Flame shot from every crack in the machine, and Daniel felt the scorching heat suffuse the air above him. Limbs flailing, every system going haywire, the Reaver staggered back, traveling twice its length across the cornfield before collapsing. Smoke rose from the joints, and occasional, smaller, secondary explosions marked the collapse of internal systems.
Daniel unsteadily regained his feet. Hammer in hand, he approached the smoking hulk with caution. The legs had stopped moving, although Daniel could still see small pieces of machinery moving inside the machine, visible through newly opened cracks and holes. A dark brown, oily fluid was slowly leaking out, spreading across the muddy dirt of the field.
Some of the other young men who had managed to keep clear of the dying Reaver were also nearing the machine. Their faces were a wash of fear, loathing, and horror, all mixed with a deep-seated savage triumph. Some of the men of the village would not be returning home. But this monster, this reminder of the Great War, would no longer plague the village with its yearly visits.
Daniel stood there for a long time, watching the Reaver slowly die. The other men headed out, searching the field for wounded, checking the remains of the oak grove for any survivors of the explosions. But Daniel couldn’t leave. Not yet. He slowly edged closer to the towering remains.
Approaching one of the largest cracks, at what had once been the top of the Reaver, Daniel slipped his head inside. Bits of shattered machinery were everywhere, but there were still several thick, reinforced tubes that led, intact, deeper into the belly of the beast. Carefully avoiding the sharp metal edges of the opening, Daniel slipped inside the machine, following these tubes inward.
After the first appearance of the Reaver, Daniel had continued to pester Elders Jonah and Buie. Eventually, the old men had told him of the Reavers, of the Great War. Daniel had learned about the guns, the missiles, the access hatches, and the two-minute delay before the more powerful secondary systems would activate, energizing the monster into a juggernaut of destruction. But, on his deathbed, Elder Jonah had called Daniel, alone, into the room.
“Boy, I know what you’re planning to do,” the old man said, his breaths slow and labored, as Daniel approached the bed. Over the last few months, Jonah had wasted away to little more than skin and bones, but his eyes still held the glint of intelligence. “Buie knew, too. Despite what we’ve said, you’re still going to fight the fool thing.”
Daniel didn’t bother protesting – not now. He nodded. “But, there is one more thing you need to know,” Jonah continued. He sat up slightly, reaching out to grasp Daniel with one frail arm. “Buie didn’t know this. But when we broke that thing, when we smashed it apart, we found out the truth.”
By now, Daniel was further into the machine; the opening through which he had entered was fading behind him. More tubes, some pulsing from the motion of the fluids coursing within, were coming together, all leading along this path. Ahead of him, he could hear the sounds of machinery, pumps still operating.
“The Reavers, they aren’t just driven by clockwork,” Elder Jonah had whispered. “Aye, that’s how they run, but at their heart . . . they were once one of us.” He sat back, sighing from effort. “Abominations.”
He had turned to face Daniel, his eyes reflecting a deep-seated pain. “Kill it,” he gasped. “Don’t just destroy it. Kill it.”
Rounding the curve, Daniel stared at the chamber that had opened up, at the center of the Reaver. A small, cramped room, the floors covered in pulsing tubes. The many conduits converged at the center, attached to a tank of gently sloshing green liquid. Daniel had known what was coming. Despite that knowledge, he still couldn’t look directly at the thing floating within the liquid. The thing that had once, long ago, been another person.
Daniel raised his hammer, his knuckles white. “One of us,” Elder Jonah had whispered, as he died. “Once, they were one of us.”
The glass cracked, shattered, fell apart. Green liquid spilled across the floor. The pumps stuttered and died. The brain of the Reaver sank to the bottom of its chamber. It shriveled and twitched, dying in the air. A pathetic thing, connected to an engine of destruction, blind, scarred, and crippled. Amid the rage, the hate, the anger, Daniel couldn’t help feeling the slightest hint of pity.
He raised the hammer once more. The Reaver died.