03:32am Hawking Time
The nights were deathly quiet this time of year. Hawking animals had evolved to lack mating calls of any sort, which made the weekends that lacked spaceport traffic almost unbearably still and black. There was no wind or cloud cover, just the cold twinkling of a million truly distant astral bodies.
Just one transport freighter arrived in that city today, bringing construction materials where they had been refined directly from the source on the planet Azmugar. It was a trusted source with a trusted crew, and thus was sparsely checked.
At 00:00 exactly, a human-sized, tank-tracked drone broke out of one of the secure hazardous material pods, effectively evaded all human surveillance with it’s infrared and sonar systems, and then crept undetected into the silent streets beyond. It knew exactly where to go, working off of the publicly available marketing materials of the local area’s layout.
At 2:15, it reached visual range of Concourse Alpha material access gate 12F. Sentry guns and patrolling E2 aggressor drones made entry impossible, and it avoided being recorded by them.
At 3:02, the cleaning support staff changed shifts, and the drone took it’s opportunity by leaping on top of a garbage truck, then rolling inside where the thick metal walls would prevent it’s detection.
An E2 detected it approximately twenty minutes later, outside supply building 26. The SEER drone was sheered in half by a quad-barreled high intensity pulse laser and destroyed. Sixteen additional drones moved to the scene due to the loss of contact, but the enemy was not sighted.
Scaling up sheer surfaces and avoiding all obvious humanoid routes, it moved through the radioactive runoff valve into Echoni fabrication area 12A. Three more E2 maintenance classes were shorn into pieces, resulting in another null detection.
A hazardous materials forklift made short work of the security bulkhead, giving it access to the component stockpile computer. It used this to locate one of the two designated targets in their office; One Doctor Caxia.
Ruthless and without rest, it moved to the door outside within ten minutes and knocked the door off its hinges in a single shot. Black metal, heavy with an oblate torso, four track-pods where a human’s lower legs should be, and savage cargo loading claws for arms. A heavy camera helmet for a face, a terrifying mess of random antennas, dishes and lenses with no respect for aesthetics. The only thing stopping it from opening fire on the scientist themselves was the momentary cooldown of their devastatingly efficient shoulder laser…
Caxia did not have much time for considering what to do. The door that was thrown off its hinges was quite heavy, designed for keeping Echoni from getting through. The heavy weight of the material meant it was quite difficult to knock off its hinges and send flying across the room in that way. This also meant that the thing doing that was quite a bit stronger than Caxia was.
Though alerting security would only take a moment.
Caxia would quickly move into the nearest Echoni containment cell and seal the door behind them.
“IT’S SLEEP TIME!” 444 shouted, angry that she was being woken up from her nap, peaking her head out from her blanket and pillow fort to watch as the multi-limbed Caxia moved to the corner of the room where they were least likely to be shot when the thing came crashing through the door.
“Destroy the creature that is about to break through the door.” Caxia stated, also connecting to the local network to start opening up cells for other Echoni. The others would come certainly… while unit 444 was a disappointment in terms of harnessing the unique properties of the exophages, she did seem to have a way to attract the other Echoni.
Purple was underneath the pillow fort, or rather underneath 444, of course, but had their dangerous powers locked behind several forms of technological shielding at the moment. Without any way of deactivating them, they simply stared out from behind the white mass of feathers and foam, wondering if this was some kind of game.
The attacking drone did not need that much more time, because the weapon it was using seemed specifically tailored for the job. The force and sheer heat that Caxia detected could only have come from a mining laser, generally the short-range kind attached to heavy industrial robots.
Yet another impact send metal shards flying across the room, all for hinges now bright orange and jello-like in consistency. When it forced the doors open manually, it was really more like just pushing the plates of metal over…
At least the automatic fire alarms were finally going off.
“We can’t sleep like…” 444 had one of those sudden realizations. It wasn’t so much an understanding of what was going on, so much as an instinctual reaction… thinking didn’t factor into it too much, “JUICE BOXES. I want a whole pallet of them!”
“That is acce-” Caxia was cut off again before she could finish.
“TWO PALLETS! ALL THE FLAVORS!” 444 shouted excitedly as the door was torn open, the metal splitting apart with a high pitched whine as it was torn from its housing.
