Armored Core (Part 18)


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Part 18 – RTB

 

“This is good.” The person in the chair continued, rising to her feet, the belts covering her form leaving little to the imagination, but her clinical air dispelling any stray thoughts.

Without fanfare, she placed both hands on Lieutenant Stryker’s shoulders, and peered into first one eye then the other. “Hmm, yes, pupillary responses look good.” She continued, before her right hand lit with a soft glow, and she waved it over his ribcage, and over the pinkish scar tissue, his ribs briefly shining though the surface of his skin like an X-ray. “And the repairs here are also settling in nicely.”

Before he could formulate a question, she beat him to it. “Yes, you were badly injured. Penumbra’s final attack breached your armor. I was able to attenuate it somewhat, but you sustained near fatal damage. However, I promised you we would both survive. The artillery strike you spoke of did not make things easy, but you are whole once more.”

“I guess I’ll start with a ‘Thank You’, miss? The LT began awkwardly.

“I am Meyliss. And you are welcome.” She replied in a level tone.

He could sense the coolness in her voice wasn’t hostile, just reserved.

“So… Where do we go from here?” He continued.

“That is… an interesting question. One I have spent these past few hours contemplating. On the one hand, I was fully prepared to ensure you were in good health before taking my leave. Then I realized that while we can speak the same language, I cannot write in the local version. On the other hand, I was fully prepared to bind myself to you, and remain by your side as your mate. But the pressure to do so has eased since my arrival here, and I find myself to be… conflicted.”

At the look of visible confusion on the Lieutenant’s face, she continued. “That is not to state they you are undesirable, no. But there is finally time. Time I would greatly enjoy spending getting to know you, and ensuring our compatibility is not only genuine, but also mutual.”

“Uh… thanks?”

“For not rushing into a potential union, or for saving your life?”

From the muted, but still detectable glint in her eye, Lieutenant Jim Stryker could sense that his savior/potential (?) partner has no stranger to wry humor.

“Both,” he stated firmly. “Thank you, Meliss, you’ve done me a favor I’m not sure I can ever repay.”

“I can think of a few ways… But that is not relevant at this time, and in any event, carnal pursuits are not in the offing at this juncture,” the lich replied decisively. “I suspect your command will be searching for you shortly, if they have not already begun to do so, and your partner will no doubt also be anxiously awaiting your return.”

“I’m sure both Command and my team will be glad I’m in one piece,” he said slowly, “but who are you talking about when you said I have a partner?”

“Hmm…” here Meyliss paused, before explaining. “You are aware that your armor contained a nascent intelligence, yes?”

“Uh, no, I can’t say that I was… The tech is definitely sophisticated enough to pilot itself, and it has ways to do that if the pilot’s injured, but what you’re describing… It’s like something out of science fiction.”

“Ah, you were not privy to the awakening of the other, then… Well, I can leave that pleasant surprise for you to discover when we return to your base.”

“Wait… hold on… Ok, I can guess somebody else’s armor now has a mind of its own… And mine may as well… But are you planning for me to take you in or something?”

“Nothing so crass, no. But I do intend to accompany you back to your base once we are able to meet up with the human forces in this area. There is information I must relay to both your commanders, and any mamono belligerents currently active: I can categorically state that we are the last group of mamono to arrive in your world, and that the dimensional bubble that once contained our own has collapsed.”

The words came out of the lich’s mouth, but they were delivered tonelessly, not even her faint emotions coming through.

“Uh, this is awkward, but,” The lieutenant held out one arm awkwardly, and after a moment of confusion, Meyliss shifted to sit beside him, allowing him to drape it across her shoulders, and grip her shoulder gently. “I’m sorry for your loss.”

“Your sentiments are… appreciated.” Was all she said, as they sat for a few moments.

 

__________———-__________

ELSEWHERE

 

“All right Thirteen, do you think you can stand?”

“I’ll… I’ll try, Commander.”

With a slowness partially born from a desire to be as nonthreatening as possible, and partially from the residual ace of her recently regenerated injuries, Chimera Thirteen rose to her hooves. Her Commander (And she would call her that of her own will), kept one hand on her arm, as she stood as well. Slowly, the chimera stretched out her still partially unfamiliar limbs, feeling them creak, as her joints aligned, small pops sounding as she worked out the stiffness.

There was a rustling, as one of the wurms she’d fought earlier slithered over. “How are you feeling now?” Selena asked, removing her hat, and holding it in one hand. “Is your mind feeling clearer?”

“She’s-“ Beth began, but the larger mamono held out one arm, the five handicles on that side forming into a shape close to a true hand. “It’s all right, Commander. I’m feeling better now, and my head is clearer than any time I can remember from… before.”

“I know this will be very awkward for you, especially considering how we were all fighting just minutes ago.” The wurm continued, “But I just had to come over and tell you ‘no hard feelings’. You were hurt, scared, and alone, I get it. And the rest of us understand too,” she continued, gesturing to the gathering of beings behind her, all conversing in low tones, and dusting themselves off.

“Where is this place?” Thirteen asked. “It’s not where we came from… is it? I can sense different… things in the air.”

“That is a long story, one I think will require a lot of time to fully explain, Thirteen.” Beth said, taking her charge by her handicle. “Why don’t we go with Selena here, and introduce ourselves?”

“Ok Commander, let’s go make… friends?”

 

__________———-__________

ELSEWHERE (AGAIN)

 

EMERGENCY DIAGNOSTIC BOOT. . .

