She frowned. "You told me you barely had any Builder Aptitude."
Eric tried to give her a rueful smile, but it faltered. He sighed. "Yeah, I sort of lied about that, but no one knew. I was trying to avoid getting noticed and drafted so I downplayed it."
"I didn't think you could do that. I've interacted with my share of Teckers here, and they seem to have a drive that pushed them to create. The more powerful the ability, the stronger the drive. Most of what they do in Tecker classes is teach them control over that drive."
Eric shrugged. "I can't comment about other Build-Teckers. I've done my best to stay away from them, avoid temptation."
"Then how did the Builder Division find out about you?"
"I told you about the attack while my unit was on patrol, right?"
She smiled. "That was a long time ago for me. I don't remember everything you've told me."
He nodded. "Gist of it is that we got pinned down. Two of the three transport got shot to pieces and the third was in real bad shape. We knew it was just a question of time before the Hismerite soldiers got reinforcement so we were dead if we didn't get out of there. I wasn't going to let my unit die, so I fixed the transport. I didn't go mad doing it, but I came close. When I was done we all packed in. Trust me, a unit's worth in one transport, I know how your spinach feels."
"We got back to base and I put it out of my mind. We had our second date that evening." He sighed. "Someone must have talked, because the next morning someone from Builder Division was there to talk to me. I did my best to downplay it, make it sound like it took longer for me to fix it than the others thought because of the stressful situation. That the transport wasn't in that bad of a shape, but I'd screwed myself over. I'd been so focused on the work I never noticed the improvements I made to the transport."
He unfolded the napkin. "I'm sure you heard stories. Builder Division won't let anyone go unless they are certain you can't contribute to the war. They had me under guards while escorting me. I thought about running, about deserting. I knew what was waiting for me."
"But you didn't." There was no doubt in her voice, and that made him smile, a little.
"Turns out I'm not a deserter. I must have known on some level that it was just a question of time before I was found out. I didn't want to leave you wondering, so I asked them to give you the letter, but I guess they didn't. I took some comfort in the knowledge that as part of the Division, my madness would be used constructively."
He sighed, folded the napkin and pushed it aside. "Long story short. They drove me insane and I built for them. I have no idea how long I did it. Time doesn't mean much once you're crazy. What I did know is that I built ever more destructive weapons." He shrugged. "I don't know why I'm surprised about that. It was war, of course it was going be weapons and not something constructive. But I didn't care, all I wanted was to build."
Isabel opened her mouth, but the server returned with their food. Eric had a seared steak, boneless, with potatoes, carrots and beets. It smelled good, but his appetite wasn't there anymore.
"If it helps," she said once the server left, "it was a year and a half from the moment you disappeared to when the camp was destroyed." She had a large salad with many colorful vegetables.
"Really? When I think back on it only feels like a couple of months."
"No, a year and a half."
"Anyway, I don't know how familiar you are with Buil-Teckers, but we're goal-oriented, and we don't really care about what you want. It's all about us. Our creations. If you need something specific, you need to give us all the details, because we're going to take every inch of leeway available to make it our own.
He poked at the beets with his forks, then forced himself to eat one. It was good. It was drizzled with a dressing that was just spicy enough to balance their sweetness.
"The officer in charge told us to build something to end the war. He wanted something decisive, final. He wanted the Hismerites to have no other option but surrendering when confronted with it."
He cut the steak. "I set to work. I have no idea where the idea came from. Most of the time, the seed of the idea is something around me, but I don't remember anything about the initial thought. I borrowed and stole the parts I needed. I took over more and more of the space assigned to us. What I was building was big. At some point they moved the other Builders to another tent." He chewed. The meat was tender, the slightly burned crust had a sweetness to it that went well with the other spices.
"I don't remember sleeping or eating. I was consumed with making this." He smiled. "When it was done, it was magnificent. Of course, at that point there was only one sensible thing left to do. I pressed the big red button I'd put on it."
Isabel's fork was to her mouth, green leafy vegetables stabbed through along with red and orange ones. "You pressed it? Shouldn't you have waited for instructions?"
Eric gave her a sad smile. "I wasn't sane, remember? Another thing to remember. Never leave a mad Builder unattended. We want to use what we create. We want to see what it will do, if it will behave the way we know it should. A friend of mine who studies here mentioned weekly explosions."
The bovine smiled as she chewed.
14 July 2018 at 19:32:34 MDT
Going Home is a series that Explores the city of Tiranis through the eyes of Eric Clarkson, a returning veteran, who finds that the city has changed more than he expected in his absences.
Each section of the series will focus on a different part of the city while Eric gets pulled into problems typical to that area, or sometimes not so typical.
This is about 1000 words of the 7,800 words chapter.
You can read the full story, as well as other stories set in the world of Tiranis by joining my Patreon at the 1$ level: https://www.patreon.com/posts/20074421