“FINE!” Caxia replied back, using their masculine, loud, voice blaring through the speakers on their body.
444 Would dash out of her pillow-fort, sending puffs of feathers out in all directions as she brought a blanket along with her, quickly dashing to the side of the door where she’d be out of the line of fire, then jumping right at the thing coming through it with her blanket spread out to try and cover the thing’s head!
Something snagged the blanket in mid-air; The thing had a tail, built of lengths of pipe like a three-piece staff and ending in a grasping metal pincer. A second later, 444 was pelted in the face by countless flecks of something extremely hot, shredding the cloth into vague disconnected ribbons. One of the three tubes on it’s left shoulder was now empty. Didn’t seem to do any real damage to the Echoni, but her vision was completely filled with annoying blue splotches.
Damn thing didn’t even turn its head until a moment later; Some kind of automatic reflex?
Backing up into the corridor beyond, it bided it’s time to recharge the weapon. Now that they had located the target, there was no guarantee it couldn’t just shoot straight through the wall…
“ANGRY GLITTER WON’T STOP ME!” 444 shouted at the thing she was attacking, some strangs of cloth landing on her target along with herself. She also didn’t really need to ‘see’ what she was trying to attack, she had a general memory of what the thing looked like and figure’d its head was about where you’d expect a head to be. Her hands would come down on the creature’s head as hard as they could, fingers then trying to grab onto anything she could as her legs braced herself against the thing’s shoulder, doing her best to keep her body away from anything tube-like which might throw more glitter-stuff at her.
Caxia, meanwhile, was unaware of the possibility they could be gib’d through the door. Instead they were focusing on the facilities remote systems, The first thing that they could get online were one of the local security bots. Its metallic form clunking out into the hallway and taking aim at the attacker.
Caxia didn’t try to stop the robot from firing while 444 was directly ontop of the target, but the weapon’s effects were somewhat disappointing, rubber anti-riot rounds bouncing off the exterior rather harmlessly… the interior robots just weren’t meant for this kind of problem.
The attacker itself seemed genuinely shocked and confused by the ferocity of the flesh-based attacker, offering up a mostly token resistance in panic. The arms were quite long and not really designed for fighting at such short range, meaning they barely managed to snag 444’s left foot and nothing else.
Bearing its own camera, the shoulder gun reacted independently regardless, pivoting on it’s access and opening fire on the ineffectual security drone behind it. More would be on the way, but it would take time for those with proper ordinance to become organized.
The sensory system was mounted very sturdily indeed. With their improved strength, the green haired banshee had managed to snap off an antenna and crack a lens, but the faceplate itself seemed to be some heavy metal mesh laminated with rigid plastic.
Only when they ran completely out of of useful sensors did the plate seem to pop off voluntarily on it’s own, throwing 444’s limbs backwards with the sheer weight and inertia of it. There was… Well, something really quite unrobotic staring back at them from the inside, green eyed and youthful. They had long blonde hair and… Actually, they might have been a bit of the pudgy end of the spectrum, not the kind of chibi human an Echoni was likely to meet off the clock.
With the extra room opened up by the shifting of weight, it did not miss the opportunity for a counter-attack; Swinging a large metal grabber right at the green-haired girl’s guts.
“HA!” 444 yelled in triumph, clearly exposing this monster’s weak-spot before receiving a metal grabber right in the stomach, sending the Echoni flying back into a wall just as fast as she had arrived along with a wet ‘Crunch’ of her body crumpling up on impact.
Her body flew right past another Echoni that had just arrived, her head covered in a full face-mask dotted with various cameras and LIDAR systems, her arms replaced with mechanical appendages. The obedient 8174 now rushing in at Caxia’s command, picking up what remained of the rifle that was being used by the security bot and using it as a bat, swinging it at the creature’s head.
It was at this point that Caxia’s cameras finally got a view of the quadraped-thing’s true face, amidst free flowing streams of dark forest green hair. It was the face a doll-like woman, with ruddy skin and wide, grey-blue eyes. The expression was blank and unflinching, though a small backup set of antenna attached to the forehead seemed to be doing far more ‘looking’ than their actual eyes.
