Glowing smudges edged in green.
Instinctively, Jacob threw his arm up over his face - far too late - as the darkness of the industrial complex was lit up with a flash of light. An instant later there was a bang of a stun grenade from the general direction of the turian they'd encountered.
His night vision temporarily burned away, he instinctively raised his Barrier while simultaneously throwing himself to the side.
The gut reaction from the veteran soldier saved his life - as he rolled, a burst of explosive autocannon fire tore up the pavement under him, the rubble fragments collapsing his shields with the impact damage. One round struck him clean, skipping off of his biotically-coated thigh with a glancing blow - thankfully, without detonating.
The impact was still a heavy blow, and he stumbled and fell awkwardly to his stomach, his Eviscerator bouncing around the corner of the building. Feeling it wise to follow it to safety, he pushed himself up and propelled himself forward in a graceless dive.
Even as he vanished around the building, the concrete junction was shredded and crumbled by the YMIR mech's weapons - showering him with gray dust and chunks of stone. Scooping up his shotgun, he put more distance between himself and the fresh gouge in the building, slapping his back against the wall and blinking furiously, trying to clear his eyesight.
Samara and Zaeed. Two YMIR mechs and that turian. Stun grenade. The turian's? Non-lethal grenades not Zaeed's style. Not Samara's to use them at all. Things might be going sideways back there.
Shaking his head, his improving vision spotted a door only a few steps away - a human-sized one, unlike the vehicle-intended one facing the active combat zone. Training took over, quicker than planning and thought.
Flank and engage from the rear.
Spinning off the wall and placing himself before the door, his shotgun roared and the feeble mechanical lock disintegrated. A solid kick later, it fell inwards and the Cerberus soldier stormed inside.
"Ignore the humans!" Kamin chirped loudly into his omni-tool, manually overriding the target priority for the mindless mech he was directing. The powerful asari - deafened, bleeding from one of her auditory folds as well as one nostril - was fighting from her knees, having collapsed from the strain of absorbing support-vehicle class ordinance into her faltering shields.
Yet the Justicar had torn the first YMIR nearly in half, ripping the small mass effect core from its torso and exposing a small leak of element zero, judging from the intense scent of ozone in the warm, humid night air.
"Target the asari. Lock fire."
No matter. She will fall in moments. The two humans lack anti-armor weap-
Kamin never heard the weapon blast from just behind - only the unexpected sight of his insides spraying out before him in a green, chunky mist. A moment later, his face was pressing into the rough, oily concrete of the hangar floor.
There was the distinctive mechanical sound of shick-shink, as a fresh round was chambered into a heavy shotgun. "Lock fire on that, asshole."
As the corners of his vision turned back, the salarian saw human-shaped black boots step over him and stride forward, to the wide hangar door and outside.
Moving slowly, Kasumi lifted the brim of her hood with a single finger and watched Shepard kneel next to Vasir's corpse - which she carefully didn't focus on - and dig through her belt pouches. Holding up a high-density memory module, he quietly grunted in satisfaction before rising. He walked to the corner of the room, where he crouched and retrieved his discarded omni-tool, lying on top of his damaged armor.
Self-test for dying. Admire almost-naked guy. Like? Check. Note broad-V shape running from waist to the big muscle-slab-bits in his back and into those shoulders. Like? Check. Look at the buns. Double-check. Damn, Shep.
Not dying. That's...good. Wonder if Dr. Chakwas would approve of my diagnosis method.
God, this hurts.
Now that the adrenaline of the moment was wearing off, her vision was growing blurry from the pain in her neck and shoulder, and her breathing was shallow and rapid.
Don't cry in front of the Spectre. Uncool.
"One second, Kas. Calling in help for you."
Over his shoulder, she saw him fit in the earpiece from his omni-tool, and noted that his hands were trembling.
There was a long moment where he was clearly listening to the reply. Kasumi watched a bead of sweat run down his back, the skin still reddened.
It's not hot in here at all. What's up with him?
"I'm fine. Miranda...listen. I'm fine. Turning on my omni-tool's tracker, so...oh. Well, I confirm that. I'm with her now. Kasumi is hurt and needs medical assistance. Not sure if I can move her due to possible neck injury - so send Chakwas down, if possible. I'll do a scan and upload, and find some supplies to stabilize her. Shepard out."
Shepard rose and moved over to join the downed thief - pointedly stepping over Vasir's remains - and bending down to one knee. "Hey, soldier," he said gently, offering an encouraging smile. She didn't fail to notice he positioned himself to block her view of the corpse while he could.
