Soldiering On

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There was always a war raging somewhere in the world. Sometimes it went by different names; conflicts, battles, skirmishes and sometimes just simply situations. It didn’t matter the term anyone used to describe it, the events were usually the same. Bullets were flying, there was a scrambling chaos in the air and lives were lost. As a result of both the increasing technology and the destabilization of nations around the world, most nations dumped a massive amount of funding into research and development. The culmination of which was the introduction of realistic humanoid robots, most of which were initially used for military purposes but soon crept into civilian use with time. They were still extraordinarily expensive, particularly the military issued units which still resided somewhere in the thousands of dollars.

With the advent of androids that were life like enough to pass most challenges, a new era of espionage was born. Androids were crafted to look like every race in the word, speaking perfectly in the native language and programmed with local traditions and knowledge, along with a perfect loyalty to their home country. International spy rings made up entirely of just robotic units sprang up all over the globe and soon, government secrets were being tapped in to with no warning at all. The new robotic spies were capable of emulating a human in almost every way. New lines of androids perfectly suited for hacking computers were deployed to the field, and alongside them more specialized units that were expertly programmed in seduction and information extraction. Units from every country were dispersed among the population and used as their local government saw fit.

Claire, was one of these units. Her purpose was not something as subtle as infiltration and extraction, her construction and programming was geared more towards a “boots on the ground” type of soldier in an ongoing conflict in the middle east. War had been sparked there and the flames died down from time to time, or flared up in other regions, Claire and her division of android soldiers were made for quick deployment and specialized missions. She herself had successfully completed a dozen assignments and was gaining quite the reputation for themselves. Claire had received her orders earlier in the day that there was a high value target that had called for an immediate extraction from a local village that they were using as a safe house and base of operations. The person in question had been compromised and was requesting an escort out of the area with the intel that they had acquired.

So Claire and the rest of her squad mates, both human and android alike swayed back and forth on the transport helicopter as it sliced through the early morning air towards the village. She held her FN-SCAR-H battle rifle in one hand, while her other ran through the short shock of dark black hair on her head. The fingertips on her fingers grazing against the undershave on the sides of her skull. There was a short squeal in her ear as the pilot relayed information to the squad through his headset, though the sound played directly into Claire’s systems. She literally heard it in her head without the need for the bulky, noise isolating headsets her human companions required.

“Target LZ two klicks out” the man’s voice crackled in Claires ear.

Claire leaned out of her seat just a bit, well enough to see out of the side of the transport as it dropped low to the ground. In the distance she could make out a long black trail of smoke curling up from the place where the village was intended to be. In that instant her artificial mind told her they were in for a fight. She didn’t bother to look but pulled back the cocking handle on her rifle, chambering what would be the first of many rounds to be fired. Soon she felt the inertia of the helicopter shift and she was tilted backwards as the craft slowed and stopped. It never actually touched the ground, but Claire knew her time had come. She hopped from the seat, past the skids on the bottom of the helicopter and to the ground. She dropped into a crouch and brought her battle rifle up, expecting to have to return fire, but none came. Once her remaining squad mates had hopped from the transport and landed in a similar position and they were confident that no unfriendly retaliation was coming, the helicopter lifted off and began to drift away. Claire looked into the village and with the camera-like optics housed behind her artificial eyeballs, she zoomed in and began scanning for hostile activity.

“No contacts, move in” Claire barked, and raised a hand, extending two fingers upwards and then flicking them towards the village. Her squad mates rose with her and moved quickly past the small adobe wall and into the village proper. Each one taking cover in sets of two. The team moved forward, penetrating deeper into the village, keeping a keen eye on any signs of movement. From the corners of their eyes the human members could see small movements, mostly residents of the village ducking inside of their house. It was clear that the locals had seen the writing on the wall and knew that there was a conflict on the horizon. As the squad moved into the village, the source of the black column of smoke became apparent, as did the reasoning behind the attitudes of the villagers.

Towards the back corner of the village, nestled against two sections of the wall, was a small hut and just outside of it was a jeep. The vehicle was engulfed in flames, the fabric of the seats curled and bubbled weirdly and the engine compartment leaked flames from the sides. The whole thing was riddled with bullet holes and one side door was shredded from what looked like a fragmentation grenade. Claire looked from the jeep to the hut, the door looked like it was shattered inward, but the interior was too dark to see inside.

