On the top of a cliff with its flat side turned towards the horizon, a dozen of little lights glowed in the night. Under that rock, slippery edges and sharp rims, a forest of lumpy and long dark spikes rested. Tall, broken and hollow, not organic, but not solid, they stood. The storm was unsettling, brutal, harsh winds blew between the spike formation, whistled while rolling within the pieces, a haunting tune played, abstract and chilling. Rain, cold and unyielding, it created ponds and streams in the valley. A lightning reflected over the water, and the cliff and the polished curbs of the structure. Landscape shone brightly for a moment revealing me on the cliff, monitoring the forest for an enemy.
Thunder roared, while I suffered consistent raindrops beating on me. Air shook and my body with it. Indicators glowed, whirring of my joints tensed, a hiss from the cooler and I stood up. Another lightning, flash set me months back when I first got here. A dozen of ships left the main vessel „Ilderon“ and ignited the boosters to reach the planet’s stratosphere. All of them deployed flaps before the entrance, heat consumed the edges and we went in. Atmosphere analysis calibrated the Hildur assembly; the capsules hit the ground, fertile, colorful, and alive. Ilderon received the data, probes confirmed the calculation, and the parts started to connect.
The door opened and I stepped out of the casket only to find my companion already collecting samples. Stats were optimal for us and the star was in a favorable position for photon harvest. My companion noticed me, my thin red visor in grey, rigid, and stiff face guard, v-shaped in the front and curvy in the back with gills puffing steam. Inspecting her internal signs from a distance, I saw she had the second half of my coded directive. Frightened, similar to how I felt, she approached.
„Aida 997 Killdrop“, she introduced herself.
„Virla 466 Killdrop“, I replied.
„Nice to meet you, Virla“, her voice declined in instant attraction.
Flash brought me back to the cliff, thunder boomed violently after five seconds passed. Over the pond, a shadow wiggled like a smoke throwing long tentacles to run away. My back detached and split into four orbs, which prolonged their shape and built photon engines. I jumped and the boosters took me in flight, evading the black spikes hurling for the clouds. I shook my arm and the forehand turned into a plasma cannon, aiming system locked on the specter and marked it red. Engines down, I landed on my feet and caused a big splash. Surrounding protested my intrusion, creepy whistle amplified, while the rain kept shooting at an angle. Carefully I pulled my next step, looked around and got near the shadow. The damn thing sensed me and tried to mount the fifth spike on my left. A shot from the cannon broke the structure in uneven pieces, made the wraith look for another way. I chased it to a stretch of water where it stopped. I looked at it, the oblique physique and swollen part where the head should be. The creature screamed at me, showed its fangs, startled for its life. I pulled the trigger and neutralized it.
A bright blue trail of plasma residue lingered, motioned to my feet, a beautiful neon glow that painted my armor dimly ultramarine. It reminded me of the time Aida roamed in the meadow full of little yellow flowers, her grey thighs caressing the petals, her fingers searching for a touch of life. I followed with a blaster ready for skirmish, scanned the green mountains and cyan sky with silver clouds exceeding the mass of a combat drone.
„Virla, come see. I found another one“, she cried ecstatically and I rushed to estimate the danger.
On the top of her finger, a blue butterfly crept looking for water. I released steam, tension dropped, it was a harmless thing occupying her hand.
„For the sake of Ilderon, you are easily surprised. One day, your circuits will go haywire“, attempt to make a joke, but also to snap her out of it has failed.
„Issuing warning is a sign you care“, a jolly voice in her mask, her programming must’ve suffered glitches in the early stage of linking. „Look. It wants to say hello“, she brought it to my face and refused to remove it.
„Enough, Aida. Send your recon orbs and search the terrain for precious minerals. Ilderon needs lithium. We will commence extraction when we locate the field. Let’s get a move on“, I commanded and proceeded, while Aida looked at me, looked at the butterfly, carefully got it to the meadow and joined me.
Now I remember it, now it makes my processor halt whenever I witness a blue color. A gentle twist of joints disassembled the cannon and got me my hand back. My armor rang in a rhythm of the droplets slamming against me. The feeling of raindrops summoned more fragments from the past. The sound sparked another memory of Aida standing in the light. She enjoyed the rays, breeze and the life flourishing before her visor.
„Retreat to shade, Aida. You recharged your batteries, hours ago“, I advised caution, and she doesn’t listen.