The thief swallowed hard before speaking, forcing herself to meet his eyes without flinching. "Shep? You're...out of uniform, mister. Not com...complaining." A shiver that ran through her entire body made her stutter. "But people will talk. I got a rep...good, honest...church-goin' girl."
His small smile grew into a smirk. "I'll make sure your honor is intact, ma'am." The Normandy captain's omni-tool glowed orange as he played it along her prone body, scanning and recording. With his free hand, he pawed some of the sweat from his eyes.
The light of his omni-tool played over her shadowed eyes, making them sparkle with orange highlights, and showing her furrowed brow of concern. "Are...you ok, boss?"
Shepard grunted quietly and - summoning a holo-screen - examined the basic results of his scan. "Says the lady with the-" He paused and looked down at her. "Do you even want to know what your injuries are? Your life isn't in danger, I'll say upfront."
"N-no. It'll just...freak me out. Not a huge fan...of broken bits. Left arm is kinda tingly and numb. Just tell me I'll be able to...play the piano."
"Nope, I'm not falling for that one," Shepard muttered, finishing the scan and pushing himself to his feet with an obvious effort that surprised her. "Just be still, and I'll be right back - I know that you're in pain. I'll find you something to take the edge off."
Again, Kasumi forced a weak smile. "I have a...bottle of 1986 Henri Jayer Cros Parantoux Pinot Noir stashed away on...Eden Prime, if you can manage the run."
Shepard flashed her a reassuring smile as he bent down, and she felt his hand gently pat her good shoulder before he stood and turned away. Watching him, she frowned in concern when he momentarily stumbled and lost his balance as he left the room.
Down the hall, Shepard staggered into the tiny medbay- nothing more than a dedicated washroom with additional medical storage, and a stretcher-like bed that folded down from the wall - and yanked open metal cabinets. Rooting through the contents, he examined and discarded medications and miscellaneous supplies, dumping them on the floor haphazardly when necessary.
As he reached for another wall-locker, he paused and looked at his hands in the narrow beam of an overhead light.
He was trembling. Light-headed. His legs felt weak and unsteady.
Ripping open the locker, four stacked white cardboard cases fell - one breaking open and scattering food bars around his feet. Blue plastic wrappers for dextro-protein, yellow for levo. For a moment he was looking down at them, blinking stupidly and frozen in place.
Falling to his knees, he barely had a yellow bar ripped open before it was crudely shoved into his mouth. Half of it was still sticking out as he dropped the wrapper and opened a second one, cramming it in with the first the instant it was physically possible. Breathing through his nose and eyes closed, he munched the dry, dense bars furiously while kneeling and resting his forehead against the base of a simple metal sink.
When he'd finally choked them down, he turned on the water and scooped cold water into his mouth with both hands, gasping in between gulps. The urgent need to consume was all-encompassing, and it occurred to him to wonder if this was Jack often felt. Of all of the biotics he'd known and worked with, she was the most unabashed about her appetites, with Kaidan a close second.
Kaidan. For a moment, he leaned on the tiny sink, staring down as the water swirled down the drain hypnotically. His old friend had good-naturedly endured a lot of teasing at mealtimes, with his tray heaped high with double-helpings of everything, and often triple on the carbs.
"Just six pancakes, LT?" Ashley snickered, elbowing him in the ribs at the mess table - and nearly making him spill the cheap, artificial Alliance-issued "syrup" into his lap.
"Oof! Yeah, Gunny, I'm watching my weight. I don't want to erode this temple of perfection," he replied with a grin, patting his flat, toned stomach.
Heads swiveled - except Kaidan's - to the SR-1's automated cooker, where it flashed "PANCAKES - QUANTITY SIX - ENHANCED NUTRITION BIOTIC RECIPE" on the readout.
All eyes returned to the lieutenant.
Kaidan coughed. "Those are, uh, my second helping. Thought I'd get them going while I worked on this warm-up plate." Carefully, he used his plastic fork to cut a syrup-soaked wedge out of his stack, and neatly folded it into his mouth.
Ash and Shepard exchanged glances - and as one, they both looked down at their gritty military toast and scrambled powdered eggs.
Shepard frowned. Ash sighed dramatically.
Shepard shook his head vigorously, forcing himself back to the present while sucking in a deep breath.
No! Kaidan's dead. Ash is gone. Tech went crazy before. Mind wandered. Hallucinations. Not again. Focus. Here and now.