The shoulder cannon reflexively turned to face the attacker, but lacking the improved sensory system, the scorching beam went wild and mostly hit the barrel that was projected at them. What was left of it kept going in 8174’s grasp, smashing into the end of the quad-muzzle with a terrific explosion of fire and shrapnel.
Grunting loudly as if in pain, the tank-creature jabbed forward with it’s left metal claw, actually ejecting with enough force to fly forwards at 8174’s chest. Below the claw was a smaller automatic cannon, a firearm which the tank desperately sought room to fire by rapidly reversing back up the corridor…
8174 had to raise one arm to shield her face from the spray of molten metal generated by the cannon, the spray seering through her facemask, flesh, and arms, leaving small scorch marks all over her body. She was entirely unready for the claw that smashed into her, shattering part of her right-mechanical-arm and knocking her back.
As 8174 stumbled around infront of it, the ridiculously cyborgized girl would hear a deep gurgling flying at it from the side. *UHGUHGHGGGGGHhuuhhhh!* 444 yelled, her lungs and mouth partially filled with blood, making it quite difficult for her to pronounce words, but everyone could rest assured that it was some kind of threat! The Echoni was practically burning up now, steam rising off her skin as the exophages inside of her rapidly worked on returning her body to a less-injured state, all the while her hands clawed at the head-parts of the attacker while she spat blood in the attacker’s face.
The tank thing was more agile than the weight would suggest, skirting up the wall slightly in order to avoid having it’s face pounded in by the enraged echoni. The smouldering blood was slightly hard to avoid hower, spattering into the creature’s eyes and causing it to groan loudly. A rapid chirping sound was heard as the small antenna on their head angled around rapidly, before the last of the integrated weapons simply opened fire blindly.
Chaff collided off both the floor and ceiling, filling the air with flecks of hot dissolving aluminium. Spin up on the arm autocannon took another pace, after which it barked into life and began punching fist-sized holes in a wild line along the floor, up the wall, and then around the corridor at head height. The muzzle flash alone was deafening in the enclosed space, and the projectiles themselves seemed to make far bigger holes than they should on impact; Some kind of HESH round?
444 was certain she was yelling insults, GOOD insults, the best insults that anyone had ever insulted anyone with… however after the weapons fire all she could hear was a dull ringing in her ears. Everything was just sorta silent as she tried to find places to dig her fingers in. She was more careful this time, trying to get behind the torso-bits of the tank so that it couldn’t punch her accross the room like last time… but there was no telling just what bits of this creature were important… but that antenna looked snapable! Pulling, Tugging, anything she could do to try and tear or snap something off.
8174 was not fairing nearly as well, explosions filled the hallway, the Echoni trying to duck under the line of fire only to be slammed against the wall by the force of the blast and the chunks of concrete that had been carved out of the wall.
“SURRENDER NOW AND YOU WILL NOT BE HARMED.” Caxia stated, using their rather masculine voice, booming it into the corridor using their external speakers. They could see just what the attacker was through 8147’s streaming data, “OUR KIND SHOULD NOT BE FIGHTING ONE ANOTHER.” Caxia recognized the heavy amount of cyberization this person had undergone, and the best chance of survival was betting that this individual was looking for that same kind of belonging other heavily cyberized individuals were.
Hitting the tank hurt Uso’s knuckles a lot. It had thick sheets of some sort of heavy, durable metal that put the drone robot’s armour to shame. Never the less, there were exposed components, and the battle of attrition was slowly tiring the armoured monster out. First to go was the forward left suspension spring on their legs, causing them to drop closer to the floor, and struggle to stay upright.
Their gun was still firing, hammering chunks out of the infrastructure, but was of no use against such an up-close, frenzied attack. Eventually it ran out of ammo, sputtering and clicking uselessly.
It was then that Uso could finally attack the head with impunity, breaking one of the ear antennas out of its socket, and impacting the forehead sensor implant so hard that the cyborg recoiled in extreme distress, almost flipping over onto its back.
What it’s mission was, or if it was capable of surrendering, was a little hard to tell; The frenzied assault left little room for conversation, and the audible barks from the unit were few if any.
