Hard Salvage

Context: I wrote Hard Salvage as a writing sample for a job application. The requirements were to demonstrate dialogue, script writing, and character building, ideally within a military sci-fi setting.

I think it turned out OK!

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Hard Salvage

Scene One

[Open on interior of a space ship, a big cargo hauler. Long empty storage pits are set into the deck, covered in metal grating. A number of ground vehicles are anchored in a line: Dump trucks, cranes, 4 wheel ATVs, etc. Smattering of people in environment suits strapped in to various benches and other restraints. Most clearly aren’t soldiers but mechanics, engineers, laborers. They carry a token amount of firearms. Ship is bumping around during descent through atmosphere, jostling everything. Ride becomes smooth and everyone relaxes. Teams of technicians leave their restraints and check various vehicles. ]

COMM: All ships are clear through the descent, Chief.

[Chief Mechanic WREN ATNOBE: Female, 50s, Dark skin, hair braided in alternating natural black and artificial gray. Right arm below elbow replaced with intricate metal prosthetic. She taps a code into a console screen set into her wrist.]

WREN: This is Chief Atnobe. It’s been a while since our last salvage run but you all know the drill. The target site is a Shevite on Dominion battlefield around a Dom citadel. The good news for us is neither side won and it’s a scrap buffet out there. We’re after quantity not quality and need to be out in five hours. Don’t discriminate but follow protocol. Wipe all Shev electronics. Dismantle all Dom weapons. The Hauler that brings the most salvage back to the fleet gets a prize. Chief out.

[Wren makes her way over to a young woman, NEM, 20s, pale, short dark hair. Nem taps away on a mobile computer console.]

NEM: What’s the prize, Chief?

WREN: I’ll figure that out later.

PA: Touch down in two minutes.

WREN, shouting to entire cargo bay: Get a move on people!

[Crews set to vehicles and gear with renewed haste.]

WREN, to Nem: We’re landing in the Shevite lines. You good?

NEM: Yep! We’ve got all the latest software for breaking their tech and AIs. Kel even coded some mods based on those interceptors we captured last week.

[Nem closes console and stows it in a shoulder bag. She stands and tugs at her suit.]

NEM: Wish these enviro-suits weren’t so…form fitting.

WREN: Nem, when you reach my age you’ll be glad for the glamorous illusion.

NEM: Yeah, the forthcoming glamour of rooting through a junk yard.

WREN: We all do our part.

NEM, briefly serious: We do. (a pause) This planet’s, what, a 7.5 on the Hab Scale? We don’t even need the suits.

WREN: It’s a little cold though.

NEM: Still rather have a coat than this.

WREN: Carry on, Nem.

NEM: Chief.

[Wren crosses to rear of cargo bay where ZED (Male, late 20s, bald, brown skin), a control pad in hand, is rousing a fleet of drones. The drones mill around like pack of eager dogs, a mix of hovering orbs and spider-like crawlers.]

ZED, not looking up from work: I got your eyes in the sky and ears to the ground ready to go, Chief.

WREN: We’re near the edge of the battlefield. Come to me the instant they spot any locals, yeah?

ZED: Will do. Don’t seem fair to let the Helix have the citadel. Easy tonnage there while we pick over lightweight Shevites.

WREN: Lightweights that’ve been kicking our asses and brought the Dominion to a stalemate. Only reason we’re able to run salvage again is they’ve both pulled back from this system.

ZED: Silver linings. Hope to find me a few new toys today, at least.

WREN: Nothing big—

ZED: And nothing too smart. I know, Chief.

WREN: Good man.

PA: Touch down in fifteen seconds.

[Wren and others not already in vehicles grasp to whatever’s nearby and ride out the relatively gentle bumps of landing. Rear doors open into a ramp and let in harsh, reddish sunlight. Cold but breathable air pours into the cargo bay. Helmets are optional on salvage crew, for now. Zed’s airborne swarm of drones buzz out first. Ramp finishes lowering to reveal a scrubland of rock and sand. Trucks turn over and begin to roll out. Wren joins Nem in a jeep near the back of the line.]

WREN, mutters to self: Let the feeding frenzy begin.

Scene Two

[The battlefield is littered with craters, blast zones, broken buildings, and strange burrows. Most of all, shattered military hardware lies everywhere. This was a complete slaughter on both sides. A half-standing citadel looms in the distance. Wren’s salvage crews are spread out across the plain, loading up twisted pieces of Shevite technology. Shev tech is all curves and sweeps, made of silvery metal and decaled with strange symbols. Somewhat insectoid in design.]

[Wren is completing a long cut through a hunk of metal as a message comes in.]

ZED: Chief, we got something big here!

WREN: Zed, you know it worries me when you sound excited.

ZED: You need to get over here. Sending you my position. Bring Nem and her brand of wizardry, too.

[Wren finds Nem and they mount up in a jeep. They drive to a site where a cluster of salvage crewmen and vehicles are gathered around the hunched figure of a quadrupedal battle mech. It’s a giant, thirty feet tall with long spindly arms. Its torso is hunched over near the ground where Zed waits, waving them over.]

WREN: This is…something else.

ZED: Must be a new design. We haven’t seen anything like it before.

WREN: Not too surprising, that. We haven’t dared to fight the Shevs on the ground in a year.

ZED: True. But the mech’s not even the wildest part, check this out.

[Zed waves them under the overhanging torso. He shines a flashlight upward. Wren gasps.]

NEM: Whoa.