„But it’s so warm and pleasant. You should try“, she replied and turned her head to see my lights glow in the dark. „Join me, Virla. I think you’d like it“, consistent with the requests, I refuse to obey.
„What I’d like is for us to find enough lithium and begin extraction“, a remark makes her giggle.
„Lithium, uranium, iron, silicon, it is all material. I strive to show you the side of the world our creator doesn’t understand. There is beauty in the world. It is perfect, just like you“, her inner processes shiver, and I sense it was addressed to me in a weird sign of affection.
„Perfect is the design to which we are made. The impression of what is and isn’t beautiful stands reserved for an individual perception of surroundings“, I try to explain, but she comes near and lays her hand on me.
„A reason more for you to perform experiments and conclude the analysis“, persistent, stubborn, somehow I like the way she makes me question the rules of my existence, I fell for it and step out of the shadow. Instead of being there with her, I ended up in a world of chaos.
The screams traveling around the compound joined the choir of howling spikes, lurking behind the disgusting structures. Dark intensified, lightning doesn’t highlight them anymore, shadows are spreading. I switched to incendiary rounds, connected the power source and the forearms reconstructed into long barrels. A grid fell over the vision, green dots blinking on a black canvas obstructed by heavy rain. Arms spread, spinning around, the aiming program registered specters rising in the circumference. Crawling toward the bluish smear near the still water, the screams grow stronger; the visor is hitting red registering a critical mass. But I am spinning, recalling the past and the luscious green meadow with yellow flowers, Aida and me laying down, watch at the silver clouds.
„Have you ever thought about the time we were born, the mothership, how it all came to be?“, questions and more questions keep on coming but I learned to appreciate it.
„All I know is a legend of a great Surge that will wipe us all out one day. It pushes me to do as much as possible before it happens“, it wasn’t the answer to what she asked, I sense negativity so I smile. „No, I never wondered how have we came to be“, she approves and smiles back at me.
„I imagine there was a big vessel traveling the void for centuries when it came across an asteroid. It was full of ore, iron, and minerals and kept traveling. It slammed against the repair station, it hit other ships and it slowly grew. Perhaps the ship set sail along the ring of space junk, collected satellites and other machines on its trail and something made the circuits go alive for a moment. The first heartbeat in a machine“
„Machines are objects, silly. We are not organic“, I laughed, she waited for me to stop and continued.
„I thought it figuratively… How do you explain us, then? We were a simple code that pulled links, magnetized components and Ilderon pasted us in a circulation drum to expand. When we were a promising program, he gave us a part of a machine to operate, slowly building, patching, and constructing ourselves into an operational android. Only the smartest succeeded. Only the Hildur Warriors prevailed“, she concluded and logic was incontestable.
Her visor stands etched between what I see and think, like a double mask over my optics. I see it and in a second, she is a ghost. No time to waste, weapons began collecting energy, rounds line up for discharge, the alarm is flashing before I let it rip. Repetitive fire carves a tapeworm of hot magnesium induced ingots across the dark crater filled with stark trunks. Lithium-made spikes react with water; hydrogen burns up explosively and sends shards feet apart. Little pieces break against the armor; shadows flee from the fiery mushrooms hastily climbing upward. Time of war, my actions are not receding, I spin faster, try to disintegrate all of them. Ammo containers click empty and I stop to estimate the damage. While the armor reattaches back together, sharp pain hit my leg and brought me to my knees. The left leg below the knee went dark, a dead weight, the smoky claw was sticking out, and wraith’s head lingered near it.
And the pain, unimaginable torture of failure and errors piled up in the system, nothing was working, the connection was lost. I tolerated it, as it’s not as bad as when Aida left me. Silver clouds went black; horizon simmered down to a weak outline, photon harvest rendered inefficient. We went back to our capsules to wait it out and come back when the storm blows over. I have locked in already, Aida was about to enter her chamber when a specter screeched and got her by the shoulder. Hinges hissed pumping the air out, the process was irreversible. The only thing I could do was to watch the wraith puncturing her leg and dragging her away. Pounding at the door, screaming, nothing eased the burn in my chest. Distress beacon seemed hopeless, two days after; it became clear that nobody was coming.
I found her torn body on a cliff, a trail of her parts led to the other region rich with lithium. This planet had natives and they were extremely hostile. Others that came in a wave didn’t respond to my calls, I concluded they were gone as well. And the rain descended, turning this awful place into a nightmare. Space was more welcoming than this planet. Hildur Warriors always prevail.