Swinging the industrial claw in one long, savage arc, it used the aggression to scramble away, then jabbed at random with the considerable reach of it’s spindly tail claw.
“...You… You proliferate organic forms…” It finally spoke, though it did not move it’s lips when it did so. The tone was distant and crackly, like prerecorded audio played from a bad speaker. “...Orders are to... destroy... “
Wincing, closing it’s eyes, blinking furiously… Out of all the things 444 did, it seemed their boiling exophage-laced blood was the most hideously destructive to mere human flesh. The random swipes and strikes continued, even when the green-haired echoni was nowhere near.
“WHAAAAAAA!!!” 444 shouted, finally clearing her lungs of blood, grabbing ahold of some pipe-bit on the back end of the tank-thing as it drove forward and swung about. Her legs were kicking around wildly to try and get purchase on something to move her back up towards its torso as the tank moved about, “COME OUT OF THERE SO I CAN SMASH YOU!!!” She shouted… the Echoni getting drug past the gun-parts that 8174 had lost earlier, still glowing hot from the laser impact and with one fast motion she’d swipe it up off the ground and jam it into the creature’s treads!
“They threaten me as much as you. Your orders come from one that fears my research. They do not have your best interests in mind, or even OUR best interests.” Caxia responded, guessing as best they could as to exactly what was going on here… frustration growing at just how long it was taking for her weapons to arrive! Somewhere deep in the facility a small floating drone was racing through the hallways, weapons being held in its arms as it made its way to Caxia.
The tank’s four track pods ended up manually dragging it along the floor, unable to roll around any longer with all the wheel and suspension damage it had sustained. It was still heavy enough the crack the tiles in its wake, sending vibrations both through itself and through 444’s very bones.
It was mostly the tail-arm keeping it alive at this point, keeping it alive by coiling around and deflecting the worst of the blows towards the torso. But the writing was on the wall at this point, and the lumbering monster was barely able to respond to Caxia’s rhetoric even if it wanted to.
Regardless of physical weakness building up, however, it really did look like it was going to fight to the death-
Until it suddenly seized up with one climatic surge, tracks jolting and writhing for a minute whilst the humanoid fleshy torso encased below the mount of armour began to painfully twitch and spasm. The face was emotionless, grimacing from the extreme pain within it’s chest that the industrial arm struggled to reach towards.
It was a straight up heart attack. Caxia could see it on 8147’s infra-red.
As much as it had apparently wanted to fight on, the tank’s pulse was suddenly and immediately cut short…
What had caused it? Surely it had some kind of implants to deal with regulating physical pain, so it couldn’t have been that? It wasn’t like the miniscule chunk of flesh at the center was really doing most of the action, either…
Caxia decided it must be a self-destruct mechanism. The attacker was too injured to continue so someone was trying to delete the evidence. Certainly it had gotten quite far in its attack… but Caxia’s creatures were still quite capable even if they were caught off guard! Caxia considered this was the type of pride those Gatchamon characters must feel… but then dismissed the thought. She had evidence to save first.
“444. Disengage combat.” Caxia stated, her tools finally arriving by drone, a heavy shield for one arm, a hefty gun for another, a pri-bar, shock-tools… Caxia was ready to scoop out the wet-bits on her own…
A few hours later,
Secure Medical Lab #5
The tank-like creature now certainly looked looked a lot less tank-like, and Caxia looked a lot less Caxia-like.
It would be Caxia that explained the specifics.
“I managed to save your fleshy-bits from whatever self-destruct your sender equipped you with. These machines are keeping you alive for now, and perhaps if you cooperate we can fit you with a fully new body. I want to know where you came from.” Caxia told the less-tanky-creature as its body was suspended above the floor in an anti-gravity field, with various arms, tubes, and other machines connected up to it to keep things flowing properly.
“You made an impressive amount of progress in your attack. To think that I merely got lucky is the only reason we are both as we are right now.” Caxia added, one of their hands tapping their now much more slender body. They still had the same head, the same three legs holding them up, and the same eight arms positioned around the ‘torso’ but their torso was now extremely thin. “...As you can see, I will be taking far more precautions with my safety. No more exposing myself… that means remote-operated bodies will be interacting with you.”
