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Dead Man's Switch
Universe: Borgcritters
Word Count: 1000
Summary: Rat is the leader of the cyborg animals, but it is now painfully aware that it is prey. It finds an ingenious way of dealing with that anxiety.
Notes: You'd be best served by reading the prior stories in this series, which now is indexed with the Disabled Cyborgs series.  This was prompted by katz and sponsored by [personal profile] silvercat17 !  Please enjoy!


Being an individual had downsides. Namely: fear.

As a Unit, fear had primarily been a cost/benefit analysis, an awareness of the risk of losing appendages. There was no sense of mortality, for all was a glorious one, part of the Hive. Losing an appendage was unfortunate, but there was little sense of personal loss. Now, however, Unit #000111 was a group, many tiny scattered Is instead of an all-encompassing We, and fear was personal.

Rat, for instance, was now painfully aware that without the Hive's intervention and copious programming, it would be food not only to much of the life on the planet they explored, but to many of its teammates as well. And if it was aware, surely so was everyone else. Rat had the most processing power and speed, but the sense of predator/prey was an organic one.

Even the group's messenger Corgi, who was dumb as a post, told Rat unasked, “I would never eat you! For you are our leader, and I love you!”

Thank heaven for small favors.

Obviously, Rat couldn't show weakness or fear in front of the team it was supposed to organize. But some members were intended to take over its duties in case it was incapacitated. So it went to seek advice.

“I would not be concerned,” Donkey said during its periodic check-ups—since disabling their executive programs, it took its duties as troubleshooter and support even more seriously. “I'm prey too, you know.”

Rat personally felt there was a large difference between being prey the size of a rat and prey the size of a donkey. Besides, Donkey had many medical and engineering attachments grafted onto its large frame, very unpleasant to be on the wrong end of. Rat had nothing but a brain. Its job was to be able to draw conclusions quickly, from wide-ranging data. Very useful, but not particularly protective.

Only Cuttlefish, their diplomacy unit, seemed to truly understand Rat's position.

“I'm very small too, and only lightly armored,” it said to Rat with sympathy. “My sole defense is to blow myself up! Ironic in a diplomacy appendage, don't you think?”

“Well, diplomats tend to have a high loss rate,” Rat said, trying to be polite.

“Even so! I feel very lucky that I only share the water with Loach, who I trust.”

“Acknowledged,” Rat agreed, for Loach was silly and eccentric, but not at all aggressive.

“Is there something that particularly concerns you?” Cuttlefish asked. “This planet has very little dangerous life on it. The weather is the worst bit, but Wombat is as liable to drown as you. More so—it's heavy!”

“Well...” embarrassment was also a consequence of being individual. “I'm uncomfortable around Tiger and Cat.”

“Surely they wouldn't!”

“I don't know. Cat is young. I feel it watching me sometimes.”

“A shame you can't self-detonate like me,” Cuttlefish mused. “Nobody would want to blow up our leader.”

And Rat got an idea.

...

“Uncertain,” Donkey said, shifting from hoof to hoof uncomfortably. “This seems gratuitous. Dangerous.”

“We are individuals now,” Rat insisted. “Which means you can no longer act instantaneously to come to my aid. I need my own defense.”

“What if you trigger it in error?” Donkey pressed. “It would be a loss. Wouldn't you prefer I operate to remove such irrational fear from you? It would be more elegant.”

“No,” Rat insisted. “I want a self-detonation switch.”

Donkey was obviously disapproving, but it acceded to Rat's request—more out of habit of obeying, Rat suspected, than anything else. Since it didn't know the plans for such an attachment, never mind have one on hand, it had to reverse engineer from Cuttlefish and then print the parts from its own body. (Fortunately, Rat didn't require much mass; Donkey would regain it in no time.)

Rat always found Donkey's process of printing soothing. It was time-consuming, quiet and rhythmic, as the printer on Donkey's back broke down extra mass in its own body, rebuilt it on a molecular level, and then printed it, one precise layer at a time, to an attachment that would perfectly fit Rat's body. All Rat had to do was sit for a scan, to insure a good fit, and sit and wait.

Donkey seemed to find it soothing too. Many things about being an individual made it uncomfortable, but printing was clean, precise, and in order. It may not have liked the attachment it was making, but it did find pleasure in making it.

The operation itself was quick and painless. Rat's body, like all the others, was made to hook up easily to new attachments, to save time and increase adaptability. Donkey's skill was such that at the end, Rat hardly felt any difference in weight or balance, and the switch could only be set off by Rat itself.

“Congratulations,” Donkey said sourly. “You may now explode whenever you wish.”

“Truly, you are a great engineer,” Rat said. “Thank you.”

“Don't thank me,” Donkey said, turning away to go clean something, “for I do not approve.”

Rat announced its new attachment to rest of the unit. Cuttlefish, Loach, and Wombat were supportive, having heavy artillery themselves. Corgi wanted one too, but was quickly talked out of it. The rest of the unit mostly seemed confused as to why Rat would want such a thing, but Rat was positive it saw disappointment in Cat's eyes.

After that, Rat felt much more at ease around Cat and Tiger. It no longer felt like prey, but a proper leader.

“Nothing has changed since your outlook,” Donkey insisted. “You should have let me eliminate the fear at its source.”

“Cuttlefish was the one who suggested the idea,” Rat said. “Do you dispute our diplomat's sense?”

Donkey hastily demurred. Rat didn't care if it appeared a little irrational; it felt much happier with a defense, its dead-man switch.
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