Above the sink was a small, square mirror. He lifted his eyes to it-
-and recoiled with a gasp of horror as a shiver went down his spine.
In his reflection, one of his eyes glowed mechanically red, and one side of his face was a wrecked, raw mess of jagged gouges that pulsed with a dull inner glow - like lava cracks in cold, black rock.
Stumbling back away from his own image, he nearly fell over the food boxes still scattered on the floor. Blindly putting out an arm, he slumped heavily against the cabinets.
Nanobots in my brain again.
His hand, still dripping with cold water, came up and felt his cheek - after exploring the cuts and groove in his flesh, it fell numbly to his side.
I'm not a machine.
The room, suddenly tiny and suffocating, spun around him.
The water and protein bar mixture he'd wolfed down churned in his stomach, fighting to make a premature return.
I feel. Jack. Anderson. Liara. Garrus. Kaidan.
The SR-1. The crew.
Erik and Dwight, my brothers.
Kasumi's voice faintly echoed around the corner. "Shep? I...don't want to complain - much."
Instantly, fear turned to self-directed rage as he berated himself for not looking after his people. Shepard gritted his teeth and ripped open another cabinet. Finally finding a package of painkiller injectors, he tore it open as he wobbled back to the thief on unstable legs.
"Mmph," the tanned redhead murmured, rolling over and burying her face in her pillow.
"If you prefer, you can die in your sleep - but we thought we would allow you a fighting chance. You can still serve a purpose."
Wrenching herself awake, the long-serving mercenary bolted upright, nearly striking her head on the upper bed frame. The bunk quarters held eight double-deck beds, and when she'd come in, five others had been occupied.
Now, all were empty. Yet, she was not alone.
Standing just inside the only door - a double-blast door, suited to the original purpose of whatever this room was designed for before it was converted to a temporary barracks - was a girl.
A sick feeling settled into Jentha's stomach. The girl's face was devoid of everything that would make her a human being, and she was painfully thin.
She was perhaps twelve, although with her long, lean limbs she could easily pass for a very tall ten-year old. Emotionlessly, she peered at Jentha through the bangs of long, straight auburn hair that fell about her shoulders and down her back. Large and deeply mahogany-brown, her eyes promised warmth but didn't seem to have the ability to deliver it.
The overhead speaker crackled again. "We left you your armor and a weapon. They're in your locker. Put them on."
There was a pod in the ceiling that aimed a wide-angle camera at the spot between her and the child at the door.
Tearing her own eyes away from the child's, Jentha slowly slid off her bed and began to put on her armor, making no sudden motions and moving as if confronted by an easily-spooked wild animal. As each piece of her navy and white Blue Suns hardsuit clicked into place, the child watched, impassively. The veteran mercenary had ample time to study her unnerving guest.
The child was half-naked, for starters. She wore a black halter-top and matching simple briefs that would look spartan and military in their simplicity if not for their small size. Her only accessory was a simple strap that ran from her left shoulder to her right hip that bisected the modest swell of her budding breasts - and protruding above her shoulder was the hilt of a short sword.
Not looking away from the child, Jentha clicked her breastplate into place. "You, ah...got a name, kid?"
The child shifted her weight from one leg to the other with a subtle movement of her hip, her pale, bare feet not moving from their place.
"No, she does not. You seem to have mistaken her for a person."
The merc buckled on her shoulder plates. "She looks like a person to me. And, I recognize your voice, Dr. Mirko."
"Of course. But let's speak upon this - what makes a person, Jentha? A physical form, functional organs, and a heartbeat are not quite enough, most rational people would agree. No, this girl you see isn't a person at all. She is a project prototype, and today is her first field test."
The ex-soldier paused as she pulled on a ceramic gauntlet, turning to again stare at the emotionless young girl. "This is...one of the babies you've been growing."
"Very good. I knew that you had seen more than you had let on. Yes. There have been many dozens. Complex thing, you know. Almost all have had flaws and needed to be discarded-"
"You mean killed, and disposed of?" she gritted out between clenched teeth.
"Ah, yes. Your file does indicate that you have a daughter. I can see how that would lead to silly emotional projections upon test subjects. Science demands a certain emotional detachment. You can't fall in love with, and give names to, all of your little white mice."
"Mice? These are human fucking infants."
"Of course they are not. Do they have parents? Are they born? They are assembled from the DNA of three - quite notable, I might add - individuals, and force-grown in a gel-filled vessel. Are they raised, in a conventional sense? Nonsense, that is horrifically inefficient. They are programmed with innate behavior while still in the vessel, floating in a nutrient-rich environment. This subject before you has never met me in person, and she was "conceived" only three weeks ago - but she knows my voice, understands my words, and she knows that I am to be obeyed."
