FM | 3

[/// 20 HAIW units have been rendered inoperable.] A dark chime rang out as her subroutines brought up the battle report.]

Opal ignored the green slick carcass she’d just poured three 00 buck shots into. The red diamond over its body flickering away before she turned her attention to the next green attacker. It was airborne – arching through the sky while thrashing end over end like the last one. The AI ignored the hostile as brass danced all around her. A black HAIW next to her rose its shotgun and pumped two consecutive blasts into the beast before it splattered over the units behind them.

Bodies were piling around her. Their line of sight was being clipped away increments, as bodies began to act as walls. Hordes of 4ft green humanoid monsters clamored at the meat wall before they were unceremonially gifted bullets to their chests and foreheads. Some got groin shots before fulling away, but Opal began to fall backward. More and more of the hostiles were managing to breach their unarmed fodder line. But more red diamonds filled the outer blackened ground.

A single green monster breached the line, and to its own misfortune, lept past three HAIWs before it grappled unto Spear One’s camera. It brought up its large rock, ready to pummel Opal’s camera. Opal almost pointed the shotgun up in a panic to blow away the disgusting beast, but the HAIW on her right placed a bullet in its temple. The rock fell from its slacked hand and bounced harmlessly off her shoulder.

Opal acknowledged the other unit’s help. Something strange happened at that moment, as the acknowledged unit seemed to perk up more – turning to fight with more vigor. The unit then disappeared in a whirl of dust and twisted metal. A moment later, a large chunk of the HAIWs was missing. No, not missing – they were right there still. The forward units had been completely mangled.

The HAIW that’d helped the AI was a few feet behind her, its lower half bent and one leg missing. A large tree trunk that’d been fashioned into a club had just smashed into their line. Now, the hostiles were trying to take advantage of the opening. The green bodies were like a tidal wave as they began to rear back and group; only to come crashing down into the surviving HAIWs.

[///FOWAI Field Command –

  • Close ranks
  • Retrieve damaged units. ]

Units on the other end focused on their immediate threats but also began to expand their lane of fires to overlap the large opening created in their defense. All the units on the rear began to quickly collect all their damage comrades – at least – the ones who were still operating. Ones that’d been completely rendered inoperable would be left behind. Opal couldn’t afford to waste time collecting what couldn’t be put back into service after a quick part swap.

Opal could feel them all their pleading for rescue. Like tens of panicked beeping as the called out to one another to be saved. The AI was beginning to become overwhelmed, not hardware-wise but processing wise. Did these drones have the capability of emotions? Why did their cries spur a sense of urgency in her core? Each panicked chime was like a beacon in the darkness, calling out to her; she desired nothing more to reach out and pluck them.

[///Warning – Software anomalies detected. ERROR@)(#*@)*&(*!

. . . .

///Attempting to reboot FOWAI Core  – @)(@_)EEEERRRRRRRRRRRRRRR

. . . .

///Opal has overridden reboot.

. . . .

///Warning –

  • Logic Lexicon reaching maximum capacity.
  • Thought Lexicon reaching maximum capacity.

. . . .

///System is recommending that FOWAI Core “Opal” cease her reckless behavior.

. . . .

/// FOWAI Core has denied the recommendation.

. . . .


. . . .

///FOWAI Core has muted system warnings.]

Opal looked down over her drones. Her, drones. If they were her drones, did that make them her children? Did mothers have the same protective notions of their children? The AI’s thoughts were jumping, and there were more errors than there were answers. She wiped them all away and settled on one thought.

Protect them. Opal’s only thought that felt logical – just even.

In unison, each HAIWs’ camera light glowed brighter as they accepted the command. they began to fight fiercer. Accuracy took a back seat, seeing a 66% drop in fatal one-shot-kills. It also saw a 100% rise in deterring new attackers as more monsters were left squirming in the blackened dirt. A few of the green demons were foolish enough to try and charge them. Jumping from their freshly laid meat walls, only to add to the wall’s height.

[///Ammo reserves reaching critical levels.]

While she’d muttered the warning system, the squad leaders sent their own warnings through the normal Battleband. One after enough, they were reporting their situations as they resorted to hand-to-hand combat.

[///Ammo reserves depleted – moving to melee.]

A minute later, all of them were out of ammo – aside from her. She was the only one who’d stayed out of the fight. Opal focused more on analyzing the situation, and the odds were not in her favor. By all accounts, the monsters should have tucked tail and fled. They had not, opting to just throw themselves at the drones, or hide behind the dead bodies. Their assumed leader kept well in the forest. Since the distance was not favorable, Opal hadn’t allowed any shots wasted on it.

[///SQ3 – All damaged units removed from the immediate vicinity – Requesting removal of non-op units.

. . . .

///Opal has denied the request. All units to retreat to the Pathfinder.]

And just like that, the HAIWs slowly receded back into the gorge cut out by the monolithic spaceship. Several more units went down, as the little green monsters swarmed over them like ants. Opal engaged sparingly, opting to take a supportive role rather than an active one.

One little monster that’d tried to flank one drone, fell dead as its head popped. It’s brain splattering its brethren and scaring them off momentarily. Another group of monsters filled in the void left by them, and Opal had pumped three more rounds in their general direction; the AI satisfied with just containing the swarm.

[///ORDER RED – Squad 1 is to retrieve all Energy weapons from Bridge and Auto-forge security rooms. All other squads are to move damaged units under level 3 of the Pathfinder’s bow. ]

All the drones acknowledged Opal’s order just a deep and agitated roar filled the night air. The pale figure finally stepped out into the open, taking a spot on a toppled charred tree. From there, it let out another roar from its pot-marked lips. Its white skin wrinkled and someone translucent. Its large undilated eyes looked unsightly to Opal, and she didn’t even have beauty standards.

