Anima ex Machina
Orion sat on a cliff overlooking their latest camp, his rifle in his lap and his eyes distant. Contemplation was essential to his existence; without the capacity to analyze and reason, he could never adapt to a threat or interact with humans in an intelligent way.
The sun was just beginning to break over the black trees, its light reawakening life and light in the forest.
Eos rises again, opening the gate for Helios.
It suddenly seemed odd to Orion that he would make that connection. Who remembers the names of the sun and the dawn in 2201?
I am Orion, the hunter of old. The sun brought the tracks of my prey to me, and the dawn heralded a new day for my short and glorious life. The names of the gods are forgotten, but the gods and their elements live on.
He stood, and began to walk back down to the narrow trail. He heard an ash puma stalking him. He didn’t mind; curiosity kills many a cat.
Fortunately for puma, there was better prey nearby. Orion descended into the valley unchallenged.
He began to trek back through the forest, moving with a strange grace despite his robotic nature. Many beings poked out of their holes and dens to watch him pass. After all, he was a marvel or an abomination of nature. It depends on who you ask.
A great smoke-grey bear lumbered out into the android’s path, and regarded the strange, shining creature with something not unlike interest.
Orion would have smiled. If he had been able to.
He strode straight up to the wraith bear, and ran a hand through the beast’s thin and rough coat as he passed.
The bear recoiled slightly from his touch, feeling cold steel and mesh press against his skin. Orion laughed lightly and continued on his way.
Never seen something quite like me, Br’er Bear?
He could see the tents through the trees, and heard the low chatter of soldiers.
He strolled in, heading for the command tent. Several soldiers hailed him as he passed with a friendly smile and a wave. Many more shook their heads and muttered darkly, returning to their tasks.
He opened the flap, and saw Dante and Jacinto in a heated discussion.
“-any more men for this operation, and I can’t spare any, Jacinto! Sarai has everyone spread out through the cities, and your own men are out on your orders! Don’t come to me and demand soldiers, then do a complete one-eighty and accuse me of withholding critical resources!” Dante said, his tone like a man trying to check his temper.
“You are denying me a critical resource! I need more men, Dante! I need to reinforce the bases you’ve put under my control, so I can free up some of the veterans!” Jacinto said angrily, his face red.
“Enough. You’ll have your reinforcements soon, if you stop harassing me. Until then, your proposed operation is on hold. Dismissed.”
“Commander?” said Orion, and both of their heads jerked to him.
“Yes, Orion?” Dante said, trying to keep his tone polite.
“What operation are you and Jacinto referring to?” he said, walking forward.
“None of your business.” Jacinto said hotly.
“DISMISSED!” Dante roared.
Jacinto’s jaw clenched in anger, and as he walked out he flipped Dante the bird under his coat.
Orion shook his head.
“Why do we keep him?”
“Because he’s a damn fine drill sergeant, and a skilled scavenger, engineer, and fighter. If he didn’t have that mouth, he’d be a perfect soldier.” Dante said, rotating a map and tracing lines with his fingers.
“He wants us to raid this deserted town out in the desert. Thinks it could provide us with a lot of oil, power cells, water, and food. I disagree; it’s called a ghost town for a reason.”
“How many men was he planning on leading in?”
“About a hundred. Fifty on the ground, a few manning Scorpions and even a Seraph.” Dante chuckled, and waved his hand over the map. It vanished, and he looked straight into Orion’s luxchrome eyes.
“I can’t and won’t let him do it. He’s a shitty commander, and believes more in brute force than in tactics.”
“I agree. That’s why I think I should lead a ten-man squad to check the place out, rather than bomb it straight to hell.”
Dante seemed taken aback by the blunt request, but he cocked his head thoughtfully and scratched his chin.
“You think you can get in and out quietly, and check if those supplies really exist?”
“I don’t know, Orion… “ Dante said, doubt tinting his voice.
“Dante, you know I can do this easily. It’s a reconnaissance mission, no longer than a couple hours. Come on. I’m starting to rust from lying around so much.”
Dante laughed at that.
“Fine. Take as many men as you think necessary, and as much ammo and explosives as you need. Dismissed.”
“Thank you, Commander.” Orion saluted and stepped outside.
“Attention!” he barked out, and all the soldiers snapped to it.
“The commander’s authorized a reconnaissance mission on Seraph’s Haven, Beta Sector. Any volunteers?”
“Sir!” said one of the younger men, poker thin and nervous-looking.
“Yes, Private Kent?”
“Who’s leading it? The commander?”
“No. I am.”
A twitch of anger raced through Orion as several men winced, and a few had the balls to laugh out loud.
“What’s so funny?” he said, layering his voice with a hint of that anger.
The laughing stopped.
