lb_lee: A pencil sketch of me drawing/writing in my sketchpad. (art)
[personal profile] lb_lee
Hi everybody!  This leftover story from Foolathon won the tie-breaker poll, so up it goes!  It is a follow-up to Esprit de Corps, and you should read it first.  It was originally prompted by katz of Mammoth, and was sponsored by cloudiah of Mammoth and AnonSwede!  Happy writeathon, everybody!

The Best Messenger

The hardest thing about being an individual, Rat decided, was the feeling of smallness.

It was one thing to be a part of the Hive.  There was a glory there, a transcendent cybernetic ecstasy of being the appendage of something huge and powerful and great.  No appendage ever questioned their purpose in existence; it was there in the name.

But Rat wasn’t Brain Appendage anymore.  Now it was just Rat, a flat, meaningless identifier for a small rodent.  It would have to find a better name at some point, when it had some more notable quality or achievement.

It was strange to issue neurochemical orders to only its own body.  Now if it wanted anyone to do anything, it had to actually say so.  And without the mathematical precision of Hive transmission and programming, orders could be misinterpreted.

Corgi (formerly messenger appendage) came and plunked itself down by Rat.

“Hi!  Hello!  I’m back!” it announced, and started giving Rat a tongue bath. “And I love you!”

Rat pushed it off. “Already?  I sent you out all day!”

Corgi looked out. “You told me to scout till dark.  It’s dark now, and I came back, yes.”

“Those are clouds!” Rat had never felt aggravation before.  It did not find the emotion educational. “There are still hours left in the day, now—”

“Attention!  Ahoy!”

Rat and Corgi turned, and Bird (formerly aerial appendage) came in for a landing.  It had been scouting aerial—and like Corgi, Rat had told it to stay out till dark.

“Not you too!” Rat complained. “I told you…”

Bird snapped to attention. “Leader, I feel a storm coming, so I decided to return.”

“Oh.” It was difficult, adjusting to others’ individuality.  Bird had been in charge of aerial tactics; it wasn’t nearly as dim as Corgi. “Is it a bad one, do you think?”

Bird gave Rat a cold look. “Why would I have returned, otherwise?”

Corgi hopped up and started dashing back and forth. “You see?  I was right!  I was right!  Oh yes, I am a good messenger!”

“Sit down,” Rat snapped, and Corgi did so with a plaintive whimper.  To Bird, it said, “we’ll need to gather the others.”

And that was also a problem.  Being an individual meant no instant transmission of orders.  When there was only one mind, all was fast.  But having separate little minds, with their own thoughts and their own mental chatter, meant such transmissions got drowned out, warped, or dismissed altogether as irrelevant distractions.  They were no longer Hive; they had to shout orders as individuals now.

Bird was quick, so Rat sent it off to find Tiger and Cat.  Loach and Cuttlefish would be safe in the water; they could continue with their own business undisturbed.  And Donkey, formerly Support Unit, was too valuable to risk on scouting missions, so had stayed at base with Rat.

Which left Wombat.

“What do I do?  What do I do?” Corgi asked, bouncing up and down.

Rat hesitated.  Wombat was the unit’s heavy artillery.  If anyone could withstand a storm, it would, and Rat wasn’t sure Corgi could be trusted not to misinterpret more orders.

Then again, despite its stubby little legs, Corgi could be surprisingly quick.  Faster than Wombat, anyway.  And it was definitely more likely to pull off recon than reinforcing the base.

“Find Wombat,” Rat said. “Bring it back to base.  Understand?”

Corgi started dancing in circles. “Oh boy, oh boy!  Yes, I will do that!  For I am a good messenger!  Yes!”

And it dashed out.

“East!  East!” Rat shouted.

Corgi changed course but didn’t look back. “Oh boy, oh boy!”

Sighing, Rat went to help Donkey reinforce the base and ready for possible injuries.  Hopefully it’d made the right decision.

Cat returned to base first, before the storm hit.

“It looks bad,” it noted. “I’m surprised I’m first.”

Rat put it to work battening down the hatches with Donkey.  It began to rain.

Tiger and Bird arrived not long after, soaked through.  Wind and the weight of the water had grounded Bird, so Tiger had had to carry it home.  Furthermore, the weather had damaged Tiger’s delicate stealth circuitry, causing its stripes to flicker in pixilated nonsense.

“Error,” Tiger said, shaking the water (and Bird) off. “It’s bad out there.  Where’s Corgi and Wombat?”

On their way back, hopefully.

Tiger and Bird went to Donkey for diagnostic and repairs.  Rat waited anxiously for their messenger and heavy.

Even Loach and Cuttlefish made it home first, surfacing in the base’s well and sending out friendly jets of water.  They, of course, were oblivious to the weather; they just returned because the sun had set and the day had ended, along with their exploration. (Rat noted wryly that even Loach, who was running on eccentric wetware, had managed to properly understand its instructions.  And it couldn’t even see the sun properly!)

By now, everyone was getting a little concerned.  Another part of individuality; even non-vital units were the subjects of attachment.

“Want me to search for them?” Loach asked. “With all the water on the ground, I could swim to them!”

Rat gave Loach a reproachful look, but it was worried.  The rain was pounding down now, and the wind howled like a wounded animal.  Even Wombat wouldn’t want to be out in weather like this.

Then they heard a loud banging at the entrance.

“Open up!” Wombat called.

The unit (those landbound, anyway) rushed to let it in.

Wombat was covered in so much mud that its organic and cybernetic parts were indistinguishable.  Sprawled across its back saddle, one of its legs a stump of metal and wire, was Corgi.

“Got lost,” Wombat said sorrowfully. “Corgi came an’ found me.  Broke its little leg…”

Corgi opened one eye.  Its voice was faint. “Am I a good messenger?”

“Yes,” Rat told it earnestly. “The best messenger.”

Corgi was too exhausted to even wag its tail, but it managed an, “Oh boy, oh boy.”

And they took it to Donkey for repairs.

Date: 2014-08-11 02:58 am (UTC)
ext_12246: (Default)
From: [identity profile]
Heh, interesting!

• battering down the hatches
→ battening

Date: 2014-08-11 03:14 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
D'oh! Fixed!
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