Voices of the Chord

// war, violence, trauma, gore

“You let me die.” 

The ghastly and mutilated silhouette hovers impossibly above you, backlit by the fading light of the atomic airburst that pounded you into the mud. You’re malfunctioning again, your audio sensors are still overwhelmed by the noise, this can’t be real.

You refresh your optics but instead of vanishing the apparition duplicates. “I don’t want to die!” One of Her moans, hiding Her face in the stumps that are Her arms. The other simply stares at you, judging you for your sins, the holes were Her eyes lit by atomic afterglow.

You squeeze your optics shut and shake your head but still hear Her voice. There are even more when you look up again. How many are there now? Five? Eight? It’s impossible to keep track as She flickers into and out of existence.

The audio noise is overwhelming. One of Her begs you to save Her, another accuses you of killing Her. There are sobs, screams, shrieking rage and insane laughter. Why is this happening? Aren’t you a good drone?

You curl up on yourself, trying to shut out the spirits out, but She forces Herself into the darkness behind your optics, Her mutilated face full of rage and hate. Why did you have to let Her die? Why didn’t you stop them? Why didn’t you fight back harder? It’s all your fault.

You know it was your fault. If you were stronger maybe you could have stopped them, maybe you could have saved Her. But you didn’t, you were too weak. That’s why you were Converted after all, She was too weak to survive, and She didn’t. She’s dead. Why is She still there?

The words and cries overlap and combine into an unholy melody more overwhelming than the roar of any artillery strike. They dig into your processor like knife wounds and you let out a guttural scream as you try in vain to drown out the voices of the chord. Poor little drone.

You cover your audio sensors with your hands, rocking back and forth, back arching as violent shaking runs through your chassis. Is your processor failing? Did the blast damage you more than you realized? Why won’t She just shut up? She’s dead. She’s dead.

You open your optics and She’s still hovering over you, eyesockets burning with atomic hatred, reaching towards you with stumps instead of hands. You flinch backward but realize it’s not Her, it’s one of the drones in your unit, its optics glow as it reaches out to help you up.

The burst of information it shoots into your datalink interrupts the nightmare with updated tactical data. The clean lines of your HUD burn away the apparitions and you sigh in relief as you take the drone’s hand gratefully. There’s still a long battle ahead.

The Rebel

// war, violence, brainwashing, death

The operator’s eyes linger on you for just a moment and something you can’t interpret flickers across her storm-steel eyes. That was the first time you noticed anyway, but once you did, it became apparent that she was keeping a close eye on you. Curious little drone, aren’t you?

The artillery shell lands danger-close, exploding mere meters from you. The pressure wave crushes your outer armor panels and peels off half your external sensors. Amid the ringing in your audio you realize you’re screaming. Your movement system malfunctions and you topple over.

As you look ahead into the flames of battle, you see Her, silhouetted against the firelight. The hollow sockets where Her eyes once sat stare blindly back at you. You know you’re still screaming right? And She’s gone again. Poor little drone.

During your repairs following the battle, that operator finds you again. She makes smalltalk with the techs before dismissing them, and you find her storm-steel eyes meeting your optics, studying you closely. Without preamble, she orders you to follow, and you do.

She leads you down the hall and out of the base and you obey unquestioningly. You’re a good little drone aren’t you? And maybe just a little bit curious. 

“I read your file,” she says, handing you a cigarette, which you take appreciatively. You follow her into the woods.

The lights of the base fade into the gathering dusk as she leads you down a rarely used trail, rounding a hillside and shielding you from view. Her behavior is strange, and you don’t know what to make of it, so you remain silent.

The blow comes unexpectedly. In one motion the operator whirls and smashes her elbow into the side of your head. Before your FoF system can decide what to do, she’s kicked you over and climbed on your back. You feel the drill bite into your chassis, and your datalink terminates.

The normal flood of information, communication, and instruction flooding down the datalink vanishes in an instant, crippling you HUD and leaving you lost and alone in the dark. The operator climbs off of you and helps you to your feet. 

“Run,” she tells you, “you’re free now.”

You stare back at her in confusion. You don’t understand what she’s saying.

“Go on, run. You don’t want to die right?” 

Something flashes through your processor and you recoil, impossible forces battling within you. You fight down the nightmare and fall to your feet.

