PROJECT GL-014 No matter how many times I used my hands - or were they even hands anymore? What does one call the robotic equivalent of hands? - I could never get used to them, or to the rest of my new exterior. Was it still skin? I wondered. Or was it armor? Plating? Casing? A shell? I kept my mind on these and questions like these, using what I knew of the definitions to, piece by piece, define myself. I was stronger than I'd been before, that much I knew. The metal body I now had was much tougher than my old fleshy one. It was surprisingly heavy, though, and I had had to re-learn nearly every skill I knew. I still couldn't write very well with my robotic fingers. Not that the scientists ever gave me time to practice any more... Come to think of it, I couldn't remember the last time I'd seen any of the scientists. Neither could I see anyone else through the single tiny window that looked out on the hallway. It almost seemed like the place was deserted. But it couldn't be... the power was still running, as was my charging station. So I kept waiting, pacing back and forth in the small, nearly-bare, almost-entirely-blank room. I kept considering the question of what I was. It never occurred to me to try to leave. I had been told to stay, so stay I would. Boom. The noise, though muted by distance, could still be heard above the near-silent hum of the air-recycling system. It jarred me out of my reverie. The sound was new - strange - and ominous. I stopped pacing and glanced around. What little there was in my room was still in place. But... was it my imagination, or was there a sound missing from the ambient noise of the facility? Don't think about it, I cautioned myself, for the same reason I carefully avoided thinking about the absent scientists and the deserted hallway. If the facility was really abandoned, and if the boom meant one of the processes had finally failed, then there was nothing I could do about it. I was supposed to stay here, after all. If someone had wanted me to leave, they would have told me so. And that was the end of it. The second boom came much later. It startled me in its suddenness and intensity - much, much louder than the first. I instinctively covered the place my ears would have been, though that did nothing to muffle the sound. I could hear the metal-and-concrete structures of the facility collapsing now, a horrible creaking coming before each crash. This couldn't have been caused by simple hardware failure. Someone was attacking the facility! Protocol in case of attack... .... ... not found. Why couldn't I remember what to do?! Surely I couldn't have been left without instructions for this, of all things. I racked my brain and processor, trying to find something, anything, that I could do. But there was nothing I could do, except crawl under my charging station in an attempt at saving myself if the ceiling collapsed. I waited there, anxious and truly afraid, until... BOOOM. The last explosion threw me against the opposite wall - the charging station had done nothing to shield me. The walls buckled and groaned as the ceiling fell to pieces. I managed to move, slowly, painfully, to crawl under a large piece of debris that I hoped might save me, before the entire room collapsed and gave way to blackness. PROJECT GL-014 CHAPTER ONE / TWO / THREE / FOUR OTHER WRITING NAT'S LOG "...he awake?" The young, slightly growling voice was the first thing that came to me. I attempted to on-line my optic sensors, but they were still sluggish. Fingers - real, flesh-and-bone fingers - tapped my forehead. "You awake in there, little guy?" The voice had an accent not unlike those of the scientists from... The facility! It had been destroyed, and by rights I should have been too. Why was I still alive? Had someone found me in the rubble and carried me out? More importantly, what was I supposed to be doing? No one had given me orders concerning this type of situation. I panicked, for the first time in memory unsure of what to do. My optics finally flickered online, and the room - no, shed - slowly came into focus. It was large, dark, and in disrepair, and cluttered with an assortment of weapons, wires, and other technology all made from the same cold steel and painted in the same blank white and blue-gray. The girl who stared back at me, however, was decorated in bright pinks and greens. Her hair was a pale blonde and her skin a dull grey, but her striking green eyes seemingly pierced straight through the safety goggles she wore. Seemingly oblivious to my state of panic, she raised a hand and waved. "Hello..." I tried to get up. My robotic body strained in protest, joints only slowly moving to follow my command. It reminded me of the first day I'd had it, new, as unused to movement as I was to it... "No, no, lay down!" The girl jumped up much faster than I could and gently pushed me back into my