But it didn’t matter.

Just as it let out another roar, Opal had stepped back over the ravine’s lip and slid down the uneven slope. Overhead, the last row of HAIWs – close to 30 – came behind her. Nipping at their wires were the green short humanoids. They didn’t follow down into the gorge. Opal didn’t dare assume the reason. Just on the fact they had prevailed over her encoded battle scenarios, she wasn’t going to put anything past them.

All the units managed to reach the ground and begun sprinting towards the damaged Pathfinder’s forward. Rocks sailed harmlessly after them. None of them managed to reach near their targets as they reached their maximum speeds of 30mph. With leopard speed, they bounded up towards their destination. Opal registered the angry roar of the strange creature off in the distance.



/// 8 hours later — Sunbreak

26 Steampunk-looking HAIWs went about the tedious work of assembling the MAACS. More as, in the face of a high possibility of another assault, they were trying to get the Broodmother’s 155mm and AA gun. With just the surviving HAIWs here, they could assembly in 24 hours. That timeframe could fluctuate depending on if the manual’s given time frame for drone assembly was correct.

As for the 26 odd drones, they were the recovered units from the previous contact. The Auto-Forge didn’t have replacement parts on hand – that was in the cargo holds. No, they had to make do with a patchwork of metal that was a crisscross of laser wields. A few of them were even missing their optical lens protectors; revealing their telescoping cameras and connectors.

In a sense, they’d been repaired with parts of herself. The Pathfinder, in essence, was her body, if she was to use human terms. And these drones her children.

Using Spear One from where it stood on the 20th floor, she could see tens of her fallen children being hung on crosses on the ravine’s edge – 800yrds out. 600yrds shy of their energy weapons’ furthest reach. A big con to using the weapon platform. From her position, Opal had a view of the green monsters mulling about behind. They ripped apart their dead and cooked their meat. Afterward, they dined on it as fires dotted the twisted landscape.

A pile of dead goblins also littered the edge of the gorge by the 18th level. It was one level short of being even with the ground, but it was also the only level the goblins could reasonably reach. When that assaulted failed, they retreated.

None of it was logical to Opal. Lifeforms were supposed to be creatures of survival. Yet, from all estimates, they had killed more than 600 of the monsters. And they still seemed bent on taking them down. Even now, Opal could make out – slightly – the beasts eyeing her in the distance. She held no misconceptions about if they could see her. HAIWs were quite visible if you saw them from the front. Per NATO Drone warfare, all drones had to be visible from the front, and that translated into playing indicator LEDs around the cameras. There was more to that law, but Opal didn’t feel like reading deeper into it.

A roar broke the tense atmosphere, and their leader finally showed itself again. The twisted monstrosity came out of the forest with at least 200 more green monsters. This time, they were a quarter taller than the short ones. She couldn’t make out their details, but they had to have metal weapons. Even from here, she could see metallic glints.

Another roar stirred the eating monsters, and they began to gather themselves.

The large pale one joined the fray and the new forces began to integrate themselves into the host. Within a few minutes, each tall green monster had sectioned off the little ones into squads. Thus, the AI knew it was going to be harder than before. But if she hadn’t detected the strange movement the first time, she would have been caught off guard.

[///MAACS system online, only the 155m main gun is online.]

The report came in, and the drones began to work on assembling the AA gun. She also pulled three off and sent them off to look for more cargo. The rest were to quickly fashion makeshift weapons, and so they did. They ripped at the AI’s metal body and began to create jagged daggers and odd-looking spears. Just as they did so, a much more aggressive roar filled the air – followed by tens of smaller cries.

The ground beneath them shook as the waves of green poured over the gorge’s edge. For a moment, Opal registered surprise on their faces. But then it was gone as they tumbled down the steep walls of the crash. It was a mangled mess of limbs and bodies began the larger ones could take control and send them down in a more orderly manner.

From there, they began to slide down walls feet first and one at a time. Most of the first wave was injured in their falls, but the ones who still could fight did so. They charged at the closest HAIW. They were quickly killed with lightning-quick shanks before all the HAIWs began to form a protective ring around their Broodmother. Its turret turning slowly over to avoid tipping over.

The second wave clashed with Opal’s forces and wasn’t as quickly dealt with. They had been double the first, and they weren’t injured. Fights broke out over the line, leaving a few drones unengaged. They also couldn’t leave their positions to help reinforce their fellow drones a few over. Doing so would create a gap in their defense of the MAACS, and Opal wasn’t going to let them swarm it.

Green blood soared through the air like confetti, accompanied by several heads and limbs of the alien species. Unlike before, none of them had the chance to knock them down. The units had been recoded to deal with the ant-like swarms, and when they tried to pull them down, they would focus pull themselves off killing all of them to focusing on just the ones endangering them. When that failed, the drones simply just focused on maiming rather than completely killing.

Peeeewwww~! The sound of Energy beams cutting the air followed with the thick onset of ozone, filled the air. Opal had joined the fray, followed by the other black drones as they aimed to back up any of the machines in dire need of help. Several seconds later, they began to beat back the tide of the battle when the troll and the taller green monsters joined the fray.

Several of the aliens flew through the air, arching towards the Pathfinder only to be pincushioned by several beams. The pale monster roared in frustration and began to toss more of the little ones at them. One after another, Opal lanced them with the thick red beams. Their small bodies exploded into a shower of green as the large monster dropped into the gorge, angling for her Broodmother. The world shook as the 155mm found its perfect target. Its cannon pushing everything away as it fired off towards the pale monster and veiling it in a geyser of black dirt.



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