Glory Days

He is awoken at last by the kaleidoscope of light flitting through the eyes of his robot…

The noonday sun pierces his mind almost as sharply as his hangover. With a final groan he rolls out of his makeshift bunk in the metal colossus he calls home. Upon fully regaining cognizance his head instinctively whips around, an action for which his splitting headache would later repay him with interest, to look at the ruby-glass klaxon prominently displayed on a nearby console. Still dark. Nothing came in the night that he might have missed, quiet as usual these days. In all truth he was starting to feel like the way people talked about him; superfluous, obsolescent, among the more kind things. He blew a raspberry at the dull crystal display, not really certain why. Perhaps it was meant to be at the people who called him names, perhaps it was at the klaxon for not lighting like he half-hoped, half-dreaded that it would; the klaxon that was in all likelihood broken like the rest of this heap of a machine, or perhaps it was just because he was going a little crazy; he’d been given to ever more eccentric quirks these last few years. Like drinking. He’d never drank in the old days, the rough-and-tumble days. All about keeping himself sharp, clean-living as an example to all the kids that looked up to him. Now? The hangover still gnawing its way out of his skull attested to how much he indulged.

Turning away from the console with a sigh, he pulled open the creaky hatch in the floor of the cockpit and descended into the belly of the beast. He’d heat up the engines and idle them for a while so he could cook some breakfast on the drive-plate. His own belly grumbled hungrily at the thought, complaining at the meager fare of the past few months. It couldn’t be helped though. Things were tight. Really tight. He’d had to make the choice between buying food and keeping the behemoth running more than a few times recently, and he was running out of the means to do either. Nothing to be done though, he still had an obligation, whether anyone liked it or not. Whether anyone payed him or not. Who’d have thought being a hero would be so expensive? He hadn’t realized at first, not for a while at least. He’d chuckle sometimes at the memory; all those jet-setting trips, the caviar and beautiful women, the vacations with the who’s-who, the poster-child for the independently wealthy playboy. It had started almost as a game, another thrill to explore, something at last to challenge him in his malaise. Then somewhere along the line it changed. Maybe it was Kaijudaiku or Peking Kong, maybe it was the one of the giant-squid attacks, maybe it was that other robot the communists built, but somewhere he realized that picking up this duty meant that he couldn’t put it down. Not in good conscience, no matter how much he had to sacrifice. If he didn’t do it, who would? Not that there was much ‘to’ do anymore, all the monsters and aliens and grandiose terrorists must have started getting bored. Still, when it happened he had to be there; and it ‘did’ happen. Just… not as often. Not near as often. Even when it did though, it wasn’t the same anymore. Again, something had changed. Maybe it was the fact that his mechanical giant was starting to show its age, maybe it was because people didn’t cheer like they used to when he appeared, or maybe it was because anymore it was an even chance whether he was piloting sober.

He hits the buttons and cranks the levers necessary to get the titan’s motor running, giving the turbines a couple swift kicks to remind them they weren’t dead yet. Toggling open one of the auxiliary exhaust vents, he uses it to light a cigarette fetched from his sagging pockets. He never used to smoke either, something else that had changed. He’d honestly be surprised if he didn’t have cancer, not that he really had the spare change to find out. His last doctor visit had been a charity case from someone he’d apparently saved as a kid. At least ‘he’ had made something of himself, compared to the depths his one-time savior had sunk to. Waiting for the drive-plate to get good and hot he dug into the breaker box that served for a pantry, to see what there was to see. Not a lot. He fetched out some rice and his last, lone egg, pausing for a moment to wipe some engine-grime off on his pants. He needed a bath soon, and to do laundry. The nearby stream did pretty well, so long as he didn’t mind the chill. The farmer who owned the land occasionally came by to give him hell about trespassing, so he’d have to watch his time. He never did more than get huffy and yell though, being a little too anxious of gargantuan bipedal arsenal parked on the ridge to really want to press the matter. The same with the police and the military. They could try to bring him in for vagrancy or for any of the multitude of property damages he’d incurred over the years, but they didn’t. He had few friends left in the government these days, but those few with longer memories kept him out of trouble. That was really what he was reduced to. Once he possessed wealth almost beyond avarice, and now he relied almost totally on the charity of strangers.

A loud pinging sound as the monster’s insides heated signaled the buckling of some rivet in its metal innards, its high pitched report echoing through the engine chamber and through his hung over skull. Rubbing his temples in both pain and frustration, he returned to his makeshift pantry and retrieved a bottle of beer. There was more booze in his pantry than real food these days, a fact he tried not to dwell on at great length. Removing its cap on a piece of jagged metal jutting from one of the supports of the robot’s super-structure, a makeshift bottle opener for his makeshift house, he took a long pull on the beer. It was warm, and cheap, and would probably make him even more dehydrated, but he didn’t care. There honestly wasn’t much he ‘did’ care about anymore. He had few real friends, and most of them considered him an embarrassment, even among those few who were left from the old days.The drive-plate was good and hot now, so he got to work fixing some breakfast. He’d gotten pretty good at cooking with atypical accoutrements. They, along with the metallic gargantua he called home, were at this point his only worldly possessions beyond some ragged clothes and personal knick-knacks. He’d gotten over feeling sorry for himself though, or at least that was what he told himself. He once more pointedly avoided the mental subject of how much he drank anymore. It didn’t matter. The only things that mattered were getting what he needed to get by and maintaining vigilance, vigilance against the threats that normal folks just couldn’t handle, that only folks like him ‘could’ handle.

As the thought of vigilance passed through his mind his head was split once more by another clamorous ringing. It wasn’t anything mechanical this time, and his heart instinctively began to race at its sound. It was the klaxon; Tokyo was in trouble. Big trouble. Wasting no time, he scarfed down his half-cooked and scalding hot food. He would burn his mouth, but he needed to move quickly. Giant monsters waited for no one. He ascended the ladder to his robot’s cockpit with practiced celerity, plopping into the threadbare pilot seat before he’d even finished chewing. Swallowing the last of his pitiful breakfast in one large gulp, he called out the voice commands that would bring his titan to life. Once upon a time they’d been booming and impressive, but their dramatic flare had suffered somewhat along with his voice, now scarred from years of increasingly hard smoking. Nevertheless, they got the job done and his giant machine responded accordingly, powering up its systems with only a minimum of complaining groans and creaks. He grasped the well-worn controls and with expert manipulation his robot lurched forward, running with colossal, loping strides towards the city limits and whatever dangers assailed it. They probably wouldn’t thank him. After all, he was just a hobo with a giant robot. That didn’t bother him, though.

Because if he didn’t do it, who would?

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