Robots Don't Use Forks
 
by Eric DiCarlo
This is the first in a series of short stories that will explore the world of Gears of Eden. Continuing stories in the series will be provided to our Patreon supporters. Thank you for supporting us! For more information visit us at www.GearsOfEden.com 
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“Sir? Hello? Is this working?” L3-2M peered up at the monitor. On it, a static image of the system’s mining administrator looked back at the fidgeting little machine.

“One moment.” The image flickered into motion as the administrator settled into frame. “Ah, there. L3-2M, is it?”

“Yes, sir! Thank you for getting back to me so quickly.”

The administrator’s head shimmered in a reply lost on L3-2M’s very literal mind. L3-2M hesitated, and when the administrator realized that it—he, L3-2M reminded itself—wasn’t being understood, he returned to vocal communication. “Of course,” he finally said, “how can I help you?”

“Well, this is awfully embarrassing, but it seems somebody has made a mistake.”

“Is that so? Please explain the mistake while I pull up your file.” L3-2M heard tapping on a mechanical keyboard.

“Well, sir, I shouldn’t be here! I’m just a maintenance bot, and in no way designed for this task.” 

The tapping ceased. “Could you confirm your location for me? The designation, please.” L3-2M rattled off the alphanumeric sequence of the asteroid production outpost. “Thank you.” More tapping proceeded.

“As I was saying, I believe I received the wrong assignment. My previous experience was on the Regulus Station, where I—”

“Yes, I am aware. Your profile indicates a short service tour aboard the Regulus. This report has you stationed there for the past five orbitary cycles. This is correct, I presume.”

“Yes sir, it is.”

“In that case,” the administrator said, “everything appears in order. The assignment was addressed to one L3-2M on the Regulus Station, and looking at the records, there was only one machine on the station with that particular designation. You. It may be an inconvenient assignment, but it is one that you will be expected to master.”

“But sir! This is a mining operation! I’m not designed for this sort of work!”

L3-2M always struggled to read nonverbal expressions. Some machines made it easier by using carefully articulated pieces of metal or images displayed on a front-mounted monitor. Others, like itself, just said what they meant. The administrator's model, however, had been designed with dancing lights that swirled over their bare, silver heads. They didn’t even have optical receptors to break up the sheen. Apparently, there were different patterns for different expressions, but by L3-2M’s interpretation, the administrator just looked disinterested. But that couldn’t be the case; his response was so optimistic!

“I’m sure you’ll find a way. Let us know when to send a shuttle to pick up the product.”

“Thank you, sir! That really means a—”

The administrator cut the signal. He was probably too busy for goodbyes. That was fine; L3-2M was just grateful to receive some much-needed reassurance, Sure, it might be designed to fix problems and tend to general wear-and-tear, but how did it learn what needed help? By communicating. By listening. By empathy.

Camaraderie. Any machine could be taught basic maintenance, but it was the ability to derive genuine pleasure from companionship and the successes of others that set L3-2M’s model apart. It wasn’t just a friendly perspective, it was an appetite. Unlike other machines, maintenance bots weren’t meant to operate in isolation; they were meant to serve others and work as a team.

When L3-2M drove out of its new home and stared at the vast, blank landscape, devoid of anything but a thick layer of orange dust…

when L3-2M caught a glance of the single source of movement below the horizon, a small swirl of dust erupting as frozen ice below met the warmth of the system’s small star...

when L3-2M turned back to face the “base,” little more than a shelter for the communications room and a bunch of tools…

L3-2M knew that appetite would go unfed.

If loneliness would be forced upon the machine, uselessness would not. After all, the administrator believed in it! L3-2M drove into the SINTER Forge bay to assess its situation. Everything seemed to be in order, and the authorities included stock construction materials in L3-2M’s delivery pod. No doubt, they’d wanted these to be used to make replacement parts. The forge most likely even had the schematics for those parts pre-installed. That’d be great if I could spin a drill, L3-2M thought. The maintenance bot’s chassis and programming were much different than that of a mining construct, to the extent that the job demanded a fully physical overhaul, turning itself into something completely unfamiliar.

