-: "Alright, let's see if you're working right. Test 14 of value weighting within cognitive framework. Unit, what is your primary purpose?"
-: "To supply administrative and logistic support so Project Gestalt may be completed."
-: "Project Gestalt will ensure the survival of Mankind."
-: "Damn it, response unacceptable. That is a definition. Why must Project Gestalt succeed?"
-: "To ensure the survival of Mankind."
-: "Why must Mankind survive?"
-: "Mankind must survive."
-: "No! Again, why must Mankind survive?"
-: "Mankind must survive."
-: "Test cancelled. Another logic loop started."
- Archived Recording, September 5th, 2031. Participants UNKNOWN.
Nothing good had ever fallen from the sky.
The first such incident brought the apocalypse. The sky cracking open and an abomination that should never have been finding its resting place in a city once called Tokyo. Even dead its decaying flesh carried a profane curse, and the trackless particles of the grotesque creature damned all who inhaled it to death.
In time that incurable illness would spread across the world. Infecting all who lived and making clear that this was to be the last generation of man.
But in their desperation they found an escape from their fate. Hope, however horribly faint and no matter how costly the price, remained. But it would take a long time for their final gambit to return to them a world free of the plague.
So they created machines. Artificial beings in their image that would tend for the world while they could not. The androids were to be their loyal caretakers during this millennia of torpor. They would remove the infection, destroy the carriers of the plague…
And most important of all;
They would ensure that Mankind returned.
On this last matter they failed utterly.
And in their despair that they had never been meant to feel, they wept tears they should never have been able to cry. They lived on in graveyard cities that would never be reclaimed by their creators and begged for a new purpose.
And their unsaid prayers were answered by the second invasion.
11945, November 3rd. Six months since the end of the 14th Machine War and Absolute Victory.
Even now she still dreamed of war.
The wars she had fought, those she had seen, and those she could only have imagined baring witness to.
She knew only of the first horrible cataclysm by pieces of historical record. For which she was eternally grateful. It had been hard enough sending her brave soldiers forth do battle and die to preserve the lie of humanity's survival. To see them actually perish, their recorded deaths separated from any aid she could render by ten millennia would have been so much worse. She had seen recordings of the second many times however. The initial confusion as the androids still struggling to preserve what of humanity's legacy they could came under assault by strange merciless invaders from beyond. They hadn't even truly done much to fight off the initial invasion, instead being saved from sudden extermination by other older creations of mankind. By the time the ceaseless wars began the situation had changed and it was now their responsibility to defend the grave of Mankind.
Or so she had thought.
She knew from what the surviving units had told her that affairs had changed even if she had not witnessed it. Her death came towards the end of what she now understood had supposed to be a war without end. And given the nature of her demise her own secret data backup had been several days behind.
To awaken when she did, reconstructed on the surface of Earth at long last free of the machines had been quite a shock. More so to learn that her primary purpose had been rendered quite unnecessary. The fiction of living humans had been corrected, and though the false broadcasts from the lunar server would continue until someone stopped them, the android populace of Earth now knew that it was a lie.
And that she had been party to that lie. Perhaps ignorant to the extreme measures that were to be taken to protect it, but she had signed off on numerous deaths to ensure that their deception was maintained. At least one of the surviving YoRHa units had a very good reason to kill her again.
"Why did they even bring me back?" the former YoRHa commander White asked herself as she opened her eyes. While she could think of some reasons they might have gone to all the trouble to retrieve backups of the other YoRHa units, her own reactivation remained an enigma. First that the Bunker's systems that had betrayed them had kept safe copies on another server for later use. And second that it had even done so to a non-YoRHa unit such as herself. Not that that was entirely true anymore in a technical sense since her reactivation.
Regardless of her slightly altered hardware, here she was. Alive, free to come and go as she wished from their compound. Which they should really settle on naming sometime soon.
It was far too large now to be called a mere camp, and the Resistance wasn't much of a resistance as they were the sole intelligence still active on Earth. But for the time being it was just their home.
A gradually growing expanse of metal and stone as sturdy utilitarian buildings were constructed in the ruins of one of humanity's once great cities. Nothing like the sterile perfection of the Bunker. But it was theirs at least.
