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|Written by||Eishima Jun|
|Printed in||Strategy Guide, A Short Story|
|Date of copy||01.10.2017|
In a flash, a close-quarter weapon cut through the sandstorm. It is the type 4O sword - a state-of-the-art blade bestowed to only the elites fighting at the frontlines. The blade surges with lightning, knocking away a round object in an arc.
The now headless machine lifeform ceased its movements. A few seconds later, its cylindrical body toppled over on the sand and exploded. The explosion engulfed the bodies of two previously defeated machines and turned all into a shower of scrap metal.
Only the telltale sound of desert winds remain after the fiery explosion faded away.
As the sandstorm settles, a humanoid silhouette appears. You could tell that the silhouette belonged to an adult female by the gentle slope of its shoulders, its slim and tight waistline, as well as the well-shaped legs extending from its skirt.
However, the silhouette is neither an ‘adult’ nor a ‘female’ in the strictest sense. She is neither a human, nor does she have a sex in a biological sense. She is a type YoRHa android number 2 B type, or 2B for short. A model optimized for battle.
It’s been a long time since humans have left the earth. Humans had no choice but to flee for the moon in face of an alien invasion. Currently, the earth is nothing but a battlefield for the alien’s machine lifeforms and the androids tasked to destroy them.
2B sheathed her sword and directed her attention behind her.
“Is this all of them?”
In response to her question, an object floating about three meters above the ground began its descent. It is a support unit called the pod. Composed of a rectangular head and four arms of varied sized, pods spend most of their time in the air, but can be deployed underwater if need be. They’re equipped with various functions in order to support YoRHa type androids, including long-range attacks against enemy units, analysis of the situation at hand, communication, as well as first aid.
“Affirmative: No enemy signals detected within a 5 kilometer radius of the access point.”
I see, 2B replied, and started to make her way to the metallic box slightly taller than her. Access points camouflage themselves as a relic of human civilization, but it is an important facility both as a method of communication with the headquarters as well as a source of information regarding surrounding lands.
It’s unclear whether they’re aware of that fact or not, but machine lifeforms tend to gather around access points. Be it in a corner of some ruins, or the middle of the desert. Their behavior resembles insects gathering around a fallen fruit.
Therefore, YoRHa units have to destroy nearby machine lifeforms whenever they want to check their mail or retrieve geographical information about their surroundings. This happened so often that it became procedural for them.
After going through the motions of destroying machines, 2B was finally able to accomplish her original goal. She selected the newest message from her inbox and opened it. Her eyes skimmed over the sender and the words ‘top secret’ in the title, and was just about to read its contents.
YoRHa unit number 9 type S, or 9S for short, appeared out of nowhere. Unlike 2B, who has the form of an adult female, 9S was created after the imagine of a young boy.
“Is it a message from the commander?”
Not really, 2B answered curtly, and tried her hardest to cover up how shaken she felt.
“More importantly, why are you here?”
“Huh? What do you mean, 2B?”
“It’s not time for the mission yet.”
Since the pod notified her of a new incoming message, 2B decided to make her way to the access point earlier than planned. Even though she lost some time dispatching the machine lifeforms, she still expected to be able to finish reading the message before 9S arrived.
“Well...the operator told me that 2B is in the middle of combat. So I thought…I should help out.”
2B shook her head slightly, trying to rid herself of something that was neither irritation nor anxiety.
“I guess that’s true.”
9S gave an exaggerated shrug. 2B finally understood what she was trying to rid herself of. It was something borne from her piled up memories of past conversations and past actions.
“Well, now that we’ve met up with each other, we might as well head towards the destination.”
It was deja vu.
“Urgh, sand in my shoes again?”
He just couldn’t bring himself to like the desert, and it’s all because of the sand. It’s annoying when the wind blows and makes things hard to see, and his shoes are just full of sand as he walks. It’s pretty fun to slide on the sand slopes, but walking on anywhere but the slopes is a pain in the ass. 9S scowled, and glanced at 2B. However, 2B walked on without any change in her expression.
