P9U3J stumbled to a halt, clutching its shoulder, feeling the aftershocks of the ray gun blast crackle up and down its nerves. It focused, trying to direct power away from the wound while evaluating a new course of action as its target sped away, screaming with laughter from the driver’s seat of a stolen car.
It looked at the exterminator in charge of its squadron, waiting for the next order.
Sunlight shone off of Korse’s head as he turned to face the android. “You’re a liability. Shut down and we will collect you later.”
P9U3J blinked. The command echoed around its mind, it didn’t want to believe it. Want. When did it start to want things?
“Exterminator Korse, is that the best course—”
Korse slapped it. “Orders, droid. Know your place.”
The sting of Korse’s slap still spreading over P9U3J’s face, it stared blankly for a moment, processing what it was being asked — ordered — to do. Behind Korse’s back, K09EV met P9U3J’s eyes and shook its head the barest bit. P9U3J nodded stiffly, then turned back to Korse.
“Yes, Sir. I will remain here.”
A smile flickered over Korse’s face before he drove his fingers into P9U3J’s ribs.
There was a body on the side of the road. Fun Ghoul pulled over, reaching for his mask off the passenger seat as he did so. It was dressed all in white, meaning it was from BL/ind, and while Ghoul wasn’t going to turn down the chance to scavenge what he could, there was always a risk that this could turn into some kind of an ambush.
Climbing out of his Trans Am, Ghoul noticed that the body wasn’t a draculoid, like he’d thought it was. There was no rubbery mask, nor the thin cloth of a S/C/A/R/E/C/R/O/W’s covering. Ghoul inhaled sharply, was this an undergrad? Some poor soul that hadn’t quite made it to freedom before succumbing to the Zones?
Getting closer, Ghoul saw that that wasn’t the case, either. The boots weren’t civilian, neither was the heavy utility belt. He rolled the body over and zeroed in on the faintly discoloured rectangles on their neck that weren’t covered by the uniform. Desert patrol. An android.
A hot flash of anger filled Ghoul. BL/ind hadn’t thought this poor droid deserved a burial? They’d just left them to rust on the roadside? It was never hard to find a reason to hate BL/ind, but Ghoul still somehow felt surprised at how the company treated its workers.
It wasn’t fair to the droid to be forgotten and abandoned like that, but Ghoul knew that Desert Patrol remains were valuable, and those boots did look comfortable. He muttered a prayer to DESTROYA as he stripped the corpse, an apology to the droid and a call for the dormant goddess to give this droid the dignity they deserved in whatever afterlife they could get.
“What happened to you?” Ghoul talked to the droid, but mostly himself as he worked.
At first, the droid seemed to be in good condition, no broken parts or any other major damage that would indicate why they’d been left behind. The fading on their maintenance panels was pretty severe, indicating that the droid had seen a lot of sun, but Ghoul didn’t see a reason for them to be left in the sand like this. Then he saw it. A deep crater across the droid’s shoulder. Wires flickered and sparked every time Ghoul jostled the body and the edges of the hole were jagged and burned.
This was it? The reason that the droid had been abandoned to the Zones? A ray gun blast to the shoulder? Ghoul leaned down and swore. The rest of the limb looked fine, when Ghoul bent the elbow he saw drive belts respond through the wound. The only issue was the sparking wires, and shouldn’t BL/ind have been able to repair those in a heartbeat? Another rush of anger filled Ghoul at the thought of this droid, worked to their last breath and then tossed aside because of a superficial injury.
Ghoul claimed the droid’s boots, their belt, and the radio strapped to their hip. He debated taking its clothes or loading it into the Trans Am to trade it off as parts, but it felt weird to do so. Hadn’t they been someone? Ghoul knew that he’d like a little dignity if he’d been in this position, so decided to leave the droid as they were. He went to stand, steadying himself with a hand on the droid’s chest, when they opened their eyes.
“Fuck!” Ghoul scrambled back, reaching for his raygun as he dropped what he’d collected from the droid. Wildly, Ghoul looked around. If this was an ambush, he didn’t want to get caught totally off guard.
No one else appeared. The desert remained just as empty as it had two minutes earlier, the only difference being the droid on the sand, now sitting up and fixing Ghoul with a blank, if curious, stare.
“Are you gonna kill me?” Ghoul blurted out. The droid cocked their head, still looking at him. “Can you even hea—”
“Killjoy,” the droid’s voice was higher than Ghoul expected it to be, raspy in an… organic way. “Evacuate.”
“Wha—? Why? Shouldn’t you be,” Ghoul mimed shooting, then froze when the droid flinched. “Sorry. Uh, but, isn’t your job to…”
“You are not my target. Run, before my—” The droid cocked their head to one side, they pressed a finger behind their ear and listened intently to something. “They left,” they mumbled. If it had been possible, Ghoul could’ve sworn the droid looked upset.
“Who… left?” The droid fixed Ghoul with a glare and he stepped back, raising his hands. “Right. I should uh, evacuate.”
Neither moved. The droid twitched their fingers, a little nervously perhaps, and Ghoul stared down at them. The droid ignored him, seemingly just noticing the damage to their shoulder. They lifted their arm, wincing as a sharp creak rang out.
Ghoul hadn’t known droids could wince.
Trying to appear a little friendlier, Ghoul pulled his mask up as he spoke, “So… Say I didn’t evacuate, what would, uh, you do?”
“You are not my target. If you impeded my mission or I got orders from my Exterminator... I would eliminate you.”
“Oh,” Ghoul swallowed dryly at how matter-of-fact the droid said this. “Am I impeding your mission?”
The droid shook their head, “My mission has been completed.” They looked down at their hands.