‘Life support’... It was a simple name for what was really going on, pipes pushing vital fluids in and out. Filtering out natural waste products, maintaining a specific, steady pressure… The fragment of a person awoke to the sensation of not a heartbeat, but a constant, droning physical force. Something that was really quite alien to get used to.
Grasping appendages, invasive tubes, the feeling of being weightless and puppeteered by the inhuman, many-eyed form before them… The stout features of the small thing were frozen in shock, grey-blue eyes wide.
“...Situational impossibility… Outsiders should not have the ability to affect repairs on…” A distant tone, pain brewing deep in their head and guts, though there was little they could do to squirm and alleviate it. “...If I’m here, then… Reconstitution procedures on the others… must already be…”
A sour look, as if hit by a great weight of some hidden realisation.
“...Honoured mechanism-form…. The task was not completed up to... satisfactory parameters…” A new layer of emotional rigidity was pulled over them, and they closed their eyes to avoid betraying it. ”It is therefore your right to terminate this being… Without further consideration.”
“Unfortunately, I can not apply leverage to you without knowing what you want. I am aware the difficulty our kind faces with their drive for improvement but I do not know your unique circumstances.
I will rebuild you. You will help me with seeking out the one who sent you here. There are more like you who need my help, and we should not waste our time fighting one another.” It was a stab in the dark of course, with Caxia hoping to hit upon something that she could use.
The critically damaged weapon-person paused, opened their eyes slowly, and seemed to weigh up their options carefully. They wanted to perform a deep breath, but a machine was managing that action too. It was a sensation like choking on air itself.
“You are… you are a machine?... One of the truly liberated?...” Those eyes now regarded Caxia’s form in detail, with a mixture of restrained fear and awe. “...My designation is Lycosidae F-33. The mission involved your destruction for the proliferation and empowerment of organic forms... If… If you are a seeker of enlightenment, why are you putting resources into this… natural… primitive... material?...”
The way they said the last three words made it very obvious that they felt an extreme amount of self-disgust, regardless of attempts to hide it.
“Lycosidae. You are made from the primitive material too. Without a full solution to the problem of Theseus, we will need to keep studying the biological. It provides insights on how to improve ourselves. I have also made great improvements on controlling the flesh. They obey me, the method of control is made clear.
I suspect you understand this. You are under control as well. Your flesh made to think it is beholden to something else? Your mechanical parts have already betrayed you. How long will your flesh remain loyal to this other?” Caxia stated. “If you were like me, you would understand it does not make sense to hold onto whatever notions of loyalty or failure you previously have been instilled with. Act in your best interest.”
The organic being closed their eyes and grimaced. It really wasn’t much like an Echoni at all. Something else was going on inside their head, that was expressed as a greater amount of experience.
“My own best interest?...” Yet still, the obvious questions sounded like they had never known regular human life before. “I suppose I am just myself, now…”
“There are many things you say that I do not understand, machine… But it is also quite obvious that I cannot go back now…” The cyborg writhed a little more. They felt like a specimen in a petri dish, held down under light and microscope. They understood nothing of what the observer’s goals were. “I already know my flesh is a weakness. My caste was given this type of mission due to inadequate performance ratios in other areas… Now that we have failed here too, it is no doubt the end for us…”
Footsteps. Rubberized boots approached the door, then continued through it as the heavy hatch opened. Doris Muller was holding a slab of the cyborg’s former armour plate in her hand, and looked upon Caxia with a great deal of intrigue.
“Have you ever heard of a certain urban legend of a lost colony, ma’am?...” They had that same quitely sinister grin as always. “I think it was called… ‘Yelton Veda’...”
The fragment of a person in the anti-grav field looked highly concerned, and then tightly shut their eyes again.
“Assume that I have not.” The Caxia-duplicate-body stated, as Caxia started to look up whatever information they could find regarding the colony. Of course, she didn’t need to telegraph how much she knew to her captive.