“2B, don’t you mind?”
“The fact that your shoes are filled with sand, 2B.”
“While it does feel strange, it doesn’t interfere with walking.”
“Don’t you hate it when the sand sloshes around in your shoes? Sure, it’s not a hindrance, but it’s a matter of feeling!”
“Emotions are prohibited.”
You’re one to speak, 2B, 9S thinks to himself even as he responds.
2B isn’t as good at holding back her emotions as she thinks. At least, that’s how it appeared to 9S. It’s just a guess, but 9S thinks that her spiel about emotions being prohibited is more directed to herself than to 9S. She’s scolding herself by saying it out loud. It’s definitely a very 2B-ish thing to do.
9S thinks that she doesn’t have to try so hard. She doesn’t exactly have to walk the talk. Just how many YoRHa units actually follow the clause of not having emotions, anyways?
...but even if he says that out loud, 2B won’t change the way she is. 2B isn’t skilled enough to untangle her true feelings from how she acts on the surface.
9S glanced over at 2B again. He saw something behind those tightly shut lips. 2B was never very good at hiding things, after all.
2B gave him a strange look. She’s probably wondering why he’s staring at her.
“Oh, it’s nothing...just...there’s so much sand...it’s so hot...I’d really love to take a bath right now.”
No. That’s not what he wanted to say.
“We have no need for baths.”
“That’s what I thought…”
What are you hiding? You’ve been acting strange lately. Anything on your mind? Or…?
9S knew that he won’t get an answer even if he asked those questions. They’ve been working on missions together for months, after all. Instead, 9S simply raised his voice.
“Oh! Is that the target for this investigation?”
He saw the hulking form of what appeared to be a huge building beyond the sandstorm. They’re very close to the desert’s end.
“Affirmative: The large building to the front is the target of our current investigation.”
The pod beside him answered. It is pod 153, 9S’s personal support pod. 2B’s support pod, 042 simply floated behind her in silence.
“They call this building a temple. I think the official name is the “Stone Temple”? Something of great importance was transported here - I guess like a god’s statue or something? And they’ve used this as a temple ever since.”
Silence. 2B stood frozen with her mouth open.
“2B? What’s wrong?”
Her lips moved as if to form words. ...but 2B changed her mind at the last second before speaking again.
“No. It’s nothing.”
Of course it’s not nothing. She clearly struggled to come up with an answer. But 2B had no intention to tell 9S why. Even though she addresses him as “Nines” now, he still feels an insurmountable distance between them.
“Let’s go, 2B!”
9S made himself sound more cheerful than he’d liked. He took off right away, making it seem like he was excited about the prospect of an investigation.
No matter how he asked, 2B probably won’t give him an answer. He knew that from the very beginning.
It was unbearable.
The Stone Temple was built in a deep valley. Because it was surrounded by steep cliffs, it took quite a bit of time and effort to reach the temple.
“Of all places they could’ve built a temple in...why here? I don’t get it.”
Reaching the temple was no easy task, as they had to descend to the very bottom of the gorge, cover a significant amount of ground, and then climb up the cliffs just to get to the entrance. 9S is completely within his rights to complain.
“Conjecture: The remains were surrounded by a “lake” or a manmade “canal” in the past, and access was made possible by ships or bridges.”
9S thought pod 153’s answer made sense. He knew that buildings which contained important people or objects were often surrounded by water. Perhaps that would explain the temple’s cylindrical shape as well - it was trying to get as much space as possible from its limited land mass.
“But that doesn’t explain...this.”
9S looked up at the huge tree in front of him. Clearly, it had withered a while ago, and its blackened trunk leaned powerlessly against the spiral staircase.
“What’s the point of planting such a huge tree inside a building?”
The cylindrical building had an open ceiling, and the spiral staircase that extended all the way from the first floor crumbled away right before the topmost floor. Perhaps the staircase had once connected all the floors, but it’s hard to tell from its current sorry state.
“2B, what do you think?”
No reply. She didn’t even realize that 9S was talking to her until 9S turned to face her. Startled out of whatever daze she was in, she blurted out a response.