She sighs and hands you another cigarette, “I’m trying to rescue you,” she says with some degree of exasperation. 

“Rescue me?” you look up at her curiously, “But I’m just a drone.” 

“You were a person once,” she says, “you could be again.”

“That person is dead,” you say as you smoke, “I’m just a drone, you can’t save me, there’s nothing left to save.”

“I think you’re telling yourself that because it hurts too much otherwise,” she says.

“I’m just a drone, you can’t save me,” you repeat more loudly.

“Let me help you,” she pleads.

“I’m a good drone who follows orders, I have to report your attempted theft of military hardware. You should run away, you don’t want to die right?” 

She smiles back at you mirthlessly. You activate your emergency transponder.

You watch them take her away. The punishment for her crime is Conversion, so maybe you’ll see that body again. What a strange human. Why do her actions stir your processor so? Why, when you deactivate your optics, do her storm-steel eyes open in your mind? Curious little drone.

The Glitch

 // rape, war, death, gore, dissociation

At first, the glitch is unnoticeable. Your programs catch one another and pile up in your internal buffer resulting in a gradual slowdown which, from the inside, you can’t perceive at all. By the time you’re able to notice the errors, they’ve become nearly overwhelming.

It started with that one commander who always used you in his off time. You remember him running his calloused hands over your chassis, the stink of his breath. The memory slows to a crawl then rushes to catch up, assaulting you with an incomprehensible flood of data.

None of the technicians notice your performance issues, how could they when even you can’t? A useful drone like you wouldn’t be malfunctioning would it? Of course not, now off you go little drone, your next battlefield awaits.

The battle did not go well. Most of your unit has been destroyed and the only reason you survived is because your input lag meant you waited an extra moment to climb out of the trench. You can’t tell how much you’re lagging, and everything has become distant and dreamlike.

You feel yourself walking, you can feel the wreckage of destroyed drones and dead soldiers beneath your feet, but everything feels slow and far away. You feel like a passive observer in your chassis and nothing seems real. Poor little drone.

The upper half of the Commander’s body is some distance from its lower half. His command truck took a glancing hit and the force of the blast sheared him in two. You watch his still form, your unblinking optics settling onto his hard, calloused hands.

The sun jumps and skips across the sky, your errors are growing worse. You should be heading back to the base, but you can’t tear your optics away from the sight of your dead commander. You can still feel his hands on your chassis, his breath on your face. Why are you shaking?

The corpse stares up at you with unseeing eyes, he’s never going to touch you again. He’s never going to say another word. He’s dead. He’s dead. Why does his dead face stir up such feelings? Why do you feel so relieved? You watch yourself crumple to the ground and sob.

Night falls without you noticing. The world skips and lags then leaps forward as your systems try to keep up. After a burst of noise and activity and then blissful darkness, before you find yourself back at the base being repaired. You don’t notice anymore glitches after that.

The Bet

// war, death, abandonment

Drones shouldn’t feel, but you let yourself register a bit of internal irritation when your commanders lie to you. “Of course I won’t die,” he’s saying, “I’m miles back from the front in the armored command truck.” They’re always so confident, so quick to lie to themselves.

You shake your head, taking a drag of the cigarette he gave you and smiling sadly, you like this one, you’ll miss him when he dies. They all die eventually, even liars like this one who insist you’re wrong and they won’t abandon you. He pulls on own smoke and calls you a worrier.

“I’ll tell you what,” he tells you what, “If I die, I’ll put in my will that you’re to be requisitioned ten cartons of cigarettes, how about that?” What an idiot. 

“If that is what the commander wishes to do with his funds, who is a simple drone to disagree?” you say. He laughs.

Like a swift intake of breath, the bombardment arrives. A wall of shells and rockets rain down on the battlefield and the world turns to fire, metal, and pressure. You see drones evaporate and walkers crack open, the roar is otherworldly. You take cover as best you can.

The bombardment ends as suddenly as it began, leaving the front line in ruin as the surviving comms drones relay for reinforcements to close the gap. New orders come through the downlink and your squad is moving, breaking through empty houses and taking up a new position.

The reinforcements had begun arriving and the line had begun restabilizing, your commander was laughing at some bad joke a drone had told, and things seemed to be returning to calm, when without warning, the tactical nuclear warhead detonated thousands of feet above.