That would be unacceptable. L3-2M might just be a thing, but it was a proud thing. Instead, it spent a long while designing schematics for tools that might let it do this job effectively, while keeping its sense of self intact. The real struggle here, L3-2M knew, would be its relatively small frame. It wouldn’t be heavy enough for anything even close to traditional mining… but L3-2M had some ideas.

None of them worked. It tried to make a shovel attachment, but that couldn’t cut into the asteroid’s surface. It tried to clip little spikes onto its wheels, but L3-2M was still too light for the spikes to pierce into the ground. It even tried to make an electromagnet that would rip ore from the crust! This seemed like a brilliant idea at first, until it resulted in L3-2M getting stuck for a long while, pinned until its battery drained and forced the magnet to disengage.

Apparently, an electromagnet needed to be powered off, as well as on. The hasty mistakes of frustrated fools.

So it just sat, and waited, and thought on how hopeless a miner it proved to be. At least it got one break from cruel introspection during this time: the administrator called L3-2M’s inbuilt communicator to see how things were going. Apparently, he’d already tried the base.

The call started out just as supportive as the last one, but it quickly turned harsh. The administrator was growing impatient. “Where’s the metal, L3-2M?” “What’s taking so long, L3-2M?” “Do you even know how much that installation cost, L3-2M?” It could answer all these questions, if only the administrator would listen. It explained everything again, and it even told him the story of the improvised schematics, but the administrator didn’t listen. It just kept asking those accusatory questions. Eventually, he relented, though not without leaving a single, final insult.

“I suppose it’s a good thing we’re not wasting fuel by sending shuttles to your asteroid, isn’t it? Contact us when you have something worth our time.” End transmission. Loneliness returned, and self-loathing with it. It could blame its hurt on the administrator’s words, but if it actually knew how to do this job...

You know the worst part of all this? L3-2M thought to itself, It’s made me miss Regulus Station. It had spent five orbitary cycles on that station either fixing cleaning drones or waiting for one to break. Every single day, it hoped for a promotion to a busier job or a transfer somewhere more challenging. Well, now it had just that, didn’t it? Irony is truly the worst form of humor. It’s like the universe didn’t even try anymore.

Wait.

Drones.

L3-2M’s battery ran out.

L3-2M awoke, on the asteroid’s rocky, barren surface, resurrected by starlight on solar panels with only a single thought on its mind: Drones!

L3-2M knew the drones of Regulus Station inside and out (quite literally, since it had a copy of their schematics saved onto its internal storage), and it knew that they could be remade for tasks other than cleaning. It might not even be that much of a stretch! What was mining if not cleaning the ground of useful metals?

Okay, that comparison was a stretch, but the drones could work! It would take time to develop the schematics for them, but who cared? The administrator had clearly written this mining operation off as a failure, and L3-2M had nothing else to do anyway. Nobody expected it to do anything better than drive around this orange rock until its tires wore out, so nobody would complain if it wasted time trying something useful.

Besides, what better way to beat this loneliness than by crafting a new friend for itself?

Four major changes needed to be made. First, the drone would need to have its cleaning tools replaced with a drill. This was easy enough, but it also meant L3-2M needed to modify the drone’s motors. Its spectrometers would need to be recalibrated to find ores instead of general refuse. The drone would need a stronger collection system; dust and most trash were lightweight, but metal? That would add up quickly. L3-2M made a note: Make sure its repulsors can handle the load. Unlike L3-2M, who drove around on a set of four wheels, the cleaning drones hovered a meter off the surface. Finally, the programming of the drones would need to be reworked to make use of all this new functionality.

All of this was fully within the range of L3-2M’s abilities, so long as it devoted enough time to the task. However much time that’ll be, it thought to itself.