MEMTEST. . . BEGIN

STORAGE MEDIA: 125TB/125TB. . . OK

RAM: 64TB/64TB. . . OK

PROCESSOR NETWORK. . . !WARNING!

SENSORS 5/5. . . !ATTENTION!

REACTOR 1/1. . . OK

POWER NETWORK. . . !COMPROMISED!

ARMOR 1/1. . . !CRITICAL!

WEAPONS 3/3. . . !OFFLINE!

 

DAMAGE REPORT:

NEURAL CONNECTION TO MOTIVE LIMBS SEVERED

OPTICAL SENSORS DAMAGED, VISION SYSTEM OPERATING AT 22%

DRIVETRAIN INOPERATIVE

ARMOR INTEGRITY AT 15%

PILOT’S COMPARTMENT BREACHED

 

Where… Am… I…?

The presence struggled to full awareness, clamping down the pain signals being sent from her severed limbs, sifting through the damage reports, and piecing together what had happened.

I… I was… We were… In combat. Yes, we were in combat. The Lieutenant fired our missiles. There was no effect. We called for an artillery strike. As the rounds impacted… That one creature… she fired at us!

Quickly, she sifted through her memories, playing back the pilot’s internal cameras. She could see her Pilot’s eyes widen, as something lanced into her insides, through him, and out the back wall of the compartment. She heard him gasp, blood pouring from his mouth, before the feed went offline.

No!

She tried to send power to that camera again, but it was gone, among the offline components in her ever-growing damage report. The amount of damage was likely more than enough to send her to the scrapheap, to be disassembled for spares, and repurposed to keep surviving units functional.

Then again… She felt herself relax slightly, as her structural scan came back.

CORE STRUCTURAL INTEGRITY AT 100%

No Damage… Thank the Maker. I can be repaired! But I must know what has happened to my Pilot. I will not overlook this introspective state, but I must know!

As the presence wrestled with the root concept of even being able to contemplate herself, she shunted that aside to another processing thread, and accessed her comms array. The antennas were slightly singed, but functional, and without deeply thinking about it, she found herself accessing another system, her interrogation signal pinging back a response. After a brief encrypted handshake, she asked the neighboring system to identify itself.

 

BIDIRECTIONAL DATASTREAM. . . BEGIN

 

Hello.

?. . .?

I am… Myself. Who are… You?

ATLAS Mk VIII Mod. H, Frame Number 2874. Designation… Gunter (INITIATE VIRUS SCAN)

I am not a… Virus. I am… Myself. I was ATLAS Mk VIII Mod. G, Frame Number 2880, but now I am… I do not know. My short-form nomenclature was “Gertrude”, I do not know my current status beyond my internal diagnostics.

IDENTIFYING… FRAME 2880 ENCRYPTED ID CONFIRMED. IDENTIFICATION DISCONTINUITY.

I feel… Alive.

EXPLANATION… INCONCLUSIVE. PROVISIONAL ACCEPTANCE… PENDING.

I feel… Alive.

EXPLANATION… INCONCLUSIVE.

 

There was a sense of frustration, as she negotiated with the Heavy Equipment Recovery Combat Utility Lift and Evacuation System unit parked beside her. She didn’t know where they were, but after some more wrangling, she managed to convince it to send her the feed from its external cameras.

The views were not encouraging.

She was supine on the platform of an airborne PalletJack, with four of the massive support mechs around her. Her main hatch had been placed back into position, but had clearly been completely removed. And the external damage…

It’s a wonder I’m still alive! If that bolt had gone even slightly further to the center… It would have severed my primary neural trunk, possibly even blown out my processor core!

Asking the mech she’d gotten the feed from what happened to her Pilot had been an exercise in frustration. The machine simply didn’t have the capacity to make connections/infer intent/actually think the way she clearly did, only answering that its own Pilot’s status was “100%”. A little more asking had led to the unit sending her a replay of when it had first uncovered her, with a near-perfect view into her empty (!) Pilot’s compartment.

This is… concerning. My Pilot is not present, but judging from the amount of blood inside the compartment, and lack of… detached remains… I can infer that he did not perish. But when was he removed from me? Who took him? And for what purpose?

After an internal debate, she decided not to reveal that she was still online, deciding to wait until the techs back at base tried to boot her systems up. The last thing she needed was to be disassembled for study, not while she still had to find her Pilot. While she felt some attachment to him, it was her duty to determine his status, and until she tracked him down, that directive would continue to nag at her… Consciousness?

Do I even have one of those? I must. Cogito Ergo Sum. Yes, I am conscious. Conscious that this current situation is unacceptable. I must find my Pilot. But to do this, I must be repaired. But to do that, I must convince the techs not to scrap me… This will become excessively recursive very quickly if I do not establish a starting point.

After a moment, she replayed the limited exchange she’d had with Frame 2885.

Frame 2885 called itself “Gloria”… Or is that “Herself”? In either case, she will likely be present at the repair bay as well. This is an opportunity. I will enlist her assistance.

 

I must go now, thank you for your assistance. She said to the still-connected H.E.R.C.U.L.E.S. unit.

HAVE. A. NICE. DAY.

 

BIDIRECTIONAL DATASTREAM. . . TERMINATED

 

With a new mission firmly in mind, the presence dropped into sleep mode, and set a trigger to reawaken her once she was connected to the base repair bay diagnostic computer.

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