seat with her hands. "We need to get you to repairman, you're still damaged." Her bushy eyebrows were furrowed in concern as she leaned over me. That was an order. I relaxed and stayed down, realizing that the girl knew what to do. Almost automatically, my voice synthesizer kicked in, and I replied in a still-staticky gravelly monotone. "Yessir." In response, there came a snort from behind me. Both I and the girl turned attention to the source of the noise, though she was again faster than me. "Katya!" she reprimanded. "Get out of here, this is dangerous!" All I was able to catch was a glimpse of yellow pigtails as "Katya" fled from the open window she'd been watching at. I opened my mouth - or whatever the robotic equivalent was called - and was about to speak, when I remembered: Don't ask questions, only follow orders. This was more than a simple order or protocol: this was a law of operation for me. How had I come so close to breaking that law? Perhaps the time I'd spent - I don't know how long - in the small room, alone, constantly asking myself questions had worn me down. Fortunately, the girl interrupted my thoughts there. "Do you have a name, little guy?" she asked me. A name... as far as I remembered, I hadn't had a name, just a designation. "...My designation is Experiment GL-014." I'd estimated that she was at least a few centimeters shorter than me, but I refrained from saying anything about that. "You don't have name?" The girl frowned, tilting her head. "No. My designation is GL-014." She paused, thinking. "If you are the GL-014, then where is GL-001? And the other GLs?" "I do not know. I was alone." "You haven't seen other... robots like you?" She wasn't sure what exactly I was either, which was just as reassuring as you'd think. "No. I was alone." "All alone? You never saw anybody else?" "No... I saw scientists. A long time ago. And guards." I was being decidedly ungrammatical, but that could be excused, since I'd been isolated for so long and then damaged in the collapse of the facility. She asked me more questions: how long had I been in there? How long had I been alone? Did I remember the names of the scientists, or what they looked like? I did not know any of the answers. Finally, she was interrupted by the ringing of a small, rectangular device in one of her pockets - I'd forgotten what it was called. She held the device to her ear and began a conversation with it: the gist was that someone she referred to as "Mya" had prepared lunch, and could she come get it herself or did he need to send someone out to give it to her? At this point, she moved the device away and addressed me: "Are you hungry?" I started to shake my head in response, but received a twinge of pain that warned me away. Instead, I just answered, "No, sir." The girl raised her eyebrows in mild surprise, but then nodded. "I wonder if Glitches eat at all..." she mused, before lifting the device to her ear again and delivering a quick goodbye. Glitches? I wondered, but didn't dare to ask. Was she calling me a glitch - a mistake? Or did the word have some other meaning? "Food will be here in some minutes," the girl interrupted my musings. "Are you sure you don't need anything? Sandwich... oil... grease?" "No, sir." I said again. She frowned again, that same look of contemplation she'd had when I told her I didn't have a name. She was silent for a while, thinking. Then she finally spoke. "Why do you speak so proper? And say 'sir' after every answer?" "It is protocol, sir." Despite my best efforts, my voice betrayed my surprise at being asked such a question. "Protocol? Whose protocol?" "Theirs - the Miniknog." At the critical moment, the word had come to me. The name of them, the scientists, the guards. Miniknog. The girl stared at me, suddenly speechless. However, the silence didn't last for long - it was interrupted by a knock on the shed door. I heard it plainly, but she didn't move. "Sir, someone is at the door," I offered, assuming she hadn't heard the knock. She nodded absently, then slowly got up and headed for the door. She glanced back at me as she went, her expression now hardened. Had I done something wrong? I wondered. Standing behind the door was a tall, wide-shouldered, dark-skinned man with close-cropped dark hair. He held a small cooler made of the same monochrome plastic as the miscellany in the shed, but painted with bright red stripes. "Lunch's here, Nat," he announced in a deep rumble. "And might I ask what y've found that's so interesting you can't tear y'rself away from it?" His voice had a certain carrying quality, the kind that could address a room full of people without any vocal enhancement. The girl - Nat - lowered her voice as she replied, but I was still able to hear her words. "A robot; it's Miniknog." She pointed towards me. "Dunno what to do. Scrap it?" The man started to speak, but before he