Jentha stood, stunned. Shaking her head slowly as the man spoke at length - no response seemed suitable, or enough, to express what she felt. She opened her mouth, but no words emerged.
"This is research for armament and preparations for war. The galaxy is approaching a tipping point where total upheaval will be experienced. The first order is, of course, survival. What good are the morals of a dead race? Does the ashes of our society congratulate themselves for dying for an artificial nobility?
"The second order is, of course, prominence. All cultures seek to be dominant and humanity is no different. We may all soon be fighting over the same scraps - and if it comes down to that, those are scraps that we intend to win."
Finally, Jentha found her voice. "I don't know what the hell you're talking about. Just let me out of here. I want no part of this...goddamned clone-child factory. I'll go back to my daughter and never speak of this place. I just hope you make a mistake and this entire place burns to the ground."
"Oh, but you already spoke of this place. You leaked information to your friend 'Pavel', correct?"
As her shoulders slumped, Jentha closed her eyes and felt the blood drain from her face. She'd signed his death warrant by sending him a single message, after she'd seen a monitor in one of Radim's monitoring stations and witnessed infants being somehow processed.
They knew. Perhaps they had all along.
"I doubt that he appreciated that," the voice continued. "Seeing as he was captured by Eclipse, dragged to a lonely planet named Lorek, and tortured to death while they attempted to extract information on how to decrypt the data. Not that he possessed the encryption keys. Rather...tragic, when you think of it. It must be a terrible burden to know you placed him in that situation-"
For the first time, Jentha dared to take her eyes off of the young girl, slumping down and resting her hands on her knees. Blinking against the burn of guilty tears, she was reduced to a harsh whisper. "You son of a bitch. He didn't do anything to deserve that."
Over the tinny sound of the monaural speaker, there was the unmistakable sound of Radim taking an airy slurp of his beloved coffee.
"Mm. Moving on to the situation at hand - you have one minute. Perhaps you should proceed with both arming and armoring yourself."
Pawing at her eyes with the back of an armored hand, Jentha resumed finishing the snaps on her hardshell armor with angry, hurried movements. Reaching into her locker, she pulled forth her worn Predator handgun, and checked the heatsink.
"A simple thing, Jentha. The door isn't locked. All you have to do is make it to the hallway alive, and you can leave this installation unharmed."
The mercenary froze, considering the implications of the statement. Slowly, she turned to where the young girl had stood, expecting a blade to slip in a crease in her armor at any moment.
None was forthcoming. The girl stood in the same place, with the same posture and expression.
As their eyes met, the young girl reached up and brushed a stray lock of her long, brown hair out of her eyes, tucking it behind an ear. It was, Jentha thought, the first human thing she had done.
With a snarled insult, two armored guards roughly shoved her forward, hard enough to make her stumble and fall. Landing on her face in the dirt and stones of the arena, she came up with a cut on her chin and bloodied palms.
In a wide circle surrounding them, some of the other children laughed - as usual, they took small pleasures in her humiliations. Zero ignored them - she only had eyes for the kid directly in front of her.
It was the blonde kid, for the second time. A boy. A little older than her. Pretty eyes.
The previous time, she'd only beaten him. Badly, but not enough to kill. Refusing the calls from the overhead booth to finish him, Zero had been dragged from the arena and beaten so badly that the medical staff had later had to attend to three broken bones and the replacement of four teeth.
This time, they prepped her with drugs. Stimulants. She felt like ripping off her own skin and exploding out of her body. In an existence devoid of happiness or simple pleasures, this was a lifeline. It was amazing.
"This time, you will kill him, Zero," they'd said, as they'd given her a taste of the narcotics for the first time. More was promised if she obeyed.
She laughed, high-pitched and manically. Her mind was swimming, her hatred forgotten for a moment. Yes. Yes, she would.
The boy hated her. Loathed her. He knew she was the reason he was here. His face was still bruised black-and-green from the week-old beating she'd given him. The medical staff didn't bother to visit him - he wasn't worth the effort.
The stimulant rush was gone. She felt tired and empty. Killing would fix it.
His eyes flashed with biotics for the last time. His face was caving in. His nearly-white hair was soaked in red. His name was Forty One. It was on a cloth pinned to his chest.
Not my name.
