Altshcmerz by minusfractions

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"Is it... alive?" he asked tentatively, nudging the... thing's shoulder gently with the barrel of his gun. The purple flesh of the cyborg seemed to quiver, the green glow of its bioluminescent skin cells lighting up in a complex pattern to acknowledge the touch, and perhaps, relay a message.

"It's more machine than organic," the cold response came, as his colleague raised her own gun. "It's not alive."

He wasn't sure whether it was her words, the gunshot, or his own reaction to it that made him shudder.

Not anymore.

***

Noah was silent on the journey back, intensely fiddling with the mechanics of his gun. Part of his discomfort was due to the cybernetic woman's corpse lying across the transport's floor as they trundled along the dirt road –if you could call something that consisted of so many wires a corpse and not a wreckage. Or what it had once been, a woman.

Cybernetics were more valuable than gold these days, and this wreckage was salvageable. Noah wished it wasn't.

Tess sat across from him, unbothered by anything that wasn't taking the bulky, and "too fucking hot" carbon armour plates off of her body. Their driver hummed along to the radio, bobbing his head in a way that suggested his full attention might not actually be on the road ahead.

A thick leather glove hit Noah's visor, and he turned his gaze back to his partner.

"What's up dumbass?" she asked cheerily. "Why the long face? We exceeded the quota today, and that means bonuses! Let's go out tonight."

As his gaze was drawn back to the mass of wires and quickly disintegrating flesh that was sprawled across the floor, so was hers.

"Is it about the stupid machine?" she asked, sighing.

"She-" he began.

"It," his teammate corrected, "is a series of ones and zeros within a shell designed by a pervert."

"How much organic matter was she- it?"

"The FC20?" Tess paused, tilting her head to the side as she thought. Strands of blonde hair fell loose now her helmet sat between her legs. "Maybe fifty? Ask Jed when we get back. You know how he loves these things. Bet he would have loved "her" too," she added, under her breath. "Look, don't sweat it. Would you be having these kinds of problems if it had been a human criminal?"

"No, but-"

"It was getting old, no telling what it could have done. One faulty wire, one zero that should be a one... That's all it would take. They work within parameters, yes, but over time, for whatever reason, those parameters seem to fade for them. They break free, and then, they're dangerous."

He wasn't exactly sure why it bothered him. Sure, it wasn't what he had expected to do today, but they had been sent out to retrieve any scrap metal and wires they could, and they would be getting bonuses for this amount. He'd killed things like her before too. Plenty of times. And he'd never thought of them as a "she" or as a "he". So why did he now? You know why. You know.

She looked like Mila.

***

"It's beautiful," he'd said in awe, trying his best not to crush the fragile white flower with his comparatively fat hands.

"Why?"

The android had been sitting next to him on the grass, as the sun beat down on them.

"Because, it's... it's flower," he'd responded lamely. "Flowers are."

Mila collected a few tiny rocks from between blades of grass nearby, and examined them against the translucent purple flesh-like palm of her hand.

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