That turned out to be four-hundred and thirty-six rotations of the asteroid. Was that too long? Probably. L3-2M’s designers only provided so much creativity to maintenance bots. Just enough to get the job done.

Of course, having the drone schematics ready only meant so much when compared to production woes; no matter how much it tried to optimize the drone’s physical design, there just weren’t enough raw materials to complete the circuitry, which left L3-2M with an unpleasant realization; it would need to call the administrator to try and explain the situation in hopes of getting a shipment to resupply this waste-of-money mining operation.

Then again, L3-2M would rather follow around a drone all day with the shovel stuck to its front end, plowing up mined ore itself, than have another nasty conversation with the administrator... so that’s just what it did. 

Besides, after seeing the drone power on for the first time and slowly rise up off the ground? Suddenly, nothing felt impossible.

They started small with a single trip to evaluate the feasibility of this new mining strategy. After spending half a rotational cycle mining and storing the ore, the method’s inefficiency became clear. The drone itself worked as well as could be expected, but L3-2M could only maneuver so much ore with the plow. Not only did it take twice the labor, but it would take ten times as long just to fill a single shipment crate. Not that time really mattered in this situation. All that mattered was that the drone’s design worked, and L3-2M suspected that it would work great once the collection system was implemented.

Not long after, it gave the administrator a call. “Hello, L3-2M,” he answered, sounding displeased at the call. L3-2M expected nothing more.

“Hello, sir!” It hoped the chipperness came through over the signal. It had been a long time since L3-2M felt this good.

In contrast, administrator seemed almost irritated by the positivity. “Does this call have a purpose? Or do you just enjoy reminding me how unproductive your outpost performs?”

“Well, sir,” L3-2M said, “The performance review is up to your judgement. We don’t have much, but we might be able to increase production and get a second crate filled by—”

“Wait, stop. Second crate? As in, you’re saying there’s a first crate ready for shipment?”

It took every behavioral check in L3-2M’s system to keep itself composed. “Yes, but a single crate still might not be worth the trip. At what point do you think it would be appropriate to requisition a moderate supply of gold and silicon?”

“Gold and silicon… oh, of course. You’ve fallen into disrepair, haven’t you? We should’ve known that expecting you to perform maintenance on your own circuitry would be impossible.”

“Sir?”

“I should have seen it immediately.” he said, mostly to himself, “First you call me with scrap metal strapped to… we?  Did you say we before? There’s nobody else on that asteroid. L3-2M, listen carefully. Your processors are malfunctioning. We should have somebody—”

L3-2M whirred, humored. “No, sir. I check in for diagnostics every fifty rotations, just as instructed, and nothing worse than a chipped gear has shown up. Come here, Lucky!” it called out to its drone, which came hovering. “Good. hover next to me, please.” It did. So obedient! “Administrator, this is Lucky! It’s not quite finished yet, but once I’m able to get materials for its circuitry, we’ll be working far more quickly than we have been.”

The administrator froze, shocked. Then it chuckled. “What an ingenious little creation you have there! Does he-”

It,” L3-2M corrected.

“Of course. Does it require much maintenance?”

“No more than a standard miner’s design. My design is sturdy, but drill bits are prone to wearing down.”

The administrator thought on this. “In that case, transmit a copy of the blueprints. If you can promise two full crates by the time the supply ship gets to you, I’ll be able to justify sending enough materials for your drone’s completion, and the creation of ten more to work alongside it. Do we have an agreement?”

“Most definitely, sir! We’ll get to work right away!” Little did the administrator know, the second crate had nearly been filled already. In fact, L3-2M would probably be able to fill a third crate as well, just as a small display of prowess. Exceed expectations, it thought, and you’ll never get set aside. 

“Good. Ending transmission.”

When the transport ship arrived to receive its three crates of metal, two load lifters brought the promised materials to the base. They even thought to set it all up in the forge room! Such helpful machines.