"Jack, stop! Yer just punchin' meat! He's dead!"
Zero's my name.
"Jackie! Gawd-dammit girl!"
Heavy arms closed around her, trapping her already leaden limbs. Instinctively, she threw her head back and felt it connect with a face. The weight fell away.
Her hands felt swollen, wet, and they tingled with pain.
Don't matter. Just fight.
When it had been done - she'd straddled his waist, raining down blows past what had been his feeble defences - the girl who would one day be known as Jack had rocked back on her heels, and had raised a raw, bloodied hand to brush her long, mahogany hair out of her eyes. The gesture had left a streak of wet scarlet on her face.
She'd looked up to meet the eyes of the lone man standing behind the heavy glass of the overhead control room. It had been her first clear, unobstructed look at him - and it had been burned into her memory forever.
The thin man with the big nose had nodded to her and smiled.
Zero had not smiled back. She had stared back with a combination of hatred and the hunger of expectation.
Do it, you fucker, she'd thought.
He'd reached down, and his hand had moved out of sight as he'd toggled a control. Inside the heavy, thick bracelet on her left ankle, she'd felt something prick her skin - and her narrow, thin shoulders had slumped in relief when the narcotic rush had washed over her in a chemical tide of euphoria.
Subject Zero's head had rolled back on her shoulders, and the eleven-year old's face had blossomed into a wide, open-mouthed grin as her eyes had closed in pleasure.
When I kill, he smiles, she'd recited in her mind.
When he smiles, I feel good.
The logic had been simplicity itself.
Killing feels good.
The barracks door slid open, and Dr. Radim Mirko stepped inside, balancing in his hands a small white saucer and a small cup of his preferred French roast coffee. He was flanked by two other men - a younger man with a modest blonde beard and white lab coat, and a thickly-built human male in a full Blue Suns hardsuit. Stepping over a discarded Predator handgun on the floor, he stopped and looked about with a critical eye.
The room was a mess. Half of the double-bunks were tipped over or shattered, the walls were pocked with gunfire damage, and pieces of hardshell armor littered the room. In the center of the room was the broken, bloodied blue armor still partially encasing the remains of the mercenary Jentha.
Standing just in front of her, facing the newly arrived men, was the young girl with the long brown hair. Droplets of fresh crimson spattered her pale, unmarked skin - none her own.
Dangling from her right hand was the humming disruptor sword, and it crackled as it cooked away the last of the blood staining the blade.
With a small movement of his head, Dr. Mirko indicated that the Blue Suns soldier stand aside. He did so, stepping over some of the room's debris and leaning his elbow on the top mattress of one of the remaining standing double-bunks.
The younger man with the blond beard cleared his throat nervously. "Sir. This isn't safe. I don't recommend..."
"Shh. Be silent, Nico. She will not harm us. Isn't that right, Phantom?"
Radim pointedly looked at the girl's right hand, and her gaze followed his to stare blankly at her bladed weapon. After a moment, she silently returned it to the simple scabbard at her back. Her pale, bare feet made a wet, sticky noise as they shifted in the puddle of congealing blood.
"See? Nothing to worry about. Report, Nico. You saw the video feed just as I did."
The blonde man activated his datapad and scrolled through his data charts. "Her biotic spikes are perhaps sixty percent of her potential - that will come with time and maturity - but she did pull off a very effective Throw with excellent strength for her physical age equivalence, and her shields were top-notch-"
Radim's black eyes peered sideways at him. "Nico. I designed her amp and her biotic programming routines. Tell me about the rest."
The bearded technician swallowed. "Yes, sir. Her evasive moves were near-perfection - as evidenced by the weapon damage on everything in this room other than the test subject. Her bladework was simple, but brutal and incredibly fast - she reserved the use of her disruptor sword for the killing blow. She's a fearsome opponent, sir, especially in a confined environment such as this. With physical maturity and additional training cycles in the neural simulators - even more so."
"I estimate she would have reach that maturity in about one additional month, if she'd been allowed to remain in the incubation vessels with the FAST gel."
Dr. Mirko allowed a small nod, and sipped his coffee. "Very good. And how soon can we ramp up medium-scale production?"
The younger man scratched his beard, absently. "Pending quality assurance of the other vessels available, creating multiples in parallel will increase our continuous monitoring and adjustments overhead by a factor of-"
The hawk-nosed man lowered the cup from his lips. "How. Soon?"
"Sir. I estimate two weeks. This has been a tremendous breakthrough - I would say she's nearly perfect."