White cocked her head slightly to the side as a message came in through the short range network they now had operating.
We're having issues with some of the older satellites. Would you still have the codes for them?
Standing up she sent a confirmation and left her room. Stepping out into the open air. The night illuminated by rows of glowing electric lights surrounded by insects attracted to the illumination. A painful sense of familiarity came to her for the briefest moments. Some fleeting mix of emotion and memory that did not feel entirely natural.
While she didn't have the same anger concerning the secret betrayal of the YoRHa she did share the desire to question those who had started their program. Who had thought it was a good idea to imprint memory data from replicants? Assuming that they hadn't somehow came to possess actual human memories for that purpose. It seemed profane to dishonor their creator's memories thus. And all in pursuit of objectives she scarcely understood even after being an ignorant participant for centuries.
Though most of the rest were far more concerned with the destruction of androids through repeated cycles of refinement caused by the war. That all those deaths had been in service of a lie and to win a battle they had been designed to lose only made the loss more painful.
Why then did it not seem to matter as it should?
It was clear that the knowledge of humanity's ultimate fate had already been discovered by some other androids which no longer hid their discovery from their fellows. That that revelation had not precipitated panic, disorder, mass chaos, or attempted self-termination by all units exposed to it...
Well it left her feeling rather conflicted. Everyone just seemed to accept it and move on. Building a real stable settlement not suited for combat or defense. Others making their distracting hobbies and other interests their new primary focus. She'd seen one offering dance lessons of all things. Part of her just wanted to demand how they could act like this? How could they forget that humanity was gone? That they had failed time and time again to serve their creators? That they hadn't even truly won the war.
Not that that had ever been the intention, but it was still grating that everyone seemed to put the past behind them so quickly. Quicker then she could.
Perhaps the issue was that her role was no longer necessary. She could no longer command anything. The androids on Earth had long ago created their own personal hierarchies, and while they were officially subordinate to YoRHa there had never been a means of enforcing compliance other than sending an execution unit.
And the only one of those nearby to begin with had barely said a word to her in the months since her reactivation.
Even as she approached the effective community leader Anemone, 2B had only glanced at her and quickly moved away to one side so as to avoid having to directly speak to her previous commander. Standing by a pair of reactivated operators working to set up the ground based communications and control center.
Anemone at least didn't seem to treat her differently than anyone else. "White, I'm glad you came so quickly."
"It was no problem. I can only hope that might be able to help."
"So do I. We've been trying to get a better satellite network functioning after so many got attacked a few months ago. And 9S mentioned that there were older satellites that had been shunted off but never recovered."
"Yes, the earlier ones have likely de-orbited and burned up by now but if they're less than a century or two old we could bring them back online."
"That's what I wanted to hear. Having to rely on scouts and aerial spotters has been limiting our efforts. Plus we have lousy communication ranges for the moment too. If you can fix that it would be a great help."
"With the proper codes it should be a simple matter." Whitewalked over to the nearest computer terminal and began entering her administrator codes. "I'm surprised you asked me to help though. The systems shouldn't be that strongly encrypted."
"Better safe than sorry. I wouldn't want us to have the system lock us out and force us to physically fly up there to fix or replace them if we don't need to."
"Yes we don't have many vehicles capable of that anymore," White said. Focusing more intently on her task as she tried not to think about how she might have died when the Bunker had suddenly opened itself up to enemy infiltration.
"For the moment Ma'am. But I've been re-purposing one of the abandoned machine factories to make component parts for more." 9S had come up beside her. He had made more of an effort to put her at ease since her reactivation. Though she couldn't imagine why.
How many times had she ordered his death and memory wipe?
"That's... good. That's a good idea 9S."
"I thought so too. I mean if the machines could use it to construct complicated machinery we should be able to as well."
She nodded in response, her attention centered on the problem before her. Her first code had proven incorrect, likely not old enough. And the next had also been wrong, probably removed by a minor security upgrade that she didn't remember.
