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A note from TheWitchOfTheRock

Thank you once more to my Patrons, ColdAu and Cannot Account. These lovely people have access all the way up to Episode 64 right now!

 

Reminder as well that I stream readings of chapters every Tuesday at 6:30 EST. 

As they properly entered the program, TO could only describe it as being violently thrown back into their body. There was a brief moment of pain before things evened out, and they could feel the floor under their boots, and the cold wind running through the holes in the nearby walls. The training simulations that they used for fun weren’t nearly as intense as this. They felt real, yes, but not this real. The transition from being in their body in the chair to being suddenly immersed in the simulation was far more jarring as well.

TO looked down at their hands as their mind and sensations synced up to what they were seeing. The slight disconnect that they normally noticed in the games was gone. They liked the disconnect that they felt in the simulation simply because it reminded them that it was only a game. It was comforting to know that any injury they might inflict to others here wasn’t real.

This wasn’t real, but it felt real. Would they feel pain as they normally would? If they were injured, would their actual body suffer as well?

“Perfection; we have a fourth.”

TO looked up, suddenly realizing that they were around other synths. As they glanced over the faces of the synths they were with, they realized that they didn’t know any of them. TO had seen them around of course, but they hadn’t spoken to any of them.


And GiDi wasn’t there with them.

A purple light scanned over them, and TO’s plain light-blue uniform turned purple at the same time as everyone else's did. As they looked down at their chest, they saw a new designation over their heart where once their call number had been.

S97.

“Have I been reassigned?” TO asked in slight panic as they looked down at their uniform.

“Of course not.” the closest synth to them said. TO looked up and saw that they had S67 over their chest, “Did the Retiree not tell you how this works?”

TO dipped their ears down as they shook their head, “No.” They said, “I was running behind. Myself and one other were almost late.”

Irritation caused S67’s ears to pin back for just a moment, “In the simulation, you are given a mock-soldier’s designation.” they pointed to TO’s uniform, “That will be your designation until the simulation is over. It’ll change each time, but your performance will be linked to your call number.”

“I see.” TO said as they finally took a moment to look around. It looked to them like some kind of broken down industrial setting- and old warehouse perhaps. They could see the night sky above them through the broken parts of the roof, but there were no stars or moons visible; the sky was covered in dirty looking clouds and glowed a reddish brown with reflected light from below- likely street lights, or maybe even lights from other, nearby buildings.


TO wasn’t sure if that would be important. They hadn’t been given an objective yet.

“I think I’ve seen you before.” another synth said, this one bearing S54 on their chest, “You were in my Flight Training Class.”

“You recognize me?” TO asked.

“I recognize your particular style of speaking.” they said quickly, “You’re an excellent flyer though.”

TO glanced around the building, “That might not be much help here.” they muttered. They were fairly certain that they were on the top floor of the building, though they didn’t know how many floors there were. Regardless, they couldn’t really fly while inside.

“That is unknown until we discover our objective.” S67 said, “It might be useful.”

TO doubted it. They wished that DH or GiDI could be there with them, but of course DH was in the medical bay. TO figured that GiDi was probably in a different simulation with other synths.

Unless, of course, they were the opposition. In the simulations, you could either work against a programmed enemy, or have others as your enemy. They wondered if they’d have to go against GiDi.

Now that TO was able to think about it, they started to worry about GiDi. How would they perform without anyone to help them? Would they be useful to their own team? 55H70’s warnings about GiDi’s performance in combat training rang through TO’s head, and they found themselves suddenly so overcome with worry that they almost missed the notice on their chip that gave them the objective.

MISSION ORDERS

SITUATION: Insurgents are hiding in an abandoned warehouse on an active mining settlement on the dwarf planet of Rufio. Intelligence says that they are hiding illicit weaponry which must be confiscated.

MISSION: Eliminate all insurgents. Confiscate illicit weaponry.

EXECUTION: Insurgents should be eliminated without alerting other insurgents: doing so could encourage them to use the illicit weaponey, some of which could destroy property and kill civilians. All weaponey, or information regarding weapons, must be recovered and returned to CHECKPOINT 1. Both objectives must be met before 0400. If successful, the situation will be resolved without civilian notice.

SUPPORT: -Communication disruption device has been provided.

-Multi-guns have been provided.

-A partial map has been provided.

-Medical kits and adrenaline shots have been provided.

-The top floor of the warehouse has been secured as a safezone.

