The space between the walls was absolutely disgusting. TO had never been in such a filthy place; there were smells that made them gag even though the mask. They were grateful that they couldn’t feel the dirt on their hands as they made their way forward, but they could see the dirt sticking to their boots, and scum clinging to their hands every time they touched the wall. From time to time, they disrupted some kind of slime on the wall, and a fresh wave of stench wafted at them.
Once they accidentally touched a black pile of something on the wall, which scurried away from them after breaking up into a million skittering black bugs. It took everything TO had not to scream. They worried that these bugs might find their way into the armor, but reminded themselves that though it all felt very real, it was just a simulation.
They nearly got lost, and had to take a few different turns to make their way to where the weapons room was, but soon enough they saw a bright light filtering through holes in the wall. They checked their map again, then crept forward.
If they were right, this was the weapons room. They got to the holes in the wall, and peeked in.
There was a pile of weapons neatly packed in crates piled up in the middle of the room. TO looked around, and used their echolocation to ensure that nobody else was in the room.
There was nobody. They were alone.
TO switched their multigun to it’s laser setting, and used it along the holes in the wall to quickly create an opening for themself. It took a moment, but the weakened part of the wall gave way and nearly fell out into the room. TO grabbed it before it could fall and make a noise to alert anyone else, stepped into the room, and gently put the detached piece of rusted metal to the side.
“S97. We’ve not seen the other insurgents. Have you caught sight of them? Have they come out of the maintenance halls?”
TO ignored S87 as they started to pick through the weapons. They selected a small amount of foam explosives and lined the door with it. When that was done, they pushed everything else to the far side of the room.
“S97, Report your position.”
Well, they were mostly done now, and S87 couldn’t really stop their plan. “I’m in the weapons room.” They said back into the communicator.
“What are you doing in the weapons room!” S97’s voice snapped back.
“Solving the puzzle.” TO said as they pushed the last of the boxes against the far wall, “On my signal, attack any and all enemies. Stealth will not be a concern.”
“What do you mean ‘on your signal!?’ You’re not the commander!”
TO ignored them, braced themselves against the crates, and shot their laser at the foam explosives on the door before quickly setting their multigun to rapidfire.
The explosive foam glowed red before the explosion knocked the door forward. There was a cry as the guards on the other side of the door were struck by scraps of metal and knocked to the ground before dissolving into pixels. Other insurgents on the other side of the door suddenly turned to the now open weapons room, and saw TO standing before their weapons.
“That signal.” TO said, and then they opened fire. They took down two of the insurgents before any of them could even react. Two more fell as they tried to call for backup only to realize that their own methods of communication had already been taken out. Another three then rushed the door in panic, only to be caught in the chokepoint and taken down by TO’s gunfire.
“What are you doing!” S87 shouted into the communicator.
“Weapons are secure.” TO said back. They send out a few chirps to check the rest of the area, and could detect others running towards them. “I’ve established a chokepoint at the weapons cache. Drive them down to me; I’ll eliminate them.
“That wasn't the plan!”
“It’s a better plan.” TO said, “And it’s already half executed. Drive the rest of the insurgents down towards me. As they come for the weapons, I can take them out.”
“We can’t even find the other six up here!”
Oh. oops. Maybe they should have already told them the truth at this point. “There were only two up there.” TO finally admitted, “If they’re gone, you should move on.”
There was cursing as the communication cut. The other insurgents that were heading towards TO approached the door, saw TO waiting with their gun up and ready, then backed away. TO looked around frantically in the pile of weapons they were leaning against and found a smoke bomb. They launched it out into the hall where dark red smoke covered the area. TO ran to the door, used their echolocation to locate the targets, and then took them out. They missed a couple of times, but they were able to deal with the insurgents.
Overhead, there was shouting. They heard a scream, one of the insurgents screamed at another to get backup, to get to the weapons. There was the sound of footsteps overhead, shots fired, and the sound of screams faded off. TO braced themselves, preparing for the potential next wave of enemies to try to get to the weapons cache.
“Coming into sight. Don’t fire.”
TO lowered their weapon slightly, then lowered it the rest of the way when they saw the others in their black, buggish armor.
“Wasn’t that faster?” TO asked as they stepped away from the weapons. They went out into the main room so that they could see the rest of the area. It seemed like it had been some kind of makeshift weapons production center. Tools and machinery were strewn about the room, and half made weapons that were abandoned when TO’s attack started.
“We’re going to have to make several trips with all this.” S87 said, “S97, start gathering up-”
“We don’t need to carry it like that.” TO said as they ran to a darkened corner. They pulled out an old rusted trolly, “This should work fine.” They said as they pulled it over to the weapons room.
“Not over stairs it won’t”
They were right. Still, if they were only given two hours to clear the area and get all the weapons up to the top floor once more, there was no way that they were supposed to carry everything up all those stairs. TO looked around once more until they found what they were looking for.