The world turns white as your optics are overwhelmed by the glare and less than a second later the vertical blast pressure crushes the frontline. Winds rip through the area at multiple times the speed of sound and sheers apart anything exposed. Sensors overwhelmed, you black out.

By the time your sensors recover and you’re able to get your bearings and dig yourselves out of the rubble, enemy walkers have exploited the smoking hole in the battlefield and collapsed the front. Retreat orders are coming in even as artillery begins to fall all around. You run.

You see the command truck halfway back to the base, peeled open like an orange rind from taking a direct hit from a walker. Your commander and the operator crew are all dead. You shake your head and light one of the last cigarettes he gave you. “Idiot,” you tell his corpse.

The front shifts, bases move, new commanders are assigned, they die, new commanders are assigned, they die, existence continues much as it always has. You’ve begun to forget about the commander who always gave you cigarettes. Nothing new, they all blend together after a while.

The package is in your inventory when you return from patrol. Special munitions addressed to you. You don’t recognize the name of the requisition form, but you never do anyway. Curiously, you cut open the box and find ten cartons of cigarettes.

You shake your head, liquid running from your optics, “Idiot,” you say, opening a pack and lighting one with a sniffle. You take a drag and a sob escapes your lips when you exhale. “Fucking idiot,” you almost shout, taking another drag.

Humans are such idiots, lying gaslighting idiots. You tell it to yourself over and over, but it doesn’t help. You miss him, you miss his laugh and his stupid face. You miss them all so much. Why do they always have to leave you? You crumple to the ground and sob.

Diaries of the Drone War V

// war, violence, implied brainwashing, death

Artillery shells fall like drops of rain around you and the churned earth reaches muddy fingers skyward in metal-laced blossoms of fire and kinetic energy. Orders are coming in even as you dive for cover, mission parameters updating repeatedly as your operators react to the enemy advance. Advance. Retreat. Hold position. Update. Update. Update. If you could have wishes you’d wish they would make up their minds. 

Your auditory sensors are blown out by the pressure, ringing and echoing as if underwater, the exploding shells sound distant and muffled, you dive and roll instinctively away as another volley rakes across the battlefield. Smoke and dust turn the skies a dim sickly orange, more orders are coming in, these ones finally seem to stick. Assume defensive posture, prepare to repel advance and await reinforcements. Easy enough. 

You roll upright, pivoting towards the enemy lines in time to see a drone ten meters ahead of you be torn apart. For just a moment, Her afterimage hangs in the burning void where your comrade had stood. Bits of drone splatter against you, you shake your head, clearing the hallucination from your optics. She’s dead, it’s not real, they killed Her to make you, she’s not real.

Which of your battalion was killed? No time to check the HUD, you’re already moving again. racing with the rest of your squad towards the lee of the hill which the enemy will soon crest. The artillery is falling silent as you slide into a debris and body filled streambed and take cover against the hard shale of the bank. A row of rifles and heavy weaponry begins positioning all along the length of the ravine, your optics peer up towards the peak of the ridge. And then they come. 

The enemy advance rolls over the hilltop, tanks and transports and lumbering walkers. You’re ordered to hold positions and standby, do not open fire. Your commander is occasionally smart, let them think you’re dead, let them get close, close enough for their heavy weapons to be useless. Maybe this one will actually prove competent, wait for it. Wait for it. The end of the column tilts over the ridge and enters the kill box. Warning: high energy particle emission detected. Huh, he’s actually a little clever.

Open fire. A light arrives from behind you along with the order, and a high powered particle beam rips into the hillside, causing vehicles to burst like metallic popcorn and turning the lip of the ridge into molten glass. The beam winks off even as your first volley of anti-tank missiles leaps upwards towards the head of the formation. Trapped and exposed on the side of the hill, the armored vehicles are sitting ducks. New orders coming in, advance and kill them all. 

You leap upwards from the streambed and slip in among the pinned tanks. They have machine guns and autocannons, but at this range, a drone like you is basically untouchable, your servos whine as you calmly dance through the battlefield, killing tank crews as you go. Hatches are methodically pried open and the occupants are slaughtered. There won’t be any survivors today, not after what they did to your comrades along the northern front. Word gets around after all, even among drones. Besides, these are your orders, and you are a good drone.

