I wandered down the pathways aimlessly. There were so many new sights and smells, objects and symbols. Every now and then I would hear noises in the background, sometimes the yelled communications of drones, sometimes loud bangs, and the occasional honk of one of the transport devices in the distance. One of the strangest phenomenon was the amount of codes I was absorbing just off the air currents. All other organisms had their own code, and from what I was picking up there must be hundreds of thousands of organisms just in this hive section alone. In comparison the test chambers might as well have been completely sterile.
I wonder which organisms I'm allowed to eat.
Mass at 45% norm.
Energy reserves = 2 cycles continued operation.
I'm glad I was able to top off my reserves using the yellow-fur's arm before I started my escape. My mass suffered from having to make the decoy shell, but at my current energy reserves I was sure I'd be able to find food before I ran too low. In the worst case scenario I could turn off Human.exe and enter hibernation. I didn't fancy passively waiting around for food to stumble close, but I was sure it wouldn't come to that.
Drones were everywhere after all.
I doubted that there would be a huge problem if a few drones went missing, but this made it more important than ever to understand more about the drones. It was obvious that drones were not a unified front. They had factions amongst themselves, as evidenced by the need for walls around their compound, or the fact that the security doors inside the structure had been meant to hold back other drones and not rampaging test subjects. This fact combined with their amazing weaponry, and cunning intellect, and I could be sure that fights among drone factions had to be vicious affairs, and fights lead to death, which resulted in food. Figuring out what factions there were and who belonged to them, so that I could hunt unnoticed, was going to be the hard part.
Or if I was really, really fortunate, I would just find where they made the nutrient paste and steal it. I had no clue how they made the stuff considering all of my non-nutrient paste meals had consisted of killed test subjects and a single container of black liquid.
There were almost no drones around at this time. It made sense, if I was timing it correctly I still had about two hours before the drones ended their normal rest cycle. There were a few around heading one way or another, but mostly I only saw drones if they went by in a transport device. Not enough to start getting better data about groups and affiliations.
I tabled attempting to categorize the drones for now. There were other things to spend my time on: looking for the location of nutrient paste manufacture, mapping the hive structure, scouting for potential dens, simulating responses to potential threats based on those I had come across so far...
...and why was it getting brighter?
While I wandered the pathways the ambient lighting had been getting brighter and brighter, and I wasn't sure where the source was coming from. Even as I watched the ceiling lights slowly winked off as the new light source took over. It wasn't until I passed one of the taller structures did I find out what was causing it. This particular structure was covered in many reflective surfaces, and looking towards the top I could see the reflection of a large... bright... burning thing? It was currently coming out of the ground far from here. Wasn't that somewhat dangerous?
Drone response positive...
Rising drone activity in keeping with known drone cycle...
No structures exhibit signs of high temperature damage...
Threat negligible: adjust disguise for high visibility conditions and ignore;
Oh well, I suppose I was putting too much emphasis on the ceiling. It was hard not to, as it dominated my vision even with the tall structures all around me. Something so far away probably wasn't a real threat.
Until it suddenly attacked!
A small ball of fire fell from above before it hit the transport pathway and exploded, not half a block away from me. I had seen both fire and small explosions before in survival tests, and this explosion dwarfed both in size by a large margin. It was big enough it forced a large transport device that had been moving down the street to screech to a halt before it could enter the radius of the explosion.
Threat detected: tracking vector;
I expected to find a large glowing ball of death raining down fire, but what I saw was instead two drones, high up in the air above me. One of them had a device on its back which shot fire in a constant stream, combined with two smaller streams of fire that came from its legs the drone was suspended in the air and moving quickly. As I watched it launched one of the balls of fire from a forelimb behind it at the second drone.
A direct hit. The ball exploded into flames around the second drone.
And the second drone emerged from the explosion unharmed! It moved forward faster than the first drone and punched it with a forelimb, sending it spiraling out of control. The flame drone righted itself just before it could hit the ground, and shook its head once before scanning its new position, about halfway between me and the transport device. A shell much like the soldiers had worn covered its sensory organs, but this one had no translucent material. The coverings it wore on its body were black and red, with the propelling flame device and most of its equipment being a polished brown/gold. In one forelimb it held a rectangular container.
It glanced at the drone that had punched it and then looked at me.
I was already running when it pointed its free forelimb at me and fired a ball of flame. I threw myself to the side, but I knew I wouldn't come out of this unscathed, the explosions were too big.
I felt the heat and shock-wave as the explosion went off, but strangely I wasn't burnt?
I glanced back from my position on the ground and saw the second drone! It had intercepted the attack?! It must have literally caught the fire ball and suppressed the explosion with its own body because the force of the blast had been largely directed away from my position.
This time the explosion seemed to have done real damage. The second drone wore a blue and white covering stretched over its skin, with a golden symbol across its back, but the coverings were singed and it was breathing hard. I noticed that the air around it shimmered slightly, this must be how it defended itself from the flame blasts, though the mechanism was beyond my understanding. It straitened its posture and made as if to attack the flame drone again.
The flame drone merely pointed its forelimb at the large transport device and fired another flame ball, then it propelled itself into the air and away.
The flame ball hit the transport and exploded.
"Oh god!" said the white/blue drone. "Central this is Guardian, I need an ambulance at my position, the Merc just shot at a bus full of civilians!"
The white/blue drone didn't pursue the flame drone, instead it rushed to the 'bus' (while flying through the air with no visible means of propulsion I might add) and proceeded to remove 'civilians' from the device. The bus was built rather solidly and was mostly intact, but still there was a large hole in the side, and I doubted any drones directly next to the blast had survived. Some of the drones that the 'Guardian' was pulling from the bus were alive, but badly burned. They most likely wouldn't survive unless they could regenerate the damage, but still the Guardian and two of the uninjured drones were moving them away from the flaming wreckage and tending to them.