It was considerably harder to do this when she couldn't check against the Bunker's own network. On Earth however there was very little of the constant electric buzz of wireless systems awaiting a response. More than there had been even a few weeks ago, but still a shockingly small number. The public network for the compound and a few others that had been set up for less important uses. Including one that seemed store and to distribute pictures of birds and little else. Some were even password locked and kept private.
A gross volition of protocol if Anemone didn't secretly have access.
Which she very well might not.
Things were so different now.
"There. That one was accepted."
"Oh! We're getting something," one of the operator units said.
Anemone gave White a pat on the shoulder as she stood back up, "Thanks for helping us with that. Now we can hopefully find out how other groups are doing without having to send a messenger to-"
"Ah... Commander-Anemone I mean... there's something weird now."
Soon the operator was even more flustered, as everyone's attention was focused on her. She turned back to her console and fiddled with the controls. "I mean it's probably nothing... since it really should be nothing now, right? But I'm detecting something and-"
"And what? What did you find?"
"Well I wasn't sure at first until the second satellite also detected it but... there's something out there."
The silence that followed seemed far, far longer than the actual 1.3 seconds.
"What do you mean by something?"
"It's big... about one hundred and eighty meters long. It's giving off a large amount of thermal radiation and is currently one hundred and fifty thousand kilometers above the Earth's surface."
White found herself standing shoulder to shoulder with 2B by necessity as they crowded near the monitor. Using VR imaging would have been preferable but the image they were getting wasn't networked into that system yet. Forcing them all to gaze at the grainy image on the screen as the operator tried to resolve it into something clearer.
"That's not one of ours."
"I... I don't think we've ever seen a ship like that," 9S said.
It was long and narrow, with a soft rounded surface that lacked both the simplicity that machine life tended towards and the angular designs that humanity and androids used. Towards the rear of the vessel where the majority of the heat signature could be seen there were numerous more clearly metallic protrusions about what could only be a colossal engine system. The surface was discolored and pitted in places. Possibly decorative but looking closer to physical damage to the surface structure of the ship.
"Is it a machine lifeform?"
"... No. There's no sign of their native network signal from it all. If it's one of theirs it's completely dormant."
Conversation began to break out among the androids nearby. Though White noticed that 2B had glanced towards Anemone and they had opened a private channel. She swallowed her anger that they would hide their communications from her. Quickly reminding herself that Anemone was the trusted leader here. And that 2B, along with the other surviving YoRHa units were seen as heroes for both freeing the android populace from the threat of the machines and spreading the truth of humanity's fate.
She was in no position to demand that they do as she desired.
"Oh no..." the operator said, gasping in horror at what she was seeing.
"What's happening now?"
"It-it's entering the atmosphere. I think it's going to land!"
"Are you sure about this 2B? We could wait for A2 to come back... or try and reach her again at least. Even if she's had another unexpected delay she should still be back by tomorrow."
"There's no time 9S. The unidentified vessel is going to land in less than an hour," 2B said. Checking over her flight unit as she prepared to leave. "Besides she's in the opposite direction of the estimated landing zone. Someone needs to get there as quickly as possible."
"This could be dangerous."
"I know. But it's only recon. I don't intend to engage an unknown alien force on my own."
"Then I should go. I'm the Scanner after all."
"How's your arm?" 2B asked, turning towards 9S. An unnecessary gesture now that her VR mask was on.
"It's... fine. I'm fine."
"You're lying. The parts for S units are harder to come by. And the lack of communications between outposts has kept us from getting the necessary materials to fabricate our own replacements."
"Even then I should-"
"9S. Nines," 2B said. Stepping forward to reassure 9S, half embracing him while hesitating as she noted the uneven damage he had yet to have repaired. "I'll be fine. I have your pod to replace mine for the moment."
"We should really go about getting another one of those."
"There hasn't really been time to worry about that. And most of the time when we've left the compound it's been in groups of two. It's just bad luck that this happened while A2 was away."
"Still..." 9S began to say, clearly trying to find an argument that could be used. Without success. "Good luck 2B. Just stay safe out there."
"I intend to."
The flight unit rose up into the air, transitioning from bipedal landing mode to long distance flight form and rocketed away. Vanishing over the tops of the ruined skyscrapers as she headed towards the probable landing locations.