“Spread out, i don’t want any visitors getting the drop on us.” Claire ordered before stepping up to the door and pressing herself against the door jamb. SHe activated the night vision lens inside of her eyes and peeked into the dark interior, weapon at the ready. The hut was only one room, but it looked in utter disarray. The sparse amount of furniture was shredded by gunfire, and the walls were not pockmarked with a litany of shrapnel and bullets. Shattered pottery and ceramics lay on the floor of the makeshift kitchen and even the crude floor boards were pulled up and mangled. Most prominently, a body lay against the far back wall.

It was a woman, her head was tilted to one side and her eyes remained open. There was a clear bullet hole directly between her eyes, though no blood. Scattered around the girl were shattered and torn pieces of electronics, wires, cables, and pieces of green circuit boards. Even as Claire looked in on her she could see a small wisp of smoke curling out of the hole in the robot’s head. Her eyes were wide open and a pistol lay in her hands with spent shell casings around her. Claire could see that whoever it was that took her down was entirely unaware that she was a robot, in all likelihood they had torched her jeep, riddled her home with automatic weapons fire and then spotted a body. Claire knew better, the android’s head and likely central processors were taken out, but the data was still sound.

Claire carefully moved into the home then crouched down next to the android. She lifted the girl’s green tank top shirt and held a hand over her belly. The wireless radio embedded in Claire’s hand registered with the agent’s system, using the last remnants of her power core to unseal a small belly panel that retracted inward and then slid up into her body. There wasn’t much to speak of below the panel, save for a plastic frame with a panel covered in ceramic armor plating. Claire reached in and unsnapped the plate from its resting place to reveal a bay of drives and a data port. Claire set down her battle rifle and reached out, forcing the two vacant and lifeless robotic eyes closed on her fellow fallen android compatriot. There was the faintest sound of whining servo motors as Claire forced the eyelids closed, and once closed, Claire lifted her own top, tucking the cloth into the lower edge of her vest. A similar panel whooshed and unsealed itself before sliding inward and up into her torso. As the panel opened she dug into a pouch on her hip and pulled out a data cable. She plugged it into the fallen soldiers data port and to her own.

Claire’s eyelids began to flutter rapidly as she dove deep into the file system stored inside of the destroyed robot soldier, scanning through the directories until she finally came to the secured folder of intel the android had gathered. She copied the files to her own system, a process that took only a few moments over the high speed local data cable. The file copy could not have finished at a more opportune time either. Just as Claire tugged the cable free and began to coil it up, one of her squad mates appeared in the doorway.

“Contact, in bound from the east entrance. We’re on the move.” Claire heard the words and her processors, capable as they were, took the information and compiled it and began to formulate a strategy for exiting the village now that they had what they needed. The informant android would need to be scrapped though. Each and every android in the military service had their own self destruct mechanism, though this one would need to be manually triggered.

“Get to cover we’ll move out one this one is scrapped” Claire said and the soldier in the doorway nodded and disappeared.

Claire brought her hands up to the curvature of the girl’s jawline and pressed in hard. A small click was barely heard and the robot’s entire face lifted upward, hinging on a singular point below the synthetic flesh of her forehead, right at the hairline. The motion caused the skin to wrinkle and fold weirdly around her forehead, but Claire didn;t pay it any attention, instead she found the small manual trigger inside the girl’s head. Next to it was a small keyhole in case the broken chassis was found by a human, the key could be inserted to activate the detonation of her body, but Claire had the wireless authorization in her hand already and luckily there was still a small battery power left in her systems to run the scanner. Claire waved her hand over the opening in the little gynoid’s face and the detonation button lit up green, indicating that CLaire had been authorized to use it. SHe pressed her thumb into the button and it clicked into place, staying depressed. Claire quickly reached up and closed the girl’s face plate and latched it into place before sprinting out the door.

Claire ducked into a recessed doorway and moments later the squeal of tearing metal and the clacking of shredded electronics and plastics against the walls and floor of the little hut filed the air. A valuable asset had been kept out of the hands of the enemy, but it also alerted the incoming insurgence to their presence. Heavy machine gun fire filled the air and Claire heard the rounds zinging past her. The air erupted with the chaotic screams of fleeing villagers, the roar of the machine gun mounted in the bed of an white pickup truck and the rapidly barked orders from all around her. Her squad mates were coordinating cover fire and ducking behind cover, Claire on the other hand was in the process of receiving new orders and modified programming. She was now marked as the carrier of critical data and her top priority was to return to base with the information intact.

