Today's Reading

"Is it—?" Unit Four tried, but the drivers for its speakers hadn't been fully installed yet.

"The invaders. Again. Yes," said its handler. "I'm sorry we have to welcome you into the world this way, Unit Four, but if you and Two don't get in those maintenance boats right now and incapacitate those bastards, the whole operation might go down."

Acknowledged.

Its core programming initiated: protect and maintain the platform. The platform...the platform...

It was still trying to assimilate all of this newness—to decipher just where it was and what it was and why it was.

Let's start with where, it thought.

This was the reconstitution and activation wing. Small. The room was only six meters by six meters, containing three pods for growing biomechanical robots, a manual input station, three doors, and a single window. The left door led to the fuel-input center, the right to the waste depository. Just beyond the center door lay arm-E, a long hallway that connected to a spinning central hub. The spinning of the platform created simulated gravity of approximately point nine gs. Primary equipment and monitoring stations formed bulky rooms at the end of each arm—seven of them in all.

Seven stations.

Four active AMS units.

One invading ship.

Finding its footing, AMS Unit Four took unsure steps away from the window and toward the other pods. One was empty. One was active, but in the early growing stages. The top was hermetically sealed and UV shielded to protect the engineered biotech inside. Most of a unit's internal parts could not be directly exposed to radiation or atmosphere without immediate damage. They were delicate, but pliable. Plastic. And that plasticity was both their greatest weakness and greatest strength.

My greatest weakness and my greatest strength, Unit Four thought.

A small, thin-slit of a window allowed for visual monitoring of the robot's soft-body development within. The new unit's chassis lay bare, a few cells coalescing and clinging, but this robot wouldn't be ready for activation for at least another seven hours.

"To the boats," its handler said again with urgency. "I'm sorry, Unit Four—quickly."

Unit Four felt the urgency, and yet its mind and body were still sluggish, still catching up. The chemicals didn't feel like they were pumping correctly through its tubing. Excessive vibrations tingled through its outer layers.

"We have to go," agreed Unit Two.

"Remote fire is only doing so much," their handler said. "Damn ship keeps using the dishes as a shield. And there's no way I'm letting you move the platform itself any closer."

"Something feels defective," AMS Unit Four said. "I'm concerned my activation process was faulty. My compounds—even my fluid pump— they're...they're..."

"It's adrenaline," its handler said. "I shot you up. Your biological components need it right now. A lot of it. You're going to crash after, but we'll take care of that, all right? I just need you to do what I activated you to do, okay? I know this feels strange. I know it conflicts with your past memories of activation. I'm sorry. I know."

Apologies weren't needed. AMS Unit Four was the one having a difficult time booting. It was already failing at the job it had been grown for. The panic and disappointment in its handler's voice was distressing. It wanted to be efficient, to do well, to execute its tasks swiftly and competently.

"I will show you the way," said Unit Two, placing one of its grasping pads on one of Unit Four's articulated arms. "I was activated two days ago," it said as it reversed, keeping its focus on Unit Four. "My process was much slower than yours, but I, too, was disoriented."

AMS Unit Four looked into Unit Two's cameras, feeling both familiar with its sister unit and disconnected. The robots were all identical, based on the same schematics and consistently regrown from exactly the same vat of materials. It had memories of "Unit Two" from before, but those were no more this exact same Unit Two as it was the Unit Four of times gone by. Each activation was different, each reconstitution and regrowth different.
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