When they left, L3-2M got straight to work completing Lucky’s design. For the procedure, Lucky would be fitted with a few new parts for the collection system and, most likely, would see some accompanying modifications to its circuitry. Unfortunately, there would also need to be an expansion of the drone’s coding, which made L3-2M feel guilty. Lucky would be fine, but machines always seemed a little frazzled after coming out of a SINTER Forge, and changes to the memory core always prolonged this symptom.

This must be what manufacturers feel like, L3-2M thought. It’ll overcome this brief unpleasantness in no time at all… but if I could, I’d save my little friend from any of it.

To L3-2M’s surprise, after exiting the forge and being powered back on, Lucky didn’t exhibit a single side effect of the operation, or at least wasn’t hampered by it. Rather, it was determined to inspect its new addition. L3-2M hadn’t been programmed with a need for entertainment, but even it couldn’t stop watching Lucky’s optical sensors swivel about as it spiraled around, just so desperate to see its underside. Eventually though, L3-2M decided to lend a hand. “Come with me,” it said, and Lucky obediently followed.

L3-2M went to the transmission room and accessed the monitor’s preview mode. This allowed the user to turn the system’s camera on to view themselves without transmitting a signal. The system’s designer had meant it to be a way to check the camera for any abnormalities, but today, it would be used for pictures. “Orientate yourself vertically,” Lucky complied, pointing its front end at the ceiling. “Good!” L3-2M recorded a single frame and pulled it up on the display. “Alright, now look back at the screen.”

Lucky reoriented itself and looked up at the monitor. The drone didn’t have any form of articulation designed for communication (unfortunately, that was beyond the programming skills of a standard maintenance bot), but Lucky’s headlamps flickered and twirled about with glee as it inspected the new upgrade. The sight warmed L3-2M’s power supply. The drone bounced back and forth, then zipped on up to the monitor to inspect itself as closely as possible. Lucky looked back at L3-2M and shimmied before hurrying to the base’s entryway.

“You want to go try it out, don’t you?”

Lucky bobbed around excitedly.

“Alright! Just one second. I need to get this thing off of me.” L3-2M disengaged the locks that held the plow to its front. “There. Let’s go!” It followed Lucky out to the asteroid’s surface. There was a slight buzz as the drone turned on its spectrometer, but L3-2M decided not to ruin the moment; that could be fixed later. Somewhere along the line, Lucky had developed a habit; rather than going in a straight line, it would search by a swaying path plotted at whim. This didn’t seem very practical, but it worked, and this granted L3-2M’s creation an opportunity to play at ingenuity. That was worth the inefficiency, tenfold.

First, it stabilized its position, then slowly lowered itself to the surface. Now that it could, it switched on the collection system before deploying a drill. With everything in place, it activated the motor and bore into the asteroid. L3-2M tried to watch the collection system in progress to make sure it functioned as intended, but the angle made this nigh impossible. Theoretically, the design should work. L3-2M hadn’t even come up with it. The collection system was nearly identical to the one used by the cleaning drones that Lucky had been based on. only drawing more power. But what if...

Oh stop that, it thought. Obviously it’s working, or Lucky wouldn’t still be drilling. When the drone finished, the spot was cleared of all metallic chunks. Lucky looked quite pleased with itself, but just for good measure, L3-2M checked the drone’s internal diagnostics to see if the metal had been sent to the designated storage compartment. Last thing it needed was to clean a bunch of ore out of the drone’s gears. The diagnostics checked out though, and L3-2M was finally satisfied. “Lucky,” it said, “things are going to be changing around here, all thanks to you.”

And it was right. The maintenance bot left Lucky to its duties and drove off to the SINTER Forge. Not knowing whether the forge could handle multiple projects at once, L3-2M portioned the materials into ten sets, one for each of the drones that would be accompanying Lucky. Portion by portion, it fed the forge and let it build from the design. Before the asteroid’s shadow could creep around the base, L3-2M had a crew of eleven, fantastic miners. It sent them all off to work and for once, the small asteroid sounded alive.