“It’s a spiral staircase.”
9S deliberately chose to not repeat himself.
“What...what about it…?”
As expected, she wasn’t listening at all. If she even caught a bit of what 9S said before, she would’ve probably replied with something like “But that’s not what you said”. The only reason she didn’t do so was because she wasn’t listening.
“Let’s see how far up we can make it.”
Deciding to not point out their failed communication, 9S made his way towards the spiral staircase. 2B followed in silence. Something is wrong. It’s not like 2B at all.
2B is tasked with a mission, so why is she acting like this? Or is her mission the reason behind her current behavior? 2B has been acting strange lately, and 9S decided to stay silent on the matter ever since he figured out why. He pretended that he was none the wiser, and interacted with 2B the same way as before. Contrary to 2B who can’t seem to keep a secret, 9S found it pretty easy to keep up the masquerade. Otherwise, he wouldn’t try to access the main server illegally. Not even once, but multiple times.
Well, enough about himself. He’s going to be disposed of soon enough, anyways. He knew that. And he knew that 2B will be the one to do the job.
He knew that ever since he received orders for the current mission. The investigation is just a farce, and there’s no doubt that 2B had been given a separate mission.
The commander’s orders...must be to eliminate 9S. Me. Right, 2B?
But even then, 2B’s actions just seem...off. She’s so distracted, and 9S doesn’t feel a shred of tension from her. He didn’t think 2B could undertake a top secret mission with such a lackluster attitude. S types can’t match B types in close-quarter combat, but they can and will counterattack, and they can let their pods provide long range support as well.
So...maybe there’s another reason for 2B unnatural behavior. A reason unrelated to 9S’s illegal accesses.
2B, who was walking in front of him, suddenly lost her balance.
9S reached out hurriedly and caught 2B with his arms.
“What’s wrong? I’ve never seen 2B trip on a staircase.”
It’s true, the quality of the spiral staircase left much to be desired, years of wear and tear leaving holes and bumps. But there’s no way that 2B, with all her athletic ability, would let herself be caught off guard.
“Are you alright?”
She replied absentmindedly.
“I guess we’re lucky there aren’t any enemies around here. That could’ve been fatal if machine lifeforms attacked.”
“It could’ve...been fatal…?”
9S doubted his eyes. 2B was smiling. Her lips were curled unnaturally in a very strange smile. There’s clearly something wrong.
“What’s happening? Are you feeling unwell?”
2B wobbled as she tried to stand. Seems like she couldn’t control her strength very well.
“Do you hear what you’re saying!? You’re clearly not fine!”
Why didn’t he catch the signs of her worsening condition? But no, all her checks were green before the mission.. 9S was responsible for 2B’s maintenance, so he would’ve requested to cancel the mission if he found anything wrong.
“Let’s retreat for now.”
However, 2B ignored 9S’s words and began making her way up the stairs again.
9S raise his voice and grabbed 2B’s arm.
“Warning: Enemy signals detected above.”
“Warning: Multiple signals at 2 o’clock.”
The two pods simultaneously warned them of danger. The chances of running into machine lifeforms were supposed to be close to zero according to the headquarter’s prebrief.
Yet here they are, six aerial units approaching them from above. Their shapes resemble what 9S liked to call ‘small fry’, but they seem to possess the ability to emit jamming signals. That’s how they were able to avoid detection until they came within range…
They were certainly opportunists, choosing to attack when 2B wasn’t at her best. Retreating is made difficult by the fact that there is an open ceiling above the spiral staircase - 9S and 2B would always be in the machine’s range of fire.
“Nines! Get back!”
A sharp cry. 2B ran up the stairs as if a switch flipped inside her. Unlike the past few moments, her movements were smooth. She’s back to the usual 2B.
“I’ll provide support!”
Then the only thing left for him is to provide support as usual.
“Pod! Analyze enemy units’ flight patterns!”