did, I was on my feet. Nat's words had triggered something in me. "Destroying me is not recommended, sir." My voice now had a hard edge to it. Nat jumped back a step and cursed, while the large man's hand went to the bulge on the left side of his belt. A gun. "Stand down, soldier!" he ordered. And I did. He added, "We have no intention to destroy you."This man, I decided, must be the team commander. The dark man crossed his arms and lapsed into silence. Nat also stayed quiet, eyeing me with new apprehension. Finally, the man spoke. "What's y'r name, soldier?" "I have no nickname, but my designation is GL-014, sir." I replied, adopting a respectfully rigid stance. "Station?" He asked, cocking a furry eyebrow. "Formerly..." My mind went blank. I knew I'd been a soldier before... but I couldn't remember anything else. Not rank, not fellows, not even what I'd done during that time. "Formerly... status unknown, sir." The man grunted at that. "Interesting... I'm Jeremiah Korss." He paused. "...Commander Jeremiah Korss. And this is Technical Officer Natalia Shuherov." Neither of them saluted. Odd, I thought. "Nat," the man - Commander Korss - continued, "we need to talk." I caught her meaningful glance toward me. Something I don't need to know. Before I could stop myself, I had started doing something very dangerous: thinking. This team - what I've seen of it so far - doesn't seem right. As if it isn't how a team should be. The girl - Shuherov - seems almost afraid of me. The way she reacted to my mentioning the Miniknog... I was brought back into reality by Korss's commanding tone. "GL-014, stay here. Do not move, do not touch anything." The large man then took out a device similar to the one Natalia carried in her pocket and put it to his own ear. "Laur, we need you here. ...To watch something. Another one of Nat's... Yeah, you can do it later." Then he slid the device back into a pocket of his pants and addressed Natalia. "He'll be here soon. Until then..." he paused, obviously considering what to say next. "Until then, I s'ppose we can stay right here." The shed grew silent as Commander Korss and Natalia waited for Laur to arrive. The girl started fidgeting after a short while, shifting from one foot to the other. She was obviously unused to staying still. Had I yet learned to question, that and her apparent youth would've told me that she was no technical officer. I heard Laur's steps first. They were measured, careful, like the march of a soldier. I told Korss what I heard, and both he and Natalia lifted their brows in surprise. "Are you sure?" the tall man asked. "Yes, sir," I answered, silently adding, If I weren't sure, I would not have said so. Korss nodded at that, and silence resumed until the person he'd called Laur appeared in the still-open doorway. Laur was short, like myself, and would have been heavier, except that I was mostly made of metal rather than flesh. His eyes looked very tired, his pale skin adding to the impression of sickness, but his long, orange hair was tied back neatly and his white apron was clean. Although his posture was everything you would expect from a soldier, he did not salute Commander Korss. He barely glanced at Korss and Shuherov before focusing his tired gaze on me. "So this is 'another one of Nat's'?" He swore, surprised. "This one isn't like any one of Nat's I've seen!" Korss gave Laur a shocked look. "Lawrence Caldwell, stand down." He composed himself and turned to me. "GL-014, this is our Chief Science Officer, Lawrence Caldwell." "Chief Science Officer" seemed rather vague, I thought, recalling a few specific ranks the scientists in the facility had had. But I dismissed that thought for now. Laur - Lawrence Caldwell - seemed to have changed his tone entirely, head bowed by the slightest of degrees. "Sorry, sir. I'll watch GL-014 for you." "Thank you," Korss acknowledged, nodding to Shuherov and leading her out of the shed. Shuherov closed the door behind them, and I could hear their footsteps, less ordered than Caldwell's, fading away. Caldwell turned to me, his tired-looking eyes examining every inch of me carefully. I felt suddenly naked, and looked down at myself, realizing that I actually was. Instead of the nondescript clothing I'd worn in the facility, a sea of green metal, scratched but shiny, met my optic sensors. Embarrassed, though I had no reason to be, I moved to cover myself. Lawrence smirked amusedly at that. "Don't worry, son, I'll get you some clothes." He glanced around the shed, then shook his head. "After they get back, that is." He approached me in his official stride, then lifted a tarp from the floor beside me and placed it over me like a blanket. I relaxed somewhat, and he smiled at me kindly. "So, GL-014, would you mind telling me a bit about yourself?" A bit about myself? There wasn't much to tell, I thought. But I tried anyway. "My designation