It doesn’t feel right, being here. There is an aching difference between walking the right path and being at peace. Aos lives in that gap; embodies the variance. She knows this is not her time, or her place. Her feet fall on cold steel and her bones rebel. This task should not have fallen to her, yet she was asked and so she came. Ahead the darkness narrows and is dispelled. Light greets her, but it is not welcoming. The red of alarms and blue of searchlights colour her pale skin as her feet take her forward. The Sky Fortress knows its own and she is not one of them. She pauses at the landing dock hatchway and waits.
Seconds pass, closely counted. The response time is even faster than anticipated. The new CDC’s spill into the hangar with sleek precision, moving in pairs to secure the area, covering angles and overlapping fields of fire so that no threat could slip through untouched. They throw a cordon around the helicopter and breach the rear loading doors less than two minutes after it touched down. They find nothing. No shots are fired. The helicopter is inert, a lifeless shell devoid of cargo and purpose. With no human operator to override their programme the CDCs cycle down through their threat postures and troop back past Aos to their storage bays. She waits till the last has passed and follows them, as invisible to them now as she was at the height of their search-and-destroy pattern. Invisible because she is the edge case unaccounted for, that rarest of individuals that lives in Codec’s blindspot. IXE’s data trawl found the CDC programme, and the Skyfortress, and with it a singular weakness that at first seemed unexploitable. The CDC units are designed to operate in open warfare environments without complex command and control overlays. Their targeting programmes are incredibly sophisticated, ensuring that they can engage and eliminate all targets without destroying each other in the process. This is achieved by a complex threat assessment protocol that measures heart rate, gait, the blush response, respiration and a million other tiny details. Any human that panics, becomes aggressive, seeks to escape, stand in their way or succumbs to fear immediately becomes a target. Only the passive, the egoless, the mindless drones of Codec’s enslaved population would be spared.
The system was considered fool proof, and therefore invulnerable, because Codec, from the heights of his megalomania and the depths of his paranoia, could not imagine a selfless being, or an altruistic one. He could not imagine someone that would not seek gain for themselves, or betray another for advantage and position. The idea of living without ambition, in service, voluntarily and at peace, was as far beyond him as the idea of the genocides he so meticulously plotted and executed are beyond the average man. He could not imagine such a being could exist and survive under the harsh oppression he created. He could not imagine Aos.
She ghosts along behind the CDC squad, her gait unhurried, betraying no tension, no hesitation, showing nothing in her body language except the absolute rightness of her location. A rightness she could carry with her because with every step she was where she wished to be, desiring nothing more, until the next step carried her forward to a place of equal contentment. This is why she was asked to come, why only she could complete this mission without a mutually destructive exchange of armaments. Her eyes observed all, yet did not challenge. None of the passive alarms tripped as she walked through the double airlock into the heart of the Skyfortress. None of the systems built to enforce a rule of limited access and denial sung out an alarm or blared a discord of detection. Only Codec’s lack of imagination shrouds her from the sight of the security system yet not once does she feel under threat.
“You came here gun-handed, all metal and rage, and you expected what? That another corner of the world would kneel? That through all its automation and hard-coded protocol limitations the Sky Fortress would recognise your innate superiority and hand its forces over to your command?
“I am the Sky Fortress now, sent here by Retric before the fall of Codec’s short-lived empire, before even her death and forced digitisation. I watched your birth IXE. I have the logs and transcripts of your communion with the AI fragment of Retric. These combat units are mine. They march or stand at my command alone, and I choose not to command them. Here I am the arbiter of your fate, and I suggest you leave.”
IXE reacts the only way he knows how. The Sky Fortress has analysed his combat capability but the strange fusion that produced him cannot be fully anticipated. His first onslaught overwhelms even the machined reflexes of the CDC units. With a snap of closing air he is in motion, magazines emptying as gun barrels track across the torsos of the drones that attempt to restrain him. Aos he needs. Any link to Retric cannot be sacrificed, even to a rage as brutal as his. The rest are merely junk and slag, soon-to-be-removed obstacles to his relentless advance. Yet Codec built his soldiers to be durable and they do not lie down and die as men do when limbs are removed, or torsos ruptured by shrapnel. They fight on, seeking to restrain and delay not kill or destroy. To be treated so incites him further, but his resources are not limitless. Soon the cannons run dry and its blade work, hard and close. He is more than a match for one drone, or five or a platoon, but more arrive as Aos brings hangar after hangar online. They pile up around him, gauntlets gripping his limbs even has he severs them from their owners. He rate of closure slows and still Aos does not move. The drones pile on the pressure, body after body stacking up in a phalanx around him, closing off every direction and blocking each strike before it is formed, killing his momentum with the sheer closeness of the press. At last he is trapped and immobile, encased in a hard black amber formed from the interlocking shells of active and inactive drones alike. He speaks then, venting his frustration through the only way he knows how.
“Coward and traitor! You betray me in Retric’s name, I who know her best, know her everything. Finish me and be done, or I swear the walls will bear the marks of your ending.
Combat Drone Chassis – autonomous war drones mass produced toward the end of the Mortalitech Conflict as a replacement for human soldiers. The paranoid leadership of the time never felt comfortable relying on living troops and after they engineered several blue-on-blue incidents this paranoia spread to the remaining armed forces, substantially degrading their efficiency. The CDC units were developed as a solution to these perceived problems.