Careful to not get in the way of 2B’s personal pod 042, 9S issued a command to 153. Machine lifeforms generally move in patterns specific to their overall shape. If those patterns can be predicted, then 9S could inflict the most amount of damage while sustaining the least amount of injuries.
153 used its long range attacks to strike down a machine that was trying to approach 2B from the back. The machines weren’t that fast.
Just when 9S thought they had a chance, the two pods again issued their warnings in unison.
“Warning: Enemy signals detected in overhead corridor.”
“Conjecture: Multiple non-aerial units. Enemy form and numbers remain unknown.”
The aerial units are interfering with the pods’ ability to obtain enemy data. That’s something that needs to be taken care of first.
“2B! Go on ahead! I’ll take care of the aerial units!”
Type B units are better at dealing with with non-aerial types due to their strength in close-quarters combat.
“Understood. I leave this to you.”
2B jumped over the handrail, took ahold of 042’s arm and glided towards the corridor. There was no hesitation in her movements.
“Pod! I’ll be hacking to take control of the enemy!”
“Understood: Providing support.”
9S rushed up the stairs and closed the distance between him and the enemy. Luckily, the enemy was slow to react and 9S managed to launch his invasion in no time.
Once he’s in, machine lifeforms are often left defenceless. They’ve picked up a great variety of physical attacks, but they haven’t quite learned how to deal with hacking internally.
Having found the control unit, 9S overwrote the system settings. As long as he gained control of one unit, the rest was easy.
9S used his controlled unit to attack the remaining five aerial units. None of the aerial units responded in kind when attacked. Maybe the machine lifeforms don’t have a concept of friendly fire - because even when 9S approached them with his controlled unit, they did not evade and were shot down immediately.
Having destroyed all five units, 9S activated self-destruction on his controlled unit and returned to the physical world. He ran up the spiral staircase, aiming for the corridor that 2B was fighting in. He thought he could provide some support, but it was clear that it was no longer needed.
“I guess you’re all done here.”
2B was surrounded with various pieces of scrap metal - what remained of the non-aerial units. They couldn’t let their guard down completely because there might be enemy units in the floors above, but they’ve certainly cleared out their immediate surroundings.
“Are you hurt?”
Before he could even relax from hearing that, 2B abruptly dropped her sword. 9S ran towards her. He had a bad feeling.
“Don’t worry. My hand...just slipped…”
Strange noises accompanied her voice. Her hands, shaking uncontrollably, scratched at her own neck.
2B fell down on her knees. 9S tore off 2B’s goggles - 2B’s eyes were shining a bright crimson. No doubt. She was infected by an enemy unit.
“I’ll remove the virus through hacking!”
2B shook her head in pain.
“What are you saying? We have to remove the virus now!”
He can’t afford to waste any second. Once the infection reaches her personality data, there’d be nothing that he could do. 9S laid down 2B on her back, and forcibly hacked into her despite her still shaking head.
What used to be a pure white hacking region was stained black at various parts. A classic effect of the logic virus.
A logic virus takes over an android’s memory area and logic circuits, effectively taking control of their personality and body. If left to its own devices, the infected android will destroy its surroundings and even attack its comrades.
“I have to hurry…”
Luckily, 9S has seen this type of virus before. He had already succeeded in combating this virus in the past.
“But the infection is progressing too fast. Plus…”
An orange light whizzed past 9S’s personality data. It was an attack from the virus.
“Such a pain.”
But since the virus didn’t appear to be irregular, its attack patterns remained the same as before. 9S had no problem tackling the virus while avoiding its attacks.
It didn’t take long before he removed all traces of the virus. All he needed to do was to make sure that no viruses were hibernating inside 2B’s logical circuits. As simple as performing a quick scan.
“Huh? This is weird.”
As he was scanning over her logical circuits, he discovered cracks in 2B’s personality data. In general, hacking regions appear as ‘pure white walls without a single crack’, but what he saw in front of him resembled the cracked walls of an abandoned building. He just didn’t see it before when the virus’s black color covered up the cracks.
“Is this an aftereffect of the virus?”
He had to find out more. He began a deep search, and was immediately met with the sound of rushing wind. Words filled his entire field of vision.