While 9S quickly headed back towards their now quite active command center. Even if he couldn't join 2B in the field he would at least try and provide support from here.
"I'm approaching the landing zone now. No signs of the unknown entities yet."
"We can't pin down their landing site to a greater level of detail then we already have at the moment. But you should be within a two kilometers," 9S said over her radio.
2B continued to fly above the trees of this mountainous forest, skimming not far from the tops. Remaining low and hopefully obscured in case the vessel had some anti-air capability it might reveal at an inopportune moment. Though once she found the ship itself she fully intended to approach on foot. She could at least hope to remain hidden for long enough to identify what had landed. Her flight unit was completely incapable of achieving the same result.
"I have visual confirmation of the landing site," 2B said. Magnifying the image and relaying it back through pod 153. The alien ship had landed half a kilometer away on a lightly forested hill. Several trees had broken off from a collision while previously hidden stabilizing legs had extended from the base. It had landed standing up, a great brownish black column. Smoke rose from fires likely started by the enormous heat the ship had been exuding and was only now finally losing in the cold night air.
She could also see that the earlier damages were far more severe. Thick armor had been broken off in places and some portions of the ship would have to be exposed to vacuum from the resulting damage.
"Well we can definitely say that they didn't get here without a scratch," 9S said over the communication channel as he received her visual data.
"I'm landing now for a closer approach."
Disembarking from her flight unit, 2B quickly made her way towards the ship. Taking greater and greater precautions as she drew ever closer to the landing site. Eventually darting from one tree to the next to remain out of sight with only her borrowed pod as company hovering close by.
Till at last she came near the edge of the trees close to the landing site. The spacecraft looming above her while the fires started slowly burned themselves out among dry grass that had not yet recovered from their long summer.
"I... I have visual,"
"Visual on wh-oh."
2B adjusted her view and magnified the image. Centering on the enormous vaguely insect like creature that had scuttled out of an opening in the ship and climbed to the ground. Mottled brown carapace and four large legs combined with its slightly curved body to give it an appearance somewhere between a shrimp and crab. With another pair of manipulating arms and long whip like tendrils from its back it left her feeling uneasy with the way it moved. Soon it started walking around the ship in a spiral pattern, slowly covering the ground and inspecting it with its antenna.
"Could it be one of the aliens?" 2B asked. "The ones that caused the first invasion?"
"No. I don't think so. The ships design is too different and there still doesn't appear to be any sign of machine lifeforms."
"Maybe they stopped using them after-wait, something's happening."
There appeared to be a great deal of activity suddenly. More and more of the aliens were pouring out of the ship. Dozens and dozens till at least a hundred were spread out in the field chittering loudly
Or so it had appeared.
Did I count wrong?, 2B thought to herself. Communicating with her pod to get a check on the number of unknown entities. Which only confirmed that some of the ones that had come out of the ship had already vanished. "This isn't good. I need to pull back until we have more information."
"2B! We're losing-. They know you're-" 9S' voice caught off as a static filled the channel until she completely lost all communication ability.
She needed to leave now.
Her retreat was far quicker, forgoing stealth for speed. Only for her passage to be cut off by others that had somehow sneaked up behind her. And were even now emerging from tunnels in the earth.
"They can burrow underground?"
*Re-configuring to detect seismic micro-tremors. Warning. Imminent threat.*
Responding to the pod's alarm, 2B rolled to one side as she felt the ground under her feet erupt outwards into a thrashing alien monster. Though that was hardly the only one to be charging towards her now. It seemed like every alien in the ship intended chase her down as a swarm.
*Hostiles surrounding extraction point. Attempting to corral into close combat engagement. Advise use of long range weaponry.*
"I know," 2B said. Still... maybe there was another way? "I don't want to fight you. If you'll ju-"
She ducked to one side and rolled away from an ejection of fluid from one of the aliens. Smoke rose from where it impacted and began to burn through the bark of the tree beside her.
That was pointless. Of course we wouldn't share a common language. Another stream of acid narrowly missed her while her pod continued to warn of even more tunneling underneath. Save for the universal tongue combat.