I didn't really understand. Some of it I could puzzle together, obviously the 'Merc' wasn't able to beat the Guardian and had used this as a distraction to escape. But if the Guardian was part of this 'civilian' faction why had it saved me? How did the Merc know targeting me would distract it? Did I look like a civilian? I hadn't noticed any identifying marks among the drones on the bus that would denote a faction. Wouldn't pursuing the Merc while it had the advantage be better for its faction than helping random drones?
I wanted more answers, and I considered staying around since the Guardian didn't seem hostile, but I was hearing alarms in the distance and they were getting closer. Alarms never meant anything good. I quickly started walking in the opposite direction of the approaching sounds.
I fled down the paths, trying to follow the general traffic to an area that had more drones. I hadn't seen anything that would confuse my disguise with the civilians on the bus, which means civilian is probably a catch-all term of some kind. The Merc had probably targeted me because I was the only drone walking near him, not because it was targeting me specifically. It would be better if I entered a more crowded area so as not to be singled out.
I scouted for two more hours, and the ambient lighting was really starting to brighten the place up. As light levels rose the drone activity up-ticked remarkably. Before the encounter with the Merc walking drones had been incredibly rare, now they were everywhere, and the 'streets' were getting crowded with the amount of transport devices. If my timing of hours was correct it was now the eighth hour of the day.
Categorizing the drones was a difficult task. While they shared a skeletal structure and sensory organ count, everything else about them was variable. Height, weight, skin color, eye color, hair color, their individual codes and the coverings they wore.
Oh the coverings.
Thousands of designs were represented in the coverings. Back in the test chambers the coverings had varied a little in color or shape, but mostly conformed to at least a general design structure that denoted caste. Out here they were so varied that I soon gave up recording the smaller details, such as number of pouches or the number of 'buttons' on the front. I myself changed my disguise to the blue leg coverings that were widely used and a simple white torso cover with buttons, it seemed the least noticeable. One very good outcome of all these coverings was that I wouldn't have to be utterly precise with my disguises going forward.
Currently I was trying to decide if the pattern on one drone's limb was random, or some kind of faction denotation, it obviously wasn't a natural occurrence. I was following it through the crowd when it decided to enter an entrance in the ground.
The entrance had steps leading downward, lots of drones were going into and coming out of it. I was hesitant about going inside structures, but this one appeared to be open to the general crowd. It should be safe enough in that case.
And it would provide cover from any flying drones, I hadn't noticed any more but I was still wary of another occurrence.
This underground area was built in a different style than above ground. In the section of the hive I had been exploring there were mostly tall rectangular structures. Large, utilitarian, with few design features that weren't functional. The main variance had been in areas dispensing liquids like the 'coffee' that Doctor Mason had given me.
Here the design intent changed. There were symbols along the walls, some displayed information, but as far as I could tell most had no real function. There were more dispenser areas for 'coffee' here, as well as other dispensers for... some different forms of nutrient intake? It smelled good. Before receiving Human.exe I used smell primarily to determine if a substance was harmful or useful, but Human.exe came with some hardware specifications that had opened up my senses to the concept of good smells.
I wanted to try some of the food. Watching the drones revealed that they either handed small metal discs and flat rectangles of thin material to the operator, or they swiped a keycard against a device the operator used. I had neither of those options available to me. Stealing the food... wasn't viable, what food I could see they kept behind a translucent barrier, and many drones in the vicinity had their attention on where the transactions were taking place. I regretfully moved along for now. Maybe I could come back during the sleep cycle and steal some.
I spent the next few minutes exploring the underground area. It was mostly food dispensaries, but I found what appeared to be a location guide of some kind. The guide depicted a small marked pin, which I assume was the locator, and then showed multiple colored lines heading in different directions. I guess this underground area was part of a transport network. There was a section of the underground that was separated behind strange rotating bar devices. Drones walked through them after swiping a thin rectangular 'ticket' through the bar device. To get that rectangle, they swipe their own flat rectangular keycard in a separate device that dispenses the tickets. I was noticing a definite theme between drones and small flat rectangles.
I turned at the sound of 'metal' hitting the floor. One of the drones was using the ticket dispensers in a hurry, and it had dropped one of the flat metal discs in its rush. Rather than retrieve the disc it grabbed the dispensed ticket and rushed for the rotating bars, leaving the metal disc behind. I walked to where the disc was dropped and stepped on it, absorbing it into my leg, then I walked away before I was noticed.
On one side of the disc were the symbols "Liberty", "2093", and a depiction of half a drone's 'face' (I loved that word, 'face', much better than 'sensory organ appendage'). On the other side were the symbols "United North America", "Half Dollar", and a depiction of the same symbol that the Guardian was wearing on its back.
So this is what they used as an exchange medium? It didn't seem that complicated, maybe I could just fabricate my own. I set the micro units to disassembling the disc. The outer layer was just common metal material, the kind I could find almost anywhere, but once the micro units broke into the inside I found a complicated maze of pathways and circuits. Several circuits destroyed themselves with a slight zap, which I recognized as being similar to the wire mesh barrier. Inscribed within the remains was a message of some kind: "If you're reading this, this coin is no longer legal tender. Have a good day. - Tinker Nummum".
I didn't understand the message, but I understood the intent behind destroying itself upon opening, the circuits were another security measure of some kind to prevent tampering. Annoying, I would need to gather the real thing myself to exchange for food.
I really wanted to try some. The smells were making me hungry.