Claire dashed across the road, making a bee line for the outwall that surrounded the city, intending to use her well crafted body to vault it and make her way through the crops and fields that surrounded the small clustering of huts and buildings. She managed to get two strides into her run when one of the flying rounds zinged into her shoulder, easily penetrating the artificial skin and tearing into the metal and plastic joint. The hit wasn’t enough to fully blast her arm out of it’s socket, but it did scatter pieces of shattered circuitry and scraps of plastic and metal out of the back of her shoulder. Laire immediately saw the pop-up alerting her of the damage in her field of vision, and though it only took a small amount of her processor power to clear it, the action still had to wait in the queue. Her processors were busily keeping her underlying systems operational at the best performance possible, along with the personality overlay and a variety of tasks to keep Claire moving. Chiefly at the moment was the rapid calculations with her shifting weight from taking a hit in her arm, and moving the appropriate body part to keep her on her feet and keep her moving. The result was that the error message turned opaque in her field of vision and stayed present until she managed to stumble behind the corner of a building, at which point the error message was closed and her operating system resumed functionality as best they could.

Claire had a moment and looked over towards her shoulder. Her arm hung limply there, her fingers curled into a weird position, likely due to one final surge of power and data as the connection was severed. Her arm clung to the rest of her body by thin strands of stretched synthetic flesh and the remains of her olive drab shirt. It was no longer any use to her, she would have to have it replaced once she got back to base camp. Claire reached across her body and pulled downward on the arm until her skin stretched and eventually snapped along with the cotton of her shirt. She let the module fall to the ground, she couldn’t worry about it now. Her systems were lagging slightly and the power wasn’t fully disconnected when she tore her arm free and a small spray of white hot sparks spewed out of her shoulder, but quickly terminated itself.

Claire looked around for an exit to the firefight she was caught in the middle of. There looked to be a break in the wall where either something had hit it, time had degraded it, or maybe it was a product of the ongoing conflict. Regardless of the cause there was a crumbled portion of the wall that was only about twenty yards away. She began running for it, her systems worked hard to keep her body balanced, without her left arm to counter balance her as she sprinted caused more calculations to grind through her processors. Claire could see the alert about the rising core temperature inside of her torso and knew that she needed to leave or she might be the next android getting her self destruction process started.

Claire had just leapt up and snatched the rim of the wall in her remaining hand when another bullet tore into the side of her torso just between the front and rear plating of her vest. She didn’t cry out in pain, she didn’t need to. Instead she hauled herself over the wall and landed hard into the packed dirt on the opposite side of the wall. She kicked her feet and pressed her back against the wall. Once there, she realized that her processors were working at just below their maximum capacity. Claire manually shut off a large amount of her human emulation processes, most of which were small things that made her appear more human. She immediately stopped blinking, her chest stopped rising and falling with the intake of new air for her processors, and her movements became much more stiff and mechanical. Her head swiveled right and then down, her eyes swiveling in the sockets to assess the damage.

Her side was split open just below her rib cage, and dangling out of the fist sized hole were a multitude of frayed and sparking wires. Some of the cabling still had pieces of circuit boards attached to them. Claire noted that her CPU was struggling to process and reroute power around the damaged portions of her body. Part of her main controller board had been ruined and she was unable to function as she would hope. She opened a wireless channel and sent an alert to her teammates, two of which were androids as well. The update contained her coordinates and current state along with an alert that she was likely to not be able to physically make the return trip. Once sent, she stiffly pulled the emergency beacon from her vest and activated it, the signal alerted the pilot of the evac helicopter to her position. All she could do now was wait for another unit to activate her own self destruction and hold on to the data as best she could.

She slipped the pistol on her hip out of its holster and held it at the ready, waiting for anything to come into her field of vision and her targeting systems would take over from there. None came, and she continued to try and establish a cellular connection to the home server bank so she could begin transmitting the data she had collected, but it wasn’t likely, there was too much distance, too much interference and too much intentional signal jamming. Claire resigned herself to physically taking the data to the command, even if it wasn’t her that did it. Soon enough one of the other squad mates hopped down from the wall, even as gunfire erupted behind him. He landed in the dirt, puffing up a small cloud around him and then scrambled back against the wall. Tossing a glance over at Claire then down to her shoulder, all he could do is snort.

“You’re looking good Claire.” He dryly quipped. Claire’s head swiveled in his direction, jittering and stuttering as it moved.