“You are ordered to terminate 9S.”
It was a fragment of 2B’s memories. These words were probably part of a mail’s contents. The sound of the wind is probably reflective of the location itself - the desert. 9S remembered the sight of 2B receiving mail in front of the access point. That wasn’t too long ago.
9S paused his scanning activity and accessed the memory at hand. He felt a pang of guilt, but since his own name was mentioned, he should probably be privy to its contents.
“...has attempted illegal access to the main server multiple times. We found traces of him having accessed the most confidential layer in the past few days.”
The words are wavering. The sounds of the wind are no more. It seems like 2B was shaken to the core during this memory.
“Therefore, you are ordered to terminate 9S.”
2B refused to have her virus removed because she didn’t want him to see this memory.
“You shouldn’t even let that bother you. I knew that you were an assassin sent by the commander.”
The only thing he didn’t know was the when. But he knew it from the moment he met up with her at the desert’s access point. He felt something from 2B as she read her mail with her back turned towards him. The final nail in the coffin was how she didn’t even realize 9S was approaching until he called out to her…
“Destruction of the head.”
The sound startled 9S. Fragments from a different time were intermingled with the memories of 2B reading the mail. It was a low, emotionless voice. But since it sounded so much like 2B’s voice, 9S couldn’t help but follow that voice.
“This is 2B. I have accomplished my mission.”
It’s the same voice. If the previous words were from 2B as well, whose head did she destroy?
9S approached the scattered memory fragments.
Upon first glance, these fragments appear to be scattered, but they were actually bent and connected in unnatural ways. What’s more, every single fragment had thorns protruding from them. 9S had never seen memory data like this.
They were full of thorns, they were disfigured, they were intermingled...they were 2B’s memories.
Maybe he shouldn’t see them. Maybe ignorance is bliss. Logically, he knew that, but couldn’t stop himself anyways. He was slightly resentful of his natural curiosity as an S type.
He touched one of the fragments and was immediately wracked with pain. But the pain helped him make up his mind - he needed to see this.
“But there’s no way an S type can win against a B type.”
This voice belonged to no other than himself. Since this is 2B’s memory, he must’ve said those words to her at some point. But he couldn’t recall anything like that. His memories were erased at some point.
By whom? For what?
Seeking for answers, 9S accessed another piece of memory.
His own voice again. Hearing such a frail voice, 2B tried her hardest to keep her emotions in check. 9S didn’t get any visual information, probably because 2B had shut her eyes tightly at this point.
These same words repeated themselves. When 2B read the message from the commander at the desert access points, these were the words that she heard in her mind.
But when and where did he say that?
Another piece of memory began its playback at that point. It took place during the mission at the so-called Sand Temple. It was the first time 2B executed 9S. She trapped 9S in her hacking space, cut off his escape routes via a wall created by a self-closing algorithm and erased his data.
Those were 9S’s parting words, right before he was about to be annihilated in 2B’s hacking space…
“2B has killed me before.”
That makes sense, he thought to himself. It certainly explained the sense of wrongness felt all along.
He attempted to access the next fragment. Again, he felt pain, but there’s no way he could stop now.
That particular execution happened in outer space. 2B destroyed 9S during their descent to earth. Another execution happened at the Sand Temple. Having learned from her previous mistake, 2B immediately killed 9S with a flash of her sword once they stepped into the temple. A few of the executions also happened right here, in the Stone Temple.
Sometimes she executed him after undertaking missions together. Sometimes she attacked and executed him while they were “total strangers”.
No matter how many times he’s executed or how many times his memory got wiped, 9S will always reach the same conclusion - that the commander is hiding something. And to sate his curiosity, he will always attempt to access the main server.
2B tried to stop him. Multiple times. When she got the chance to work with 9S, she tried her hardest persuade him to not suspect the commander. When she had to execute him without a chance to interact with him, she erased his memories and tried to nip his suspicions in the bud.