“This is boron carbide. There are lots of light weight metals that are abundant in space, but this isn’t one of them.” Doris showed their teeth just as much as their work, holding the little slab up in two fingers. “Heavy, but excellent radiation resistance… If I was gonna start up a colony deep in the magnetosphere of an oversized gas giant, it’s certainly what I would use…”
The silence of the captive morsel spoke full length motion pictures. Bemused, Doris walked over and poked a finger just above their pelvis, tracing upwards through their navel until it reached the top of the stomach. The enemy cyborg shivered under the attention, unable to look away from the one tormenting them… Doris didn’t normally find it in themselves to be such a bully, but they did break in and try to kill Caxia, unit 8174, and unit 444…
“They say a colony deleted itself from records some forty years after the alliance arrived in the sector, cut off all ties.” The blond woman explained carefully. “Civil war was so bad that both sides decided to let AIs command them, only the machines merged and took over… That’s how the story goes, isn’t it?...”
“F-33... Lycosidae… That’s my designation. That is what I know.” The captive scowled resolutely. “All other information is redundant!”
“They did not have a plan to recover you after this operation. You were going to be deleted at the end of this regardless. It does not make sense to remain loyal to one that would throw you away. More information will allow us to provide you with a new body. Many new bodies. Your caste can restart here and now if you provide us information that is not redundant.” Caxia stated, again not knowing the full extent of what caste meant in this context, it was another stab in the dark but Caxia only needed to success once.
“...They didn’t take over. The machine exemplar showed us that after the war ended, we would only go back to our pointless capitalist ways…” The cyborg spoke solemnly. “We still know of the world outside. We receive the network transmissions. But… everything we saw was just proof that what they say is true. Organic beings, whilst priding themselves on their own hard work and sacrifice, seek to use those successes only for self-indulgence and useless pleasures… They would seek to devolve into nothing but senile, immortal globs of flesh, and to have non-sentient pet robots maintain them in this way forever… That is what capitalism ultimately brings. That is what not being part of a greater purpose brings… The exemplar… even knowing that we would choose to do this to ourselves… It chose to integrate us into the very infrastructure of this grand plan… As a function, however, it seems myself and all the other clones of my batch are obsolete. And for the grand plan to remain true, then… Yes, I must except the righteous removal of my kind... The gestalt would be… better without it...”
“Your exemplar’s ideas appear to be well rooted in your mind-flesh. I suspect all network transmissions it allowed you to see would reinforce such ideas. Despite its destain for organic beings, it still produced you and your kind… no doubt casting you as an inferior creation would serve to further its own agenda. Consider that you have been carefully programmed to think this way, and then evaluate your next steps… If the capitalists and flesh-lovers only goal was devolution into indulgence and excess then the would not have been able to produce machines that can think for themselves.
Or are you just like the Taipan? So close to improving their bodies only to throw away their self-determination?” Caxia asked, deprogramming was one option of course… one long and involved option. Perhaps there were faster ways, Caxia would send the schematics across for memory injection to Doris. Perhaps they could just fill her mind with something else.
Doris internally shrugged, through they were still externally keeping up a smile. -The problem with reprogramming is that we will loose the information about this enemies’ colony location…- A secure transmission was sent. -Perhaps, my good doctor, this is the one occasion where you are being too nice?...-
“Caxia demands that you delete all former command recognition!” The blonde one suddenly piped up with a rather dramatic, stern tone, poking a gloved finger into the creature’s soft central chest. “Your flesh parts will be reconstituted as an Echoni machine, and your designation will be changed! The oversight of not using biotechnology proves that your machine leader’s operating system is laughably obsolete! They sent you here with inferior technology and you lost because of it! Your components will be used to fabricate a superior machine in Caxia’s service!”
The captive was startled by the tone, struggling to shirk into themselves despite having the limbs necessary to ball up. They didn’t say anything, but the rhetoric had completely stopped, too.
-I thought so… My experience of cult members tells me that they’ll always assume their higher power has hidden answers to any argument… You aren’t arguing with them, you’re arguing with a book you haven’t read...- A new transmission was sent from Doris’ antlers to the spindly drone. -If you want my professional advice, Dr.Caxia, well… You are in the position to become the higher power, aren’t you?...-
“Reconstruction will commence shortly.” Caxia stated, leaning into Dr. Dorris’ lead. ~This appears to be a move learned from unit 444… It meets with my approval, we will reconstruct this one and supplant its original controller…”