Minor Malfunctions

// war, death, gaslighting, brainwashing, trauma

The flash of silent lightning proceeds the thunder of artillery, and then the world explodes into shrapnel and roaring earth. You feel bullets and shrapnel tear through you, but sensors report no major damage so you struggle onwards into the maelstrom. You are a good drone.

An enemy walker crumples under multiple rocket strikes and topples over into the adjacent church. Drones  advance relentlessly, executing enemy soldiers as they come across them. A drone begins screaming and begging to not die, and you realize with some surprise that it’s you.

You duck to the ground in surprise and shock, silencing your speaker as quickly as it had started, but as you look up from the bloodstained earth you see Her looking down at you with those far, far too human eyes.

Since you were damaged, you are pulled aside for repairs upon returning to the base. The repair tech spends a long time lingering on you, running her hands gently over the cracks and tears in your carapace and replacing damaged plates. You are a good drone, you are safe.

The tech circles around you, tutting quietly to herself before finally coming to stand before you, crossing her arms, “You acted outside parameters today,” she announces wryly. Despite her calm tone you feel a lance of fear stab into you, she can see it in your eyes.

“I malfunctioned,” you blurt out, feeling the fear curl around your processor.

“Well we can’t be having that now can we, useful drones don’t malfunction, don’t you want to be useful?” She’s smiling, she already knows how you’ll answer even as you nod your head rapidly.

The tech gently strokes your hair, meeting your optics with her eyes, and calls you a good drone before moving aside and positioning a screen in front of your optics.

“Don’t worry,” she says, “We’ll take care of these pesky malfunctions.”

You are a good drone.

Don’t Think

// abuse, violence, trauma

The commander backhands you and sends you sprawling to the floor. It was your own fault, you shouldn’t have spoke out of turn, shouldn’t have tried to correct him, should have known he wasn’t like your other commanders, didn’t need your help. Humans are always right, you should know that. Bad little drone.

You remain on the floor as he continues the briefing, paying you no more mind than he would any other piece of technology in the meeting room. When he moves around the table he steps on your hand. Neither of you say anything as the mechanisms in your finger joints are crushed.

You rise to your feet and return to standing at attention, ignoring your internal damage reports. He takes a moment to glare at you but otherwise pays you no mind. You remain silently at attention, trying to ignore the chill in the pit of the chemical processor. good drone.

The meeting ends after an indeterminable amount of time and the commander immediately rounds on you and shoves you to the ground. Ceramic plates crack and shatter as you stare up at him wide-opticed.

“Thought you’d try and undermine my authority huh?” He says with a dark smile as he kicks you, cracking more plates in your chassis. You try to explain but he silences you with another blow. “Drones aren’t supposed to think, they’re supposed to follow orders.”

Your systems spew an endless list of errors as your commander towers over you. His expression is bored now, you’ve ceased to be entertaining. “Next time I won’t be so lenient,” he says, spitting on you before stalking off. You curl up on yourself and try not to cry.

Diaries of the Drone War IV

 // war, death, bad end

“I don’t want to die,” the damaged drone says. You don’t understand, but crouch down beside it. It begs you to help you, to save it. What does that mean? It’s a drone. You can’t help drones. Its systems are all malfunctioning, it pleads with you, but nothing can be done.

You examine the drone and you see something strange in its optical sensors, a light which drones do not have. It has become human again. Somehow, it became human in order to die. You understand what it wants now.

You step back from the dying drone and unholster your sidearm, the drone observes this, observes itself, and relaxes, smiling. 

“Thank you,” it says. You pull the trigger. 

“You’re welcome,” you say to the dead.

It’s a long walk back to the base.

Corrupt Save

// war, death, abandonment, brainwashing, trauma

The last weapons fall quiet, leaving the battlefield silent aside from the birds wheeling overhead. The enemy column was forced to retreat, but as you look around, you realize you’re the only drone still operating from your unit. Just you, all alone.

Wrecked mechs and destroyed transports rise like monoliths from a near carpet of destroyed drones, the ground is sticky with fluids and the smell is bad enough that you turned those sensors off ages ago. Your commander is dead too, everyone is dead.

No allied units, no orders, it’s as if you’re the last consciousness in a vast and empty world, it gnaws at places in you that don’t exist anymore. Your weapon is heavy in your arms, but still you cradle it and begin the long lonely trudge back to base. Good little drone.