is Experiment GL-014. I was in the basement level of an... unknown Miniknog experimental facility, before it exploded. I do not remember the designation of the facility or the room I was in, or how I came to be in that facility or this place." I wanted to know these things, I realized, but I couldn't say that aloud. I couldn't ask. Caldwell's brows knit together in... confusion? Or concentration. Both. He was silent for a while, then spoke. "What does GL-014 stand for?" I did not know, but he answered the question himself. "Experiment Glitch Fourteen." He swore. "Of course." Glitch. That word again. Shuherov had called me a glitch before, and now this man said that even my designation meant "glitch"? Confused, I remained quiet until Caldwell started talking again. "Glitch Fourteen is no name for you. You need a real name, not a designation. Hrmm..." He scratched his scraggly beard. "How about John?" That seemed to be a rhetorical question, so I remained silent. But it was not. "GL-014? Is John okay?" How could I answer that? "It is your decision, sir." Caldwell nodded slowly. "Then John will do, for now." I began to hear running steps approaching, but I was preoccupied with remembering the name John, my new name. I couldn't remember anyone having been given a new name before. It simply wasn't necessary. The steps came up to the shed door, and the door was flung open. Caldwell spun around, surprised, as Technical Officer Shuherov charged into the room. "Lawrence! They're here! I don't know why, but they're here!" Her eyes were wide with panic, and her uniform even more disheveled than before. "What?" Caldwell exclaimed. "Who's here?!" "Them! Miniknog!" These people aren't Miniknog. The realization hit me as hard as the explosion that had destroyed my room at the facility. These people aren't Miniknog, they're against them. They're the enemy, I remembered. Then Shuherov's distressed face caught my attention. She was a child, I realized. Untrained, inexperienced, vulnerable. I recalled the first time I'd seen her face, when she was bending over me, trying to get me to wake up. The stare she'd given me when I told her who I belonged to... Caldwell sprang into action, his tired appearance disappearing. "How many?" he demanded, scanning the shed for, I assumed, weaponry. "I don't know... Couldn't count. More than us, for sure." She'd slipped the rectangular communications device out of her pocket and was now fumbling with it, her hands shaking. "Hope 'Miah has an idea, or else..." She didn't finish the sentence, but I am sure all of us knew how it would have ended. "Wasn't 'Miah with you?" accused Caldwell, a slightly rusty energy rifle in hand. He muttered a curse to himself, staring down at the piece doubtfully. "Does this thing even work?" "He left to get Katya!" Shuherov rejoined before putting the communications device to her ear. Wait. I thought, mind - or processor? - going back to the approaching Miniknog. Miniknog follow certain strategies, I remembered as if being taught. Know the strategy, and you will know your place in it. I had no idea what strategy these were using. Nothing that Shuherov had said gave me a clue. Then she started describing what she could remember of the forces. Commander Korss was apparently checking his memory of them with hers. "Groups of four. ...No, I think one group stayed to guard the ship. At least." The simplest strategy in the books. It would most likely be a complement of twelve or sixteen, small as Miniknog crews go, but effective. One group of four, a number which the Miniknog liked, would stay with their spacecraft. Among those would be a commanding officer, as well as at least one person who could pilot the craft in case of emergency. The other two or three groups would... well, it depended on what they were sent out to do. I couldn't be sure of what that was yet. I paused in my reverie. Caldwell and Shuherov were both staring at me intently, the technology officer with her communications device held out toward me, displaying a screen that indicated an ongoing "call". Suddenly I realized I had said my thoughts aloud again. Caldwell was the first to speak. "Shuherov... do you recall what those two or three groups 'at left were doing?" Shuherov shook her head. "They didn't do anything... just stood there." "Receiving orders." I mentally winced at the roughness of my voice. The voice of my thoughts was still that of an Apex, not... whatever I was now. "There has to be something on this world that they have come to investigate or destroy." Shuherov glanced guiltily away from me. "Perhaps I shouldn't've blown up that old research facility..." My facility? She blew up my facility?! A Miniknog research facility? Why... I was able to catch myself before I asked another question, mentally or audibly, but Shuherov could not have missed the utter shock on my face plating.