COMMANDER: S87

As TO went through the list and all the information, they started to make a plan in their head, deciding the best way to go through things. They had time, they had decent supplies, and there was a chance that they had the element of surprise. Stealth would be the best way to go about doing things. Of course, there was another idea that they had which could make things simpler...

They almost had a full plan of exploration and attack when they got to the last line of the mission overview. Command was taken by S87; the one synth who hadn’t said anything up until this point.

TIME UNTIL MISSION START: 60s.

“Fascinating.” S87 said, “Very well. This seems like a basic mission. Stealth is the best option. Let’s find and eliminate the insurgents, and then-”

“If we find the weapons first.” TO said, “We can secure that, and then we can pursue the insurgents without having to worry about them using their weapons. The confusion would probably-”

“The mission says that the insurgents should not be alerted.” S87 said as they looked over the document again, “Yes. Insurgents should be eliminated without alerting other insurgents. That’s what it says. So we-”


“But the only reason it says that is because they might use their weapons. If we get rid of that possibility, then it doesn't matter if we alert them or not-”

“I don't have time to argue with you.” S87 said, “We have 30 seconds.” They glanced up at TO, “You can take point. Go ahead of us, and find potential hostiles as we progress. Do not engage. Signal to us.” They looked to S67, “You follow up in the rear, and protect us from ambush. S54 and I will be the strike team.

With 15 seconds left, their uniforms shifted, and they were in armor. TO could feel it on them, strong but thankfully light given it’s excellent design and the highly refined alloys that formed it. Everyone else's uniforms did the same.

TO didn’t like the armor. It was black all over, and the wider helmets with the large visors gave them all a slightly insectoid appearance. The helmet was also uncomfortable to TO; They couldn’t place why, but they just didn’t like having it on. They wondered if this would stop them from performing echolocation. They gave a little test, sending out a series of chirps which were thankfully allowed to sound out through the helmet and bounce back to them.

“What is the purpose of your actions?” S87 asked, the voice sounding in TO’s ears through the helmet’s internal communication device. It was so strange hearing another synth speak without being able to see their ears. Yes, they could intuit emotion and feelings from the movement of the ears, but there were subtle additions to tone and meaning in the spoken words of their language that were drawn from the movement of the ears. TO had never realized how jarring it might be to listen to their own language without being able to see the speakers’ ears. It was stilted, lacked any kind of flow and lost much of it’s tone. TO couldn’t even tell if S87 was annoyed or not.

“Ensuring echolocation works.”

“Purpose?”

“To assist in finding hostiles.” TO frowned, their ears flicking with irritation and brushing against the inside of the helmet. They wondered how their own voice sounded, or how their meaning was being picked up by S87. They switched over to Universal Common, which was considered to be a crude, simple language, but which didn’t rely on ear movements. “Using Echolocation can let me perceive people that I can not see with my eyes.”

It felt so odd to speak Universal Common. It was another remnant from their time in the tank- something that had been well embedded in their head, but how they couldn’t say.

“Just find them.” S87 said, switching to Universal Common as well, “We have two hours to get this done.”

The timer hit 0. The sudden sound of electricity running through the old, damaged wires around them rose up, then faded as the lights dulled. The sounds of the world around them - water leaking somewhere, some large pest scurrying nearby, distant clanging- suddenly became obvious. It was clear to TO that before simulation started they had been held in some kind of bubble that kept them from being able to properly experience the world.

A circle of light formed on the ground under their feet, glowing bright purple for just a moment before fading slightly. The words “CHECKPOINT 1” formed in the middle of the circle.

This would be where they would have to bring the weapons.

S87 knelt down and activated their chip. Now that the simulation had started, they were limited in what they could do with their chips. Communication outside the program wouldn’t work, and their access to files and news was cut. S87 pressed a button, and before them on the floor materialized a small metal box. They pressed some buttons on it, and a moment later it beeped.

“Communication disruption complete.” S87 said, “They can’t call for help though radio, and if they have cameras set up they won’t work.” they pressed another button, and a multigun materialized before them, “Weapons up.” They said, “S97, take point.”

It took TO a moment to remember that they were S97 now. They frowned and stepped ahead of the others, bringing them towards the staircase that would lead them down to the lower levels of the building, towards the insurgents that they were supposed to stop and the weapons they were supposed to retrieve.

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TheWitchOfTheRock

Bio: A writer and Illustrator with scenes to show and stories to tell

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