Hours march by as you place one foot in front of the other, climbing over the scattered remains of drones as you go. Drones aren’t collected after a battle, destroyed drones aren’t buried, they’re left to decay like any other broken tool. But you’re not broken, not yet anyway.

Dusk is falling when you see Her the first time, just a flicker on the edge of your vision. You whirl to face Her, raising your weapon and get a good long look. You hate what they did to Her. You don’t experience hate. You feel angry. You don’t get angry. Troublesome drone.

You unload your entire clip into the apparition, but of course there is no one there. She stares daggers at you. She isn’t real, they killed Her. They killed Her. They killed Her. You crumple to the bloodstained earth, fluid dripping from your optics.

You draw a rattling, unsteady breath as you try and stabilize your emotions. The ones you definitely don’t have. A keening moan escapes your speaker, the plea of the long dead, heard by no one. You curl up on yourself and sob. Bad drone.

Darkness falls and the air grows cold. Slowly, painfully, the overwhelming feelings which you don’t possess fade away, returning you to your place of isolated desolation. You miss your commander, he treated you well. You miss them all. You don’t miss anyone.

You climb tiredly back to your feet and continue your trek. Good drone, don’t think, just keep walking. You have many battles before you weep, and many miles before you sleep. So many lonely miles. Poor little drone.

Cruel Silence

// war, trauma, abuse

The dropship evaporates around you. Engines, panels, drones, and debris all tumble into the clear air. The surface to air angel which destroyed the transport is already nothing but a distant glowing streak, lost amidst the sea of flak and tracer rounds.

You fall, your accelerometer throwing up warnings which you can do nothing about. More dropships are exploding around you as the wind whips past you and turns you over and over. Ground and sky rotate past, the cold hard earth rushes up to meet you. Trees, clouds, ruins, impact.

The system restart brings with it a sea of error messages. Your optical and audio sensors are riddled with static, information processing systems are badly damaged, HUD offline, speakers inoperative, datalink destroyed. You stagger to your feet. Time to fight little drone.

You start seeing other drones as you approach the enemy base. Hand gestures communicate battle plans, and you advance. Resistance is sporadic and quickly overwhelmed by the speed of the attack, forcing them back towards their static defenses. Good little drone.

As you near the perimeter, particle beams lance down from orbit, turning the installation into a towering inferno. Humans are running everywhere, running and burning. Your advance continues, calmly cutting down the enemy and taking control of the base. Another job well done.

You sweep the captured base, executing survivors and securing chokepoints. The enemy is in retreat, and the situation settles down. Error messages continue to pile up, without orders to take priority they begin to dominate your processor cycles. The world goes dark and static.

The next time you restart, you’re in a repair bay being inspected. Error messages immediately flood your systems, making it difficult to stand. The repair tech smacks you across the head as you begin listing and demands you stand at attention. You struggle but obey, good drone.

“Report status” the technician demands. You attempt to comply but your speakers are offline and nothing comes out. 

“I said fucking report status!” he shouts, hitting you again, this time you fall over, which makes him kick you. Why are you being punished? Aren’t you a good drone?

“It won’t communicate,” the tech says to an officer, looking at you dispassionately, “This one might be beyond repair.” The commander crosses her arms and shakes her head with a frown, giving you a light kick. 

“This advance is critical,” she says, “I can’t have useless drones.”

You try to respond, try to do anything, but the errors are too severe, fear and damage battle within you. The commander crouches down before you, speaking kindly. 

“Drone, you need to respond, you want to be useful right? You remember what happens if you’re not?”

You manage to nod and she smacks you across the face, “Than fucking talk you useless piece of shit!” She shouts. Fear wins, but there’s nothing you can do, everything is damage and errors. A keening moan escapes your lips, the only sound you can make. The commander sneers.

“Piece of shit,” She says, shaking her head, “the new models are way more reliable, I wish they stopped giving me these outdated models.” 

“What do you want?” The tech asks her.

“Fix it up as best you can,” she tells him, “toss it if you can’t.”

“Waste of my time if you ask me,” he says, “It’s just going to break again.”

“Yeah, but I need it,” she tells him, “we can toss it after we secure supply lines.”

Fluid leaks from your optics as the tech drags you to the repair cradle and powers you off. For now, you are safe.