“By someone else,” guessed Ghoul. “Where’s your Exterminator?”
For a long moment, the droid stared at him, they flexed the hand of their uninjured arm and Ghoul heard a slight buzz, then it died off. “He has returned to the city.”
“'F I evacuate, what are ya gonna do?”
“Return to the city.”
“It is my duty.”
“To someone who left you for dead in the Zones? Sorry,” Ghoul took another step back as the droid made a sharp move towards him. “But… I mean. I thought you were dead, either they did too or this’s a really elaborate ambush situation. An’ I don’t wanna be rude but if I were you I’d… probably not rush to get back to the people that left me for dead.”
“It is my duty.”
“Right, no of course!” There was an idea in Ghoul’s head, not one that he had come up with but it had somehow gotten in there and he was running with it. “I’m just saying, there’s a lot more to life than duty and, I mean, they did leave you behind so I’d consider that a bit of dismissal. I betcha don’t even know about life outside o’ your duty!”
“Duty is what I was made for.”
Ghoul rubbed his forehead, he dropped to sit on the sand a few metres away from the droid.
“Listen, you don’t seem super set on your duty, because I think by now I’m impeding your mission and I’m not dead yet. ‘Sides… I don’t wanna be rude but—”
Ghoul shut up quickly as the droid jerked its arm. It’s hand flipped up, revealing a hole that kind of looked like the barrel of a ray gun, but Ghoul didn’t want to test the theory.
“Witch, okay. I’ll drop it…”
With a sharp snap, the droid’s hand flipped back into place.
“Sorry. I was gonna say that I know some tech, I could fix up your arm if you wanted. No pressure, but it looks like it hurts. If you can hurt, that is.”
“I know what hurt is,” replied the droid. They spoke quietly like this was something they didn’t want to admit.
“I can help if you want. But I don’t have my toolbox here. So, basically…” Oh, Jet was gonna kill him for this. “You wanna come home with me?”
The droid squinted over at him — did droids need to squint? — and froze for a long moment.
“Why would you offer to help me?”
“Why not?” Ghoul smiled.
Another long moment passed, Ghoul dragged his fingers through the sand while the droid thought it over. Ghoul hadn’t known that droids made noise when they thought, a low whirring, but he thought it was pretty shiny. Finally, the whirring died off and the droid shifted.
“I will come with you.”
“Fuck yeah!” Ghoul punched the air and jumped to his feet, he went to offer the droid a hand before he remembered how evidently skittish they were. So he stepped back to watch them stumble to their feet. “You good?”
“Fine,” gritted out the droid.
Pointing out the obvious lie wasn’t something Ghoul wanted to risk. “... Okay. C’mon.”
“Let me re-equip myself first.”
“Shit, yeah, sorry.”
The droid moved their injured arm slowly while they put their boots and belt back on. Ghoul kind of felt bad about taking them in the first place but, hey! It’s not like he’d known they weren’t dead.
Watching the droid struggle with their bootlaces, Ghoul was already thinking about how he would fix them up. He should have the right wires to replace the torn ones, but it might take a bit of trading to get something to patch the hole with. Ghoul had gotten enough sand in wounds of his own to know that it wasn’t fun, probably doubly so for the droid if their gears got jammed. He’d have to ask about their sensation, if they had nerves and if there was a way to disable them while he worked.
Ghoul barely noticed when the droid was finished ‘re-equipping’ themself.
They looked at him expectantly, tilting their head, “Are we going to leave?”
“Oh, shit, yeah, let’s hit th’ red line,” He let the droid into the Am, starting it up and turning the radio down to a murmur.
The droid stiffened slightly as Ghoul began to drive, but slumped back into the seat once they were properly on the road. Ghoul had his window down slightly and made sure to point the control out to the droid if they wanted theirs down. They didn’t but stared out the window in silence as the Zones rolled by.
“Fun Ghoul? Are you going to answer your radio?”
The droid’s voice shocked Ghoul out of his idle daydreaming. “Huh?” When had he told the droid his name?
They pointed at Ghoul’s radio in the center console. Ghoul picked it up, noticing that the volume was almost all the way down. He turned it up to hear his crewmate’s voice filtering through the speaker.
“Ghoul? Fun Ghoul, come in.”
“Hey, Jet, ‘s me.”
“Phoenix fuckin’ Witch, couldn’t’ve picked up earlier?”
“Sorry, radio was muted.” Though, somehow, the droid had still heard it. “What’s up?”
“Where are you? You were supposed to be back an hour ago!”
Ghoul leaned forward until he could see the sun, high in the sky, but lower than it should’ve been.
“Fuck, sorry, I was uh… Had to take a detour.”
Jet was silent for a minute, probably sighing. Then they spoke up, “What did you do?”
The droid shot a curious look at Ghoul while his radio crackled out static.
“Okay, fine. I, uh, picked up an undergrad. They looked like they could use the help.”
“That is inco—”
“Shut up,” Ghoul cut the droid off.
“Okay, that’s fine, I guess,” replied Jet. “They got a name?”
“Yeah, it’s uh...” Ghoul lifted his finger from the transmit button, “You got a name?”
“I’m not calling you that,” Ghoul turned back to the radio. “They do not have a name yet.”
Jet laughed, “Shiny. See you soon.”
Ghoul dropped the radio back into its cupholder and took a deep breath.
“So that’s my crewmate. They’re fun, try not to like, kill them, or whatever.”
“I don’t kill unless they im—”
“Impede your mission or you’re ordered to, I know. Still…”
Ghoul drifted into silence and the droid didn’t say anything else. Ghoul tightened his grip on the steering wheel, wondering exactly what he’d just gotten himself into.