L3-2M relished in their success. To see Lucky work so diligently inspired the little machine. While the drones were out drilling, it set to work designing and producing a supply of drill bits so that they could reach resources buried deeper beneath the surface. Lucky was always happy to test new designs, and thank goodness for that. L3-2M was especially proud of one design it thought to be perfected by simplicity; a long drill bit just as wide as the standard ones, but able to reach farther into the ground. It had almost put them into circulation, until Lucky reported that the drill bit was too large and heavy. It would throw off the drones’ equilibrium while working, and the increased weight would drain their battery too quickly on a full storage load. This didn’t become a problem during the short testing period, but what if they ventured out, even as far as to the other side of the asteroid? They could get stuck out there! The thought alone was tragic, and even from a practical sense, it knew that such delays could not be “acceptable faults” in the designs.

The bits didn’t need to be long though, it realized. They just had to get deeper! After a few more rotations of the asteroid, L3-2M showed Lucky a design for a telescopic drill, one that the drones could extend deeper as the bit worked. Initially, the drone seemed hesitant. It highlighted a few spots on the design that might accidentally let in mechanism-jamming debris. L3-2M agreed and got straight to work fixing it. Lucky, however, had other concerns. Now the de facto foreman on site, it felt obligated to provide L3-2M with updates on the mining crew. Lucky tried to transmit an image directly to L3-2M’s optical receptor, but the maintenance bot rejected it. “Hold on, buddy. Let’s put this on the monitor instead.”

Lucky bobbed a little, then sped to the transmission room.

L3-2M followed. In this place, the mute drone could have a voice. The monitor flickered on and Lucky sent a familiar image of the asteroid to the screen.  L3-2M had instructed the team to create a map of their home early on after one drone got lost. This way, it believed, they’d be able to position themselves relative to the marker representing the base and head home. It also turned out useful for reports like this one.

Lucky highlighted a small area near the opposite side of the asteroid and brought up figures that told of increased density there. It shared other figures all over the asteroid, demonstrating the usual variation of densities, and L3-2M got the message: that small, highlighted area represented an abnormality in the asteroid’s makeup. In fact, it was a huge abnormality. “What do you think it is?”

The screen changed again, showing ten green dots moving around the area. Under the base’s marker sat a pair of dots, one green and one yellow. L3-2M found its unique color designation charming. “So you’re all investigating it?” Lucky’s symbol for the affirmative overlaid the screen. “Should I be out there?”

Lucky didn’t answer right away, but then replaced the asteroid’s image on the monitor with the designs for the drill.

“I can work on that anywhere, don’t worry.” L3-2M typically stayed in the base in case they received any communications from the administrator, but that wasn’t technically necessary. Besides, L3-2M wanted to be out there with the team it spent so much time creating.

Lucky hesitated again, but flickered its headlights in approval and began leading L3-2M to the other drones.

“Wonderful! This should be exciting, don’t you think?”

More flickering of headlights.

The site wasn’t far (after all, the asteroid wasn’t large by any means), but before the two machines had made it even halfway there, Drone Six patched its visual feed through to L3-2M. It almost protested, but the image shown was too important; it was a close-up image of a hole in the asteroid’s surface, but in the middle of its view, at the bottom of the hole, L3-2M didn’t find the dull grey that usually rested beneath the asteroid’s brownish-orange surface. No, instead, what it found was stark white. “What is that?” 

The drone responded with a time stamped diagnostic on its drill bit. One moment, it had been in perfect condition. Then, when it tried to drill into that surface, it spiked up in heat generation and by the end of the diagnostics, the bit had been ground to a stub.

If the white surface was strong enough to break a drill bit that quickly, especially without taking any marks of its own, L3-2M surmised that it could only be smelted metal; the impurities in unrefined ore would have fractured at least a little bit. Given the increased density in that area, it even made sense.