“You have ten minutes. Get your gear and ten magazines of ammo, three grenades, and any blades the inventory can spare. Get to it!”
The soldiers vanished, sprinting to the supply tent.
Exactly ten minutes later, they were all lined up at attention, assorted weapons at the ready.
“I commend your punctuality. Stand by for teleport jump!”
The squad reappeared in what looked like the set for an old Western; a wide dirt lane, with buildings lining from east to west.
The men ran silently into the nearest building, a large grocery store, and began to scan the area for any signs of supplies.
“Search everything,” Orion whispered to one of the squad leaders, who nodded shortly and walked to his troops.
“The robot says search everything.” he muttered to his men, throwing an angry glance over his shoulder at Orion’s back.
“Man, I can’t believe Dante’s letting that thing order us around.” one of them whispered furiously as he tapped the walls.
“Yeah. Not a year ago, he would’ve ordered us to shoot one of his kind.” another responded, taking a swig from a canteen.
“Don’t see why we don’t do it ourselves…” the youngest muttered, checking the chamber on his rifle.
“Because Command would have us shot, you moron.” hissed the squad leader.
“We could make it look like an accident. Say we were ambushed.”
“Yeah, find a couple people willing to bite a bullet and we’ll talk.”
The men all jumped as Orion’s voice blared out at them.
“Hit the deck!” the android whispered, and they obeyed without thinking. They could hear it now; the soft thrum-thrum-thrum of an Arcyx.
They stayed as still as they could, barely breathing from fear, crouched on the upper level behind anything that could hide them.
The Arcyx seemed to hover over their building, and the soldiers heard the sounds of boots hitting the dirt right outside. They could hear the Corporation captains barking orders.
“Search every house. Bravo Team, on me.”
The squad leader, Garret, glanced at Orion. The android was motionless, its receptors boring through the door.
The Corporation soldiers broke down the door below them, a short spray of automatic fire accompanying them.
“Move to the upper level. Be careful; I smell rats.”
Garret could feel the vibration as their jackboots pounded the ancient stairway.
“WE SURRENDER!” shouted the teenager, jumping out from behind an armchair.
He was Swiss cheese in a heartbeat.
Garret mouthed a curse, and turned his head to Orion again as the soldiers advanced. He was gone.
The squad leader’s eyes widened in anger, and he slowly lifted his hands into the air, sans gun.
“Captain! We’ve got a squad of resistance fighters here!” said one of them, pressing the barrel of his gun to Garret’s head.
“Bring ‘em outside. I think a few summaries are in order.” replied the leader, fingering the laser pistol at his side.
They were marched outside, and stood in the baking sun with their hands over their heads.
“Well now…” said the leader as his soldiers lined up behind him, “Looks like we caught ourselves a few rebel fish.”
He drew the laser pistol and casually put a beam through the eye of one of the soldiers.
“The same’ll happen to all of you. Don’t think you can avoid it. You’re in Corporation territory, breaking Corporation laws.” the leader declared, strolling up and down the line.
“Corporation? I thought this was America!” said a man in the back.
The leader wasted no time, sending a beam burning through the man’s forehead.
“What’s the difference? We’re due back at base in five, so there’s not much time left. Gentlemen, prepare to die. SQUAD! OPEN FI-“
His words were cut off as a strange, triangular blade sprouted from his throat. And Garret’s eyes bugged out as Orion tossed the man over the ranks of the Corporation soldiers.
The world slowed to a crawl as Garret dove to the ground, Orion dove into the black mass, and the firing began. He scrambled for the leader’s rifle, and shot from the ground, downing several soldiers who had pointed their guns at Orion’s back.
Orion himself flashed and glared in the sun, his metal skin sending flares of light all around, blinding anyone who looked too long. The enemy soldiers dropped around him, clutching crimson lines on their stomachs or throats.
And suddenly, the android stood alone, the soldiers falling one by one to the floor. He turned slowly around, and strode over to the stunned resistance members.
“I miss nothing, Sergeant Garret. I heard every word your squad said, and most of what the other squad said.”
Garret shifted uncomfortably.
“You hate me, and were plotting to kill me. Why? Because I’m made of metal? Because I’m an android?”
He spread his arms wide, the switchblade snicking back into its wrist holder.
“Here’s your chance. Take the shot. Kill me.”
“We’re… not going to kill you.” muttered Garret, his eyes on the floor.
“Because you saved our lives.” a man to his left said solemnly.
“You’re damn right I did. And don’t forget it. Dante found me worthy; why shouldn’t you?”
There was silence. Orion let his hands fall to the floor, and walked over to the soldiers.
“Stand by for teleport jump. We’ll come back for those supplies later.”
“Sir…” said Garret.
“I’m… we’re sorry.”
Orion would have smiled. If he could.