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Screaming Metal (Part 012)

After a collapse of junk beneath Deshel's feet, he spots a flashing beacon deep within the decay of machinery.

Art by Ryan Sonderegger

Though much of the smaller junk had settled over time, it would have been a mistake to consider it safe.

Stabilizers and anti-grav cushioning helped them over the uneven swells and kept them from getting their feet caught in crevices.

The junkyard was a patchwork of rolling, low hillocks that stretched as far as the eye could see at ground level.

Priyanka looked at Deshel who was busy concentrating on a handscanner that he swept over the area. The machine beeped and buzzed in reply.

"What do you have?" she asked.

Deshel remained quiet, carefully making his way over the junk, testing each piece for stability before stepping on to it.

He paused, then leaped with great caution over a gap between two unidentifiable, industrial gray-metal carcasses.

The once bold colors, motifs and plumage on the machines were now scuffed and faded beyond recognition.

Everything in the junkyard, it seemed, had seemed to take on the same time-worn, dull non-color.

Priyanka watched Deshel with growing agitation.

"Well... if I had to guess–"

"Guess? Why are you guessing?" She frowned.

"Sorry. It's..." He took another couple of steps, heading aft of the Alley Cat. "Here." He looked up at Priyanka. "Somewhere under this."

All the data they had – the radio signals, the ping and Priyanka's source – indicated the Metal was buried perhaps a dozen meters below.

Priyanka looked at the junk beneath her feet. Rusting metal and faded plastic of agricultural equipment stared straight back at her.

The exoframes would allow them to lift most of the junk from the position they wanted excavate.

For anything larger, they might have to use cutting torches. That would take real time.

Probably more time than they had for a proper retrieval today.

Priyanka sighed and spoke to no one in particular, "I suppose we should be lucky no one dropped a starship on it."

Deshel cocked his head doubtfully, "Not that we can tell anyway."

Without a word more, the two began clearing an area of debris, starting in a central area and working ever outward in a large circle.

They worked so that a gradual, stepped slope was created, doing their best to flatten and stabilize the area as they went.

They last thing they wanted was junk collapsing in on them if they had to dive into a hole to retrieve their prize.

An exoframe was powerful, able to lift a great deal of weight, but it wasn't armor.

It wouldn't stop sharp or piercing pieces of wreckage from harming them if they stumbled or if it fell upon them.

After several long hours of grueling work, the pair had established a workable area

They hadn't yet excavated the Metal, but Priyanka was satisfied that it was a good start, a good foundation.

The crashing sound of shifting, falling machinery nearly drowned out a startled cry from Deshel.

Priyanka turned to see the man clinging to a computer bank, his legs over the edge of large gap that had suddenly appeared.

"You alright?" The concern in her voice was genuine.

He didn't answer, staring down into the dark void below him.

"Deshel!" The worry in her voice now was tinged with some anger and impatience.

Deshel looked up at her, his voice was both urgent and excited, "Yeah… Yeah, I think so. But you'd better take a look at this."

The junk-merc's jaw clenched as she made her way delicately over to him, cursing the man under her breath for frightening her so.

Reaching out to him, she gripped the frame of his forearm, and pulled him to safety.

"Thanks," he nodded but immediately looked back toward the crevice he had almost been swallowed into. "Look close," he said.

**"Screaming Metal" -- all parts**

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Screaming Metal (Part 012)
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OMNI Magazine April 1994