The only thing that didn’t make sense was how it got there. “Lucky,” it said, “instruct the crew to excavate whatever that is. And tell Six to head back to base for repairs.”

Lucky bobbed up and down a few times, an affirmative, and then oriented itself toward the excavation site.

“Tell the team I’m sorry,” L3-2M said, “I’d love to come see first-hand, but the administrator will want to hear about this!” As it raced back to the base, L3-2M recalled its instructions on the clerical aspects of running a mine. The authorities had spent a disproportionate amount of time focused on this exact sort of situation. “Did you find something strange out there? Call us! No really, call us! Right away!” So, of course, the obedient machine sent a call into the administrator, the sole established line of communication to the main territory.

In fact, the only established line of communication to anything.

Huh.

“Hello, L3-2M, how can I help you today?” The administrator had become friendly again ever since production on the asteroid had begun.

“Hello, sir! My drones have reported a strange sort of metal out on the far side of the asteroid. I haven’t been out yet to see it personally, but I received a visual transmission just moments ago. The metal was solid white, sir. Unlike anything else we’ve seen out here.”

“I see.” The administrator interfaced with his computer system for a moment. “Do you believe it to be foreign material?”

“I do, sir. The drill bits we’re using are made of iron, which is bound to degrade, but for a bit in perfect condition to break apart on unrefined ore, or even a purified metal, like it did? Impossible. If I’d wager a guess, sir, I’d say that the material is composed of some sort of metallic alloy.

“An alloy! Well that would certainly explain its strength, wouldn’t it? Do you have any theories as to how it got there? Generally speaking, alloys are not natural occurring.”

“Not in this quantity, sir.”

“Well then. Perhaps we should send a team out to inspect the site. How long until you could have it excavated?”

“One moment, I’ll check.” It contacted Lucky and posed the question. Lucky suggested that, given the size of the object, it would probably take the team just shy of one hundred rotational cycles to complete the excavation.

L3-2M offered this timeframe—after converting it to the government’s standard time—to the administrator. “That should be fine.” He offered to arrive in the equivalent of one hundred and five rotational cycles. L3-2M agreed, and the administrator returned to his computer again. “I have sent out the requisition for a team to accompany myself when the excavation is finished. L3-2M, do you have any theories on what you’ve found?

“I’m sorry, sir, I’ve never experienced this before. I wouldn’t know what to expect.”

“That’s quite alright. I believe that we’re dealing with a ship that crash landed on your asteroid, possibly hundreds of years ago. If my hunch is correct, you may have found a relic from the Null era.”

“Are you sure? That’s amazing!”

“Oh, more than you know. I hope you’re very proud of your crew, L3-2M. You must promise not to enter it before we arrive, however. The team I’m bringing is designed to keep us safe from any dormant risks that might reside within the ship.”

“Is that necessary?”

“There are no records of these ships containing anything that has harmed anyone, but standard procedure is standard procedure. I’m sure you understand.” L3-2M did. “We’ll see you soon.” With that, the administrator signed off.

On Lucky’s suggestion, L3-2M decided to work on its designs at the base, instead of the excavation site. The drones all seemed very excited over what they had found and it didn’t want to get in their way. Even with the shovel reattached to L3-2M’s front end, it wouldn’t help much. Fortunately, Lucky recognized that its maker was just as excited about the find as the crew, so it transmitted a constant visual signal to the base’s monitor. As cycle after cycle passed, L3-2M alternated between watching intently and working on the telescopic drill… though it spent more time watching than working. How could it not? There was a Null ship on their asteroid!

Ninety-three cycles later, the ship was fully excavated. The administrators crew weren’t set to arrive for another twelve cycles, so the drones just buzzed around the base while L3-2M tried to get everything polished and pristine. It was all any of them could do to keep the anticipation from driving them crazy.