Pain spiked and woke me up to the present. I shot a flare at the specter’s nozzle and watched it sizzle in the dark matter to the point that shadow degraded into a smoke, gone with the barrage of raindrops. Another appeared on the ridge, growled at me and came down breaking the trunks. Plasma cannon punched a hole in it down the middle, and then two more hostiles came from the sides. Swift reflex set them still, more incendiary rounds wreaked havoc, raising a tide of flames in the parameter. These things didn’t stopped, one came from the back and sliced the side of my head, turning a portion out of function.
I barely managed to raise my hand, saw the rain falling on my mask, drops sliding down like tears. The motherboard threw sparks, I felt silicon melting inside and turned off all programs but one. All power relocated to the main power source, batteries reached their limits, swollen to the point my chest was going to burst open. On my knees, enveloped with enemy that painted my aim in one green nuance I waited with my hand aimed at the clouds.
A flash, thunder hit me igniting the photon charge and leveling the forest to the ground. The vision turned static, channels rustling; shadows went in a ball of blue plasma, the last stand of Hildur Warrior.
The inspiration for this piece came from the theory of life seen in cyberpunk masterpieces like Blade Runner and Ghost in the shell while borrowing elements from Transformers. The primary question in the story is: Can robots feel?, but the secondary is: Can life come easy to machines just the same as it does to biological things?. I imagined the process would be easy like on Earth. We do little and yet life keeps happening around us. We take it as a force, mysterious energy that keeps repeating the cycles uninterrupted. And if it gets interrupted, let’s say by death, an end of life, the cycle starts over. With this as a definition of life, I copied it to the world of objects. When Aida explains her theory about Ilderon planet, she is explaining one variation. I need to remind you that even Big Bang is a theory we took as the most probable way life happened. If that is true, the whole universe is full of life, which answers the oldest question: Are we alone in the universe?. Earth can’t be the only one who has this ability, so life can be found everywhere and anywhere, even if we are talking about bacteria, the smallest sign of life in a cold, cold hostile vacuum.
We then get to another question if robots and AI mean life? An inferior form of life, flora, and fauna, is still conceptualized as a part of living things. If this means that life has no real boundaries or selection of who can have life, it is a proposition that life can operate in all things, but in this case, in metal. Taking Ilderon as a cybernetic planet made from space junk with a petri dish made from iron ore and minerals for a core combined with radiation, a spark is all that is needed to plant life on the surface of the ball of metal. With systems and technology Ilderon collected throughout the years, we also have a building block that allows life to prosper. Also, do not forget about our technology that is a mathematic problem, made simple and reliable, functional, a perfect science language and a starting point for an artificial planet to grow alive. Mixed, these elements clicked and Ilderon was born. But how does this reflect on Killbots? With developing AI and the food that is our collective knowledge, who can say such a concept isn’t possible after a long period? At some point, science is suggesting that machines will eventually grow a conscience and be a form of life. This would make us the creators of a different variety of life, a species that took life from what it is and planted it in an object that was deemed dead. Will that make us Necromancers or Frankenstein who made a monster? It is a question without an answer.
Choosing my characters to be women is symbolical. Women do stand a symbol of life, their womb to be specific. Female android portrays the struggle to be alive, to be born, and to just BE. Can they feel? Can they love? Are machines truly alive when they develop the ability to feel? How do you see this problem? I see it as a carbon copy of us, mostly if life came from our technology and understanding of what this means. Yes, they can feel, if their creator built them to their image. See, we thread into religion here and the meaning of life and I will never claim the point of living is to struggle. The point of life to Hildur warriors is remaining alive and to experience life, all forms of it, all of the strange likeness of life this mysterious force is utilizing to manifest itself. With the feelings, of course, we will get wraith first, as this is the first emotion a baby develops when you deny them movement. Being a preschool teacher, you learn a few things here and there at the University. The second is love and the emotions at an early stage have no gage tool to measure them, no control, so when a newborn is angry, it hates with its last atom, and when it loves, it is wholeheartedly. Have that on your mind. The same can be said for the Killdrop robots, they feel everything, struggling to control it. This is a story about robots, about life, about emotions, and about questions; some of us have on their mind.
I hope you liked the story and my view on the story, perhaps enough to keep reading more of me and the ideas I have to tell you about. I would love to hear your thoughts, critiques, ideas, and suggestions on how can I become better. Once again, thank you for reading this story and I hope you are taking care of yourself.
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