insane. I have to be out in the field.”

Gabe finds himself nodding, even though Jed can’t see him. “Well, Private, you learn how to handle your mech properly and Isabel won’t have to worry about a thing.”

Jed laughs. “Yeah, my dash has been okay for a good long while now.”

“And you didn’t tell us,” Dave says disapprovingly. “I think that warrants buying the first round. What do you say, Gabe?”

He pretends to think about it. “That sounds about right. Pretty sure it’s in the SOP.”

“Where, under bullshit?” Jed asks over his chuckling. “You guys are totally hazing, don’t even front.”

Gabe grins. “Fine, then consider it a thank you to your mentors for showing you how not to ask Tech to break your balls.”

“Now that I am thankful for. All right, first round is on me.”

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