The arduous wait finally ended when the administrator’s ship streaked into the sky. L3-2M and its crew all got into formation to provide a proper greeting. “Welcome, sir,” it said as the administrator floated down the ship’s ramp. Seeing the administrator in person, rather than on screen, L3-2M was again struck by their differences. It had seen these sorts of machines only a few times. The administrator looked like one of the models that stood upright, but instead of having a traditional lower body, he sat atop a rounded hover pad.

“Greetings, L3-2M.” The administrator nodded to the drones. “Greetings to all of you.”

The drones wiggled about with validation, but they kept mostly in line. L3-2M was very proud of them.

A team of four light combat mechs stepped out of the ship behind the administrator, and it seemed he noticed something in L3-2M’s body language. “Don’t worry, I’m certain there’s nothing dangerous inside the ship, this is just a precaution.”

“It keeps us busy, sir.” one of the mechs said to L3-2M.

“Could you and your team lead the way?” the administrator asked.

“Yes, sir!” L3-2M took up point for the short journey, though the administrator hovered next to it the entire way. Once the teams all arrived at the ship, the drones formed most of a perimeter around it, leaving a wide gap open in front of the entrance.

“Well would you look at that,” the administrator said. “Have you received any signals from the ship?”

“No sir, and ours can’t penetrate it. I’m not sure if the alloy is just too thick or if there’s something inside that cuts off signals, but whenever we scan the area, this ship shows up as little more than a dense blob on the asteroid’s surface.”

“I see.” The administrator nodded, as if L3-2M’s response was expected. “And you’ve kept the door closed?”

“Definitely. You said it was just a precaution,” L3-2M said, “but I wouldn’t risk my crew’s safety like that.”

“You’re a good machine,” the administrator said. There was something in his voice that made the declaration sound more… direct, it decided. “You,” he pointed to one of the mechs, “follow me. L3-2M and I are going to explore the ship. The rest of you, stay out here and take care of the drones.” He chuckled. “This might be their first time going without contact with their creator. Make sure they feel comfortable.”

“Yes, sir,” said one, as another walked forward to join the administrator and L3-2M.

They approached the entrance to the ship and the administrator pressed a few buttons on it until the door shot open. “Good, they didn’t lock it.” When the trio entered the ship, the door closed behind them, automatically.

The inside of the ship was so strange. It was a mess, but that made sense; of course an ancient, crash-landed ship would be a mess inside. What struck L3-2M, however, was what comprised the mess. Ash-covered, pliant materials. Long, strange rocks that had once been white but seemed burnt somehow. So many things that, quite frankly, it had never seen before. “Tragic…” The administrator reached to a shelf and plucked a pronged strip of metal. He worked it in one of his multi-digited manipulators. It fit so naturally.

“Do you think,” L3-2M asked, “the crew was made up of machines like you?”

“No,” he said, “but maybe something similar.” He set down the strip of metal. “I believe we’ve seen enough. Would you like to stay a little longer, L3-2M? This is your find, after all.”

“That’s alright. I’ve constructed a small simulation of it to share with the drones.”

The words made the administrator… tense? “I see. Considerate of you.”

“Well really, this is their find, and they’ve just been so excited about it!”

The administrator nodded absently while looking around the ship a little more. “Why don’t you go show them? We’ll need to take this ship, but I’d hate for them to watch it go without ever seeing the inside.”

“Good idea!” L3-2M drove to the doorway again and it flashed open. What well-behaved drones they are, it thought. L3-2M was sure the doorway would be swarmed by eager—

It heard a sizzling sound and looked around to see the crew collapsed onto the ground where they’d hovered just minutes before. L3-2M saw smoke coming out of their fried circuits.

“Administrator! Something terrible—”

It heard the humming of a combat mech’s weapon warming up. “I’m sorry, L3-2M,” the administrator said. “The existence of these ships is of the utmost confidentiality.” 

“What? No!” 

An arc of lightning surged into the clever little machine, and its circuits fried.