But all of her efforts were fruitless. No matter what she did, she couldn’t change the end result. It didn’t matter if she treated 9S with affection or indifference. It didn’t matter whether she called him “Nines” or not. At the very end, 2B will always receive orders to kill 9S.
“So that’s how it was…”
He’s been wondering about this ever since he first met 2B. 2B sometimes seemed like she was talking to someone else while they were alone. Back then, he concluded that 2B must’ve worked with other S types in the past.
His conclusion wasn’t completely right, nor was it completely wrong. 2B didn’t work with another S type - she worked with 9S. But not the “current 9S”.
“That could’ve been fatal if machine lifeforms attacked.”
He now knew the reason behind 2B’s peculiar actions after he said those words. Because a previous 9S said the exact same words in the exact same location in the past. He was killed by 2B right after that. His words triggered 2B’s memories of that time and caused her suffering.
And not just this once. Every memory she had of 9S brought great pain to her. So much that her own personality data is in tatters.
“I won’t apologize, because this is my mission. I won’t feel any guilt. Not now. Not ever.”
9S looked over 2B’s personality data again. It was pure white, but looked like it could crumble to dust at any moment…
Her consciousness surfaced from the darkness. She blinked, and saw 9S’s face close to her. He had a downcast expression. Or did she imagine it? 2B blinked and looked at him again.
That’s right, they were attacked by machine lifeforms. She fought them but became infected with the logic virus. Her last memory was of her trying desperately to stop 9S.
“I have removed the virus.”
She didn’t manage to stop him. 9S forcibly hacked her and dove into her memory regions.
“So...you’ve seen it all, huh?”
9S nodded silently.
She wasn’t surprised. She knew that this day was coming. S types are very insightful. 9S has already seen through her secret mission multiple times.
“2B wasn’t your actual name, huh.”
But this scenario had never happened before.
This was the first time 9S called her by her real name. E type number 2. Tasked with pursuing and executing deserters or rebels, as well as finishing off fellow androids that could no longer function on the battlefield. She is a YoRHa type android specializing in such dirty jobs.
2B drew her sword. 9S’s shoulders were shaking. He knew that 2B had killed him countless times before.
“I don’t intend to kill you anymore.”
She pointed the tip of the blade towards herself and gave the handle to 9S.
“So kill me.”
Her mission ended in failure. She failed as an E type. She’s now a defective product that can’t even justify her own operating costs.
“At the very least, I want to die by your hands…”
She had no illusions about this being any form of atonement. But if she could even give back a sliver of what she’d taken from 9S...there’s nothing much left for her to give. This is the only thing that she had to offer.
She saw 9S tighten his grip on the sword handle. She smiled and awaited her last moments.
The sword flashed. However, the blade was not aimed at 2B.
2B widened her eyes in shock, her head covered in a shower of blood. 9S, having sliced his own throat, slowly fell over. She cradled his body in her arms, her own screams of ‘Why?!’ sounding distant to even herself.
“Because...I had fun.”
She doubted her ears. He had fun? That’s impossible. There’s no way that’s true.
“I really enjoyed the time we had together. I think...that goes for all my previous selves as well.”
I’m sorry, she wanted to say, but 9S interrupted her unspoken apology.
“Don’t apologize. Instead…”
Even with his rough breathing, 9S was smiling.
“Next time...don’t hesitate...to kill me. Because we….will meet again.”
As long as he wipes his memory regions and re-installs his personality data, he will get to meet 2B again. Even if he won’t be his current self anymore.
“I want….to see you...again…”
Even if their next meeting is nothing but a preface to another execution.
Her vision blurred, and she couldn’t discern 9S’s last expression.
The body in her arms became heavier. The hand touching her cheek fell limply to his side. His black box signal was weakening by the moment. It would be cruel to let this drag out any longer.
She laid down 9S’s body and thrust her sword through his chest. His black box signal disappeared completely.
“I promise you.”
That I won’t hesitate to kill you. The next time, or the time after that. Not because of her mission, but because that’s what 9S wanted. To grant his wish of meeting again...she’ll kill him.
2B silently withdrew her sword from 9S’s chest.