ZED: Right!?

[The torso of mech was blasted open. Within is the pilot, dead and torn in half at the waist. Countless cables connect his body with the control panels of the mech. Head is a mane of wiring and connections. Very few manual controls to be seen on the consoles.]

[Wren reaches up and yanks a dangling cable from the pilot’s leg. She turns the needle-like connector over in her mechanical hand.]

WREN: We knew they were doing direct interfacing but this is beyond anything we’ve seen. Zed, get full imagery of every inch of this…machine for Fleet Command.

ZED: Way ahead of you Chief, the drones are already on it.

[Nem wordlessly sets up her mobile workstation. She reaches up toward the pilot’s console and slams a crude shunt of cables into an open port, connecting her machine with the mech.

WREN: Good. We’ll do a selective tear down and—

ZED: Chief we can take this intact!

WREN: No, we are not taking an intact and unknown Shevite mech onboard the ship.

ZED: A deconstruction in the lab will give us far more intel than breaking it up here. Can’t just scrap it!

WREN: We can and will.

NEM, tapping away at her computer: He’s still alive.

WREN: What?

NEM: Mentally, at least. The OS is active, running on reserve battery power. Processes run through him. Low activity, but definitely different from normal Shev AI.

ZED: All the more reason to study it before ripping it down, Chief.

WREN: I won’t hear another word, Technician Zellis. Will you follow my orders or do I have to send you back to the ship? The drones can be managed from anywhere.

ZED: Yes, ma’am. (to comm system) Heavy Team Beta. Report to my position for next assignment. (to Wren) Beta’s in the middle of another tear-down. Might be a little while.

WREN: You know why it must be this way, Zed. This…this is wrong. This is why we’re fighting.

ZED: It’s why we’re losing, Chief.

[Zed leaves the shade of the mech.]

NEM, pointing up: What about him?

[Wren lays a hand on her side-arm]

WREN: You need him alive to pull out anything useful?

NEM: Seems that way. It’d be like ripping out random gears from a machine before learning how it works.

WREN: Mmm. Have one of the soldiers put a bullet in him when you’re done.

NEM: Yes, ma’am.

Scene Three

[Some time later. Wren’s joined up with Heavy Team Beta and is riding back toward the Shevite mech. Zed and Nem are on site, along with a significant number of crew and soldiers. It’s a bit of a spectacle at this point.]

CREWMAN: God damn.

WREN: Time to crack it open and see what’s inside. Don’t like how many people are loitering around, though.

ZED (over comms): Chief, my bees are picking up some locals!

WREN: Yeah, too much activity in one place…talk to me, Zed.

ZED: Approaching tremors below, disturbances in the sand. All coming straight here.

WREN: All hands! Fall back to the Helios! Now! (to driver) Take us back to that ridge.

[Crews begin to scatter back to vehicles around mech.]

ZED: We’re not moving fast enough, Chief. They’ll be here soon.

NEM (over comms, harried): Chief, I have an idea. I think I can wake this guy up.

WREN: No…If a Shev node is active anywhere nearby we trade one problem for another.

NEM: I haven’t heard a single peep from a node, Chief.

ZED: They pulled out of the system anyway. Only reason we could be here. It would make a hell of a distraction.

WREN: …Do it, Nem. Then get the hell out of there.

[Soon the mech twitches, grinding into motion with harsh, sickly whines. Rises. Nem darts out from under it to a waiting four-wheeler. Further on, the sands burst from below to reveal a pack of burrowing creatures, conic shaped and naturally armored.]

WREN: Zed, your drones getting all this?

ZED: Oh yeah!

WREN, to self: Getting half his wish.

[Mech motions are jerky but attract attention of local creatures. Locals are able to tear through metal with their bodies. Mech fights back without weaponry, using limbs as clubs. Dust clouds are kicked up covering clear sight of the battle. Air filled with the screech of metal and alien cries, monsters fighting monsters. Sporadic gunfire from salvage crew adds to noise. Eventually dust settles to silence.]

WREN: All Helios hands, ping back.  [She intently watches her wrist display.]

ZED: Looks clear, Chief. Locals pulled out.

WREN: Everyone’s accounted for. How’s the mech, Zed?

ZED: Wrecked. Hell, those things did half the work for you.

WREN: Try not to sound so disappointed. (to driver) Take us down there. (to comm channel) Rex, Chali bring your people in. Everyone else go back to easy jobs, but stay alert. I still want those holds filled.

[Wren returns to the Mech. Its legs are sheared off and the broken joints flex aimlessly. The ground is littered with the smashed corpses of the conic creatures. Zed is there, surveying the wreckage near the pilot’s area, mech’s torso once again hunched over.]

WREN, to crews: Get those arms and legs loaded up. I want multiple joints to study.

[Wren walks over the mech pilot and ducks under the torso. Zed stares up at the pilot. The pilot is twitching wildly. His eyes are open but empty. Almost artificial. Wren taps her metallic fingers together to gain Zed’s attention.]

WREN: What’s the difference, right? Lose a hand, replace it with something better. Go a few orders of magnitude further and you have this…abomination. A man turned into a tool, into a circuit relay. And when your tool breaks…

[Wren draws her side arm and fires twice into pilot’s head. There is little blood. The pilot and mech’s residual motions cease.]

WREN: …it becomes salvage. Just like that. We may be losing this war, Zed, but I refuse to let us lose ourselves. Understood?

ZED: Understood, Chief.



Copyright © 2014 by Michael L. Watson