*continued from SPQR, Part III
We have seen better days. Juin takes a mere instant to register the deaths of Margerison and Elona. Their bodies, motionless and partially crushed, lie in the distance mere feet from each other. Shutting off what he can of his mind, he tries to determine if he had, in fact, seen the remote fall to the ground. If so, he hopes Calvin - who is near the bodies - will find it and see if it's functional. A device created to stop devices that were created to destroy. It is the never-ending story - so far, at least - of human history. Ambition and a thirst for knowledge leading to weapons of ever-increasing destruction. War gave birth to weapons capable of destroying empire and then birth to weapons capable of destroying worlds. Now, war gives birth to weapons that can destroy history itself. The common curse of mankind - folly and ignorance. The Frenchman says a silent prayer, crossing himself, and moves to another firing positing.
Juin feels the ground beneath him shaking. He knows that Italy has its share of earthquakes, but for the life of him he can't recall ever hearing about one in Rome. His feet reverberate in his boots and it becomes clear that he stands very near the epicenter of whatever is happening.
He did not expect to be witness to a machine - a Pluto, he believes - erupt from the earth of Palatine Hill. And he certainly did not expect to catch a glimpse of Rossella behind its controls. Her expression blank, though determined, as if of one purpose. Cry, "Havoc!" And let slip the dogs of war.
Rossella is lost in the machine. Though unfamiliar with the controls, they are intuitive to her and easily learned. How others found such controls difficult escapes her thoughts. The Pluto moves clumsily at first, but with every step of its mechanical legs and every volley of its munitions there is an increase in fluidity and accuracy. She thinks of nothing but attacking the first machine she identifies. Though this be madness, there is method in it.
The downed Titan is damaged from its impact, but Vulcan-tenders quickly arrive at its location and begin hasty repairs. Rossella feels the press of a button. She is machine. A character in a film. All the world 's a stage, and here and now, she is humanity's greatest actor.
Calvin watches from up close and personal as the Titan explodes beneath a fury of mortar fire. He is again sent flying from the shock wave and as he recovers, he spies the machine that fired it.
"Holy shit," he grunts, reeling from the concussion. As the Pluto approaches he can clearly make out Rossella's form in the cockpit. Initial reaction is to scold her and tell her to get out of that thing, but he contains himself. She is doing quite well, upon objective observation... certainly better than anyone else had done. For the first time in this battle, Calvin allows himself to hope. O! she doth teach the torches to burn bright.
The sheer power of the Pluto overwhelms her and she relishes it. It liberates and frees and enables her all at once and, unlike her rifle marksmanship, she rapidly develops an uncanny accuracy with howitzer and rocket. Machine after machine, one at a time - for she is deliberate and singular in her approach - falls beneath her firepower. She makes quick work of the remaining Jupiters, allowing herself enough human deduction to approach the behemoths while they are distracted with exposing the laboratory. The smaller machines seem to fall easily, and there is no question that she controls the battlefield. Why, then the world's mine oyster.
Juin cannot believe his eyes. As a soldier, he always errs on the side of caution. The better part of valor is discretion. And, yet, here was Rossella essentially berserking her way through the enemy ranks. A thoughtless and suicidal tactic... but it is working. There is reckless abandon in the movements of the Pluto, though they are quick, accurate, and effective. When one machine goes down, there is no hesitation to attack the next, regardless of positioning or maneuvering requirements. Delays have dangerous ends.
Were anyone to see Rossella smile, they'd have thought her mad. Despite taking damage from the perfect aim of her opponents, she continues to plow through them. The constant impacts only encourage her and she feels the sensation of an emotion very near to lust. Her conscious mind pleased that she is doing to the machines what they have done to humanity. An eye for an eye. The robbed that smiles steals something from the thief. As the other human-controlled machines take position on her flanks, a day that began as the twilight of mankind now ends at a new dawn. It is the east, and Juliet is the sun.
An endless chorus of cheers greets Rossella as she climbs down from the cockpit of the Pluto. Exhausted and out of breath, her mind continues to process everything that just happened. Salafia yells at her, "Lei è matta!" You are crazy.
She looks for Calvin and Juin, but does not see them, for they are tending to the bodies of their fallen friends.
"She was impressive, no?" Juin says as he approaches the American. He tries to avert his eyes from the bodies of Margerison and Elona, not quite ready to come to terms with their deaths.
Calvin holds what's left of the remote and laughs weakly. His eyes betray recently shed tears, but they are quickly drying from the revelation that he will live to fight another day. He shows the Frenchman the device. Juin doesn't know what he should see.
Calvin motions for Juin to take it. Juin inspects it, sees blinking lights and hears the buzz of its power supply. He is still unsure of what he's looking for and gives Calvin a questioning expression.
Juin laughs. Though the implication is clear, it does not devalue Rossella's accomplishments in his mind. Nor, does it, in Calvin's. A woman who yesterday was trapped within herself had awakened violently and helped obtain a victory in a battle that all thought lost.
"Should we tell her?" the mulatto asks.
"No. We need a hero."
In the laboratory, preparations begin to take everything apart for relocation. Kopeikin, Dunsworth, and Salafia direct teams of workers in the disassembly of everything they think they'll need.
Juin, Calvin, and Rossella huddle together and - for what is likely the first time - do nothing but revel in each other's company. The gathering is not without sadness, however, and the three reflect on their fallen friends. Argent, a brash American soldier, Calvin's best friend, who murdered and was murdered by his own cousin, lies in a grave somewhere north of Rome. Margerison, a former British police detective, buried with his lover Elona - an accomplished dancer - beneath the remains of the Temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus. Fortunate friends in an unfortunate time, whose names - if Rossella has her way - will never be forgotten in this new era of human history.
"What are we gonna do now?" Calvin, bringing his friends back to the reality of the situation, knows there is much work to be done.
Juin shrugs, wanting to keep living this moment, and it is Rossella who answers. "Look for other survivors and kill any machine we see." Her smile is of a woman reborn. Regrets shed and eyes only to the future.
As if capturing a memory never had, Rossella calls out to Salafia as he walks by.
"Is there paint here?"
"A little. Why?"
It is a long procession of humans, protected by a single, human-controlled machine. Though weary, the travelers are not afraid, for their guardian is among them. As the Pluto eclipses the setting sun, Juin and Calvin can't help but laugh. On the side of the machine, painted in large silvered letters: ARGENT. And on its windshield, a single piece of paper taped to it, with nothing on it save a greeting and a farewell.
The Earth rests as its children fade into the horizon, on their way to a new home. A place in which to begin the task of retaking their home world... the undiscovered country.