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Hey guys! Well, we aren't going to Social Security today, on account of being sick. Nothing major, just a cold, but it seems a really douchey thing to do to go to a place with a lot of old and immune-compromised people who could catch it, so we're staying in. Which means a story for you!

This story is an oooold renegade from Kindathon, and it was requested by [personal profile] okami_no_mure , who wanted "A person of the gender of your choice who has never ever received kindness from anyone stumbles upon it in a very unexpected place." It's from the Disabled Cyborgs universe, and it was sponsored by the Patreon crew: Kaylin881, Cloudiah, contrapangloss, metahacker, inurashii, bazzelwaki, hanasaseru, Seamus, Lydean, and Jay! Thank you so much guys!

System Maintenance
Universe: Disabled Cyborgs
Word Count: 1070
Summary: After the war, Mem08 has a cardinal rule: never ignore a distress signal.  Even if it may not be real.
Notes: This takes place before Portia, the Mechanical Girl, and after Planned Obsolescence.  More notes at end.

<bipbipbip BEEPBEEPBEEP bipbipbip>

Mem08 wakes. It lurches, tries to move, but can't; its body is still in the middle of a maintenance process and can't spare the juice. Before the war, this would not have happened. But there are a lot of things that wouldn't have happened, before the war.

<bipbipbip BEEPBEEPBEEP bipbipbip>

The process finishes. Mem08 pulls out its power jack, bangs into the sleeping Mike05 getting out of its berth, and begins rotating in the hallway, trying to get a bead on the signal. Faint, far—where is it?

Mike05 trudges out, trailing cords. “What is it? Nightmare?”

“Distress signal! Can't you hear it?”

Mike05 frowns. He reaches up to recouple his auditory graft; he always sleeps with it out, claiming it improves his sleep. “I don't hear anything.”

Mem08 shakes its hands in agitation. It can already see the look of sympathy dawning in Mike05's face—it's not the first time he's been roused in the middle of the night. “It's real this time! I know it!” Getting an idea from Mike05, it undoes its auditory graft. “See, now it's gone. That means it's real.” It recouples its graft. “It's on the fringe of my range.”

“Your sensors are better than mine,” Mike05 admits, but frowning.

<bipbipbip BEEPBEEPBEEP bipbipbip>

“Can't ignore a distress signal,” Mem08 signs. It's starting to shake. “Can't—can't—can't--”

Mike05 puts a hand on its shoulders, interrupting the loop. “Here, I'll come with you. We'll look together.”

Mem08 knows he's babysitting it, keeping crazy old Mem08 from running off chasing glitch ghosts again, but it doesn't care. Mike05 is clumsy and lurchy and leaks fluids everywhere, but his problems are all hardware, not soft. It can rely on him as a reality anchor; there's a reason they're sleep neighbors.

“Yes. Please.” It finally gets a bead on the signal. “This way!”

The signal is faint, off the patron's complex. Mem08 can hop the fence in an instant and does, but comes back when it realizes Mike05 is still standing there apologetically.

Right. Mike05 can't do acrobatics anymore. Even now, Mem08 sometimes forgets; in its mind, Mike05 is still the sturdy old veteran from when it was new, not graceful but still able to do things like jump and climb.

Mike05 weighs more than Mem08 does, so getting him over the fence takes all their combined skills, and helps Mem08 concentrate over the signal's siren call. Mike05 still doesn't hear anything, but he asks questions, trying to keep Mem08 grounded.

“What is it? Brikt, human, bot?”

Mem08 swings its head back and forth, unfurls extra amplifiers to funnel the sound. “Uncertain. Old—no one's used these frequencies since United bought them ages ago.”

“How far?” Mike05 is starting to leak; he can't afford to be away from Gwyneth for long, these days.

Mem08 gets a bead. “Not far. I think the faintness is due to damage.” It hunches down. “Get on my back. My shocks are still good.” Heavy as he is, it's still safer than letting Mike05 stagger along on his own steam.

The patron's complex is surrounded by fields, carefully cultivated to appear untouched. Mem08 stilts through the grasses, following the signal, until Mike05 startles on its back.

“I hear it too now!”

Mem08 is relieved. The signal is real. It's not a glitch ghost this time. It's glad that Mike05 believed it enough to come trucking out here.

They follow the signal to the edge of the patron's property, where a stream crosses. It's beautiful to see, but all the grass and plant life around it are dead.

“Careful,” Mike05 signs. “My Geiger's going off, and I know you lost yours.” Polite of him not to mention how.

“The stream must cross the demilitarized zone,” Mem08 replies with a shudder. “Hmm…”

It sends a response signal, but the signal only dies completely.

Mem08 makes a sound of frustration. “It's coming from over that way, but not sure where.”

He starts digging for tape. “Okay. You take the bank; I'll search the water.”

Mem08 doesn't argue. Despite his damage, Mike05's shielding is much better than its. He was a bumper Borg, after all, intended to be constantly shelled and shot, while Mem08 wasn't. It paces the banks, searching with its full array, while Mike05 tapes up his holes and open spots and wades in.

A few minutes later, he waves to Mem08. “Found it!”

He lumbers out of the creek to Mem08, who helps him wash off and strip off the now-contaminated tape. “What is it?”

He holds out his cupped hands; huddled inside is a tiny little spider bot, limp and depowered. It looks as though it's endured an ordeal, but Mem08 doesn't recognize it.

“It's a Herva,” Mike05 says in wonder. “I haven't seen one of these in ages! They were decommissioned years ago…”

“How did it get all the way out here?” Mem08 strokes it with a finger.

“They're repair bots. Maybe it maintained itself all these years, out in the demilitarized zone… we should take it to Gwyneth.”

Sneaking back into the patron's complex is far worse than breaking out. Somehow, they manage, and go to rouse their patcher.

It takes a while for Gwyneth to go through her box and find a power jack to fit the Herva, and it's morning before she's finished rebooting and mending. Mem08 has to leave and serve the patron breakfast, but Mike05 keeps watch.

When Mem08 returns, the little maintenance bot is up and moving around, switching out its bits, climbing over and into Mark05 to investigate his parts. When it sees Mem08, it climbs out.

<BEEPBEEPbip BEEPBEEP> Its signal is still a little faint and distorted, but audible and cheerful.

“Good morning to you too,” Mem08 broadcasts and signs, for the benefit of Gwyneth, who can't hear the signal.

“It says it worked in maintenance for Apogee,” Mike05 signs. “It got separated from its company and has been self-maintaining ever since.”

“It seems to be picking up Brikt hardware fast,” Gwyneth adds. “It'd be a godsend to me; it can get into places I can't, maybe even help do some repairs for Mike05.”

She goes with the Herva to start discussing work, and Mike05 turns to Mem08.

“I'm glad you woke me up and had me come out,” he signs.

Mem08 folds into place and smiles. It's a cardinal rule: never ignore a distress signal.

Notes: The Herva speaks in Morse code; its distress signal is of course “SOS” while its greeting is the abbreviation “GM” for “Good morning.” It'll be able to speak in other ways once Gwyneth fixes it up more. It's a very old little bot, and Apogee built its bots to last—which is how it ended up putting itself out of business. Now, planned obsolescence is the name of the game.

In case it's unclear, Mem08 is significantly younger/newer than Mike05.  He's considered an old stalwart of the regiment, which is why he's in such poor condition.  Marsha9, their leader, is younger still--or rather, has been killed and replaced multiple times--but leader borgs are a special case and have their past incarnation's memories and psychology downloaded into them with each subsequent version, so their youth is less apparent. (How this effects her is another story.)
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