“Over here.” They said as they ran to the other side of the room. Among the broken equipment was a service lift, designed for moving boxes, “This is an old warehouse. They had to bring things to the upper floors, so of course they would have an elevator of some kind.” The elevator didn’t seem to have power, but after a minute TO was able to find a loose wire among the machinery, and was able to twist it back into place. It wasn’t perfect, but the elevator shifted as the electricity flowed.
“There. Now we just need to pile everything on the trolly, find any information in their little factory here, and take the lift to the top floor!”
S87 growled, then turned to the others, “S67, you and S97 loaded up the elevator. S54 and I will watch for enemies. Take the elevator to the top floor, and place the weapons. If all the insurgents have been eliminated, then the simulation should end. We’ll scan the floors as we make our way back up and look for any other insurgents.” They looked in TO’s direction, “Though, now if there’s any left they’re all on alert.”
“There’s also scattered and panicked.” TO pointed out, “Any that are hiding won’t be able to hide from our echolocation. Should I come with you instead to-”
“I’m certain I can handle the job of flushing out a handful of insurgents!” S87 snapped, “Deal with the weaponry!” they gestured to S54, and together they started to circle the area, keeping an eye out for enemies.
Wordlessly, S67 went to the weapons room and started collecting boxes to pile up on the trolly. After a moment TO joined them, happy that the helmet hid their self-satisfied smile.
The elevator ride up to the top floor had only one obstacle; a mechanical failure about halfway up which TO was able to fix rather easily. They got to the top level and pushed the trolly off the elevator towards the glowing circle on the floor.
The circle glowed once more as they pushed the trolly Into place, then chimed. The words “SIMULATION COMPLETE. MISSION SUCCESSFUL. Circled around the weapons before a disembodied voice rang out, “Please prepare for simulation disconnect.”
TO’s vision went funny, and they felt suddenly dizzy. They sat down on the floor to keep themselves from falling over as they felt their body slowly seem to disconnect from their mind. They felt numb all over-
-and suddenly they were back in their own bodies. A jolt of electricity ran through them as they regained control over themselves. They panicked for just a moment when they couldn’t see, but then remembered that they still had the helmet on their head. They reached up and took it off slowly, letting their real eyes adjust to real light. About half the synths in the room were already disconnected, stretching their limbs as they walked about.
That seemed like a great idea to TO in the moment.
“What was that pathetic performance I saw in there!”
TO looked around and saw C12 heading towards them, their ears pinned back and their wings puffed up. TO felt their ears flick out in confusion.
“We completed the simulation.” TO said simply. “Isn’t that what we were supposed to do?”
“The mission was technically a success, but YOU-” they pointed a finger at TO, “You disobeyed direct orders, and lied to your commanding officer!” They leaned in, their eyes narrowed, “How is anyone supposed to trust you to do your job in future missions if you won’t obey your commander? How can anyone trust you to do the simplest job if you LIE to your commanding officer!”
“But… But I had a better idea!” TO said, “And they wouldn't listen-”
“And that’s something to be dealt with after a mission.” C12 snapped. TO saw another Synth head over to them, one they recognized as S87. They had a smug look on their face as they watched the scene between C12 and TO.
“But it made the mission go faster!” TO insisted.
“And if it hadn’t? If it had resulted in mass casualties? If the insurgents had gotten to the weapons and decided to blow up the entire mining colony?” They put their hands on either side of TO’s chair, effectively trapping them, “What if all of you decided that you knew better than your commanding officer, and just executed your own plans? It would be chaos, and people and synths would DIE! Do you not understand that!” They narrowed their eyes, “You may think you’re clever –and I admit to an extent that you are– but if you cannot follow orders, then you’re useless.”
“You should have listened to orders.” S87 said from behind C12. C12’s ears pinned back in rage as they turned on them.
“And you! Just because you’re in charge doesn’t mean you’re the only one with any good ideas. Don’t let your pride over your position keep you from using others to their full potential, ESPECIALLY if your position was given to you by random chance. Understood!?”
The other synth took a step back, their ears dipping down, “Yes, Retiree.”
“Get back in your seat.” They snapped. They turned back to TO, “You, put your helmet back on. You will learn to follow orders.”
Silently, TO slipped their helmet back on their head. They didn’t want to go back in, but they also didn’t want to see C12’s enraged face, or their pinned back ears. They didn’t want to be yelled at.
Useless. They had done wrong. Were they not good synths anymore? Would this lower that score on their file?
Would they get corrected?
They braced themselves for the feeling of electricity over their body. If they had to follow orders to keep from being corrected, then they’d do it.
Even if the orders were stupid.
Bio: A writer and Illustrator with scenes to show and stories to tell