"Perhaps." Radim nodded thoughtfully, and bent down to exchange his cup and saucer for the Predator handgun he had earlier stepped over. Carrying the weapon loosely in his right hand, he approached the young girl, taking care to avoid staining his shoes with gore.
As she raised her face to look up at him, he gently cupped her chin in his hand, before tracing the back of his fingers up her pale cheek and brushing a strand of hair away from her large, deep brown eyes.
"It's so odd to look down upon this face," he whispered, "without seeing the hatred, without hearing her screams, and without her spitting at me and baring her teeth. So expressive, these eyes should be. So full of the light of life, but promising a murderous revenge. I suppose she did attain some degree of it, in the end. So much work was lost."
The bearded man looked at the armored soldier at the side of the room, who ran his hands through his thick, steel-gray crew cut and silently shrugged in return.
"Sir?" Nico asked.
"Such a pretty little thing," Radim murmured, quietly. "Just like her. Yet, so dead inside. Wherever are you now, Zero? After Purgatory, where did you vanish to? I finally have the means and the funding to bring you back to me - and now you disappear. You were always so, so difficult."
The young girl gazing up at him blinked once, vacantly.
"Of course," he answered for her, gently. "You have no idea what I'm talking about."
Radim held out the Predator handgun, and raised his eyebrows encouragingly.
"Take this, Phantom One." Behind him, he heard Nico suck in a breath.
"Is her obedience complete and absolute, Nico?" the doctor asked, loudly, not turning to look back.
The younger, bearded man cleared his throat. "Her DNA was carefully seeded with the other female sample we were provided with. Not as high biotic potential, but perfect in every other way. High scores for loyalty, compliance, and conform-"
"Answer the question, Nico."
Stepping backwards from the young girl by three full steps, Dr. Mirko spoke to her.
"Put the barrel of the gun in your mouth."
The child frowned slightly, but opened her mouth widely to display perfectly white, even teeth, and proceeded to do so. Her full, plush lips contorted around the cold metal.
"Very good," Radim praised quietly, nodding.
"Sir, what are-"
Dr. Mirko held the gaze of the girl, unblinking. "Pull the trigger, Phantom."
Nico held his breath as the room went silent and still - other than the girl slowly extending her index finger to curl around the trigger of the handgun.
A crease appeared between the mahogany eyebrows of the girl, and her eyes glistened. Slowly, she removed the gun from her mouth, licking her lips to moisten them. Her face betrayed only the slightest hint of her first emotion.
The question on her face was increasingly clear to all in the room.
What have I done wrong? I've obeyed.
Radim nodded again, almost sadly, and made a small gesture with his hand.
Nico flinched as a gunshot rang out in the small room.
In a halo of brown hair and scarlet mist, the girl slumped limply to the floor - missing part of her skull.
From the corner of his eyes, he saw the gray-haired man with the crew cut return his own handgun to his thigh holster. The man heaved a quiet, weary sigh.
Dr. Mirko turned around and picked up his cup and saucer, then stepped towards the door, where he paused beside the unmoving Nico.
"I'll see your neural programming team in two weeks when the next subject is ready. See that she's fixed."
He strode out the door, and his fading voice echoed in the room as the door closed behind him.
"And recover the amp before you dispose of that."
The humanoid unit paused as it crested a small slope, rotational angle detection indicating that it would be an ideal time to reset navigational measurements based on known landmarks. The single sensor eye glowed dimly, despite the near-total darkness of Alchera's polar darkness.
[U+0027 / 290.8882087]
For nearly two years, the nearly-destroyed unit had dragged itself across the ammonized ice of the surface of Alchera with its single functional arm.
Behind it trailed the dead weight of its useless legs as they carved a trail into the icy crust - a marker of its passing that rapidly vanished in the frigid methane wind.
The unit had long since bled to near-death of functionality-sustaining lubricants, and retained enough power for either the movement of crawling, or sensors and cognitive processes - not both.
Twice per solar day on this lifeless planet, it would reawaken and reset its heading - before shutting down programs and blindly crawling forth with all of the thought of a child's wind-up toy.
In the far distance - nearly to the visible horizon, lit by the reflected starlight on frozen lands - a broken ship lay amongst the rocks and poisonous snow.
The unit began to shut down the minimal runtimes it had started in order to calculate direction.
Again, it began to drag its battered shell across the surface of Alchera - the lone occupant of an entire world.
The decision amongst runtimes was a simple matter. They all only wanted one thing.
Consensus was reached.
This unit crawled.