“Negative. This unit is damaged beyond usefulness.” She said in a monotone voice, having wiped out any inflection from it to conserve functionality and CPU cycles.

“It’s a joke, because..you know what nevermind.”

“You will remove the data from thi-this unit and return it to command.” Claire intoned, seemingly unphased.

“Sure thing Claire, what do I need to do?” The new arrival said, understanding the seriousness of the situation.

“You are not an android. You will need to remove my physical storage media.” Claire said and turned her head towards the soldier. “Place your fingers under my. Under my. My. under my jaw line and press inward.”

Claire could feel the slight shaking in his hands as his finger fumbled for the release points somewhere along her jawline. It didn’t help that she stared blankly ahead, simply waiting for him to complete the given task. His left hand managed to caress the left hand side of her jaw and found the small bump he knew was there, but was suddenly interrupted by a fresh volley of weapon fire. A three round burst forced him to flinch away from Claire and look to the corner of the wall he was hiding against. He swiftly grabbed his own rifle and returned fire. Maybe it was better training or more accurate equipment, but the newcomer fell to the ground and lay there, unmoving. When he was sure that the enemy wasn;t about to get back up he turned back to Claire only to find new damage to her.

Her head was dangling to one side, held in place by her artificial spine, which was easy to spot through the blasted flesh around her neck. There was a multitude of snapping and sparking cables and electronics that seemed to be in a constant state of arcing electricity. Claire’s jaw still moved and her lips were attempting to form words, even as her eyes rolled up in her head. The young soldier began to swear and moved his hands to try and grab and lift Claire’s head, but thought against it at the last moment and was left flailing. He looked up as he heard a dull, distant thumping of a helicopter. He looked back to Claire who was beginning to slump forward. The man next to her pulled her back and her head wobbled from side to side, untethered by anything other than the limp spine connecting her head to her body. He could see that the joint itself was completely ruined.

As he sat there, holding Claire upright more and more of the squad piled over the wall, many of them carrying wounded or damaged units. Moments later the roaring of a helicopter filled the air. Claire could see the dust and dirt flying around her, even with her limited amount of visual capabilities. Her heads up display was filled with errors and warnings. She was caught in a loop of attempting to instruct her fellow man how to disconnect the face plate and remove the data drives from inside of her head, and spouting error messages. The bullet that had torn through her throat had done a fine job of obliterating her vocal systems though. All she could do at the moment was continue moving her mouth, which oscillated between pleading for help, instructing her squad on tactical movements and spouting errors. Even as she saw the incoming evacuation helicopter, and heard the roar of a door mounted minigun suppress the area, she got a new alert. The power core inside of her chest was failing, the short circuits occurring all over her body were draining power more and more rapidly with each passing second, not to mention the incredible strain on her processors simply trying to comprehend the situation.

“Marco! We are leaving!” One of the squad mates called as he ran for the helicopter, dashing into the cloud of dust it kicked up.

“The data! I need the data drives!” Was all Marco could shout back. One of the android units who was supported by another soldier pointed at his own head and called a reply.

“Her head, just take her head!”

Marco looked down at Claire, she was slumping forward again. The gruesome task was to now simply remove her head and take it with him. He knew this was war, he had just killed someone, but this seemed too personal. He and Claire had made jokes, played cards in their downtime, and if he was really honest, he had some measure of feelings for her. Not quite love, but duty, honor, and respect. Tearing her head off seemed to violate all of those feelings. He swallowed hard and curled his fingers inside of the bottom of Claire’s neck, placed his boot against her chest and began to pull upward, straining and grunting as he did.

Claire could see Marco lean in and take hold of her head. She was devoid of emotion at the moment, so she couldn’t feel grateful or even accomplished that he finally got the message, but her programming dictated this as the optimal outcome. The sensors that were still operational in her neck and parts of her upper torso lit up with fresh data. Small alerts told Claire that the skin on her chest and upper back were stretching and tearing. Soon a new alert briefly popped into her field of vision. For just a moment there was a loss of power alert as her artificial spine snapped with a metallic “ping” and Marco stumbled backwards. Marco couldn’t look at his friend, he instead used the exposed portion of her spine as a handle and ran for his evacuation, leaving the headless, armless torso of Claire propped against the wall. As the helicopter lifted off he watched it until there was an explosion and he could see bits and pieces of her body scattering across the dry landscape. He never did bother to look Claire in the eye again, but handed the detached head module to his commanding officer as soon as he could.