It was a drone.
It stood before him on the rooftop as he approached, sheltered in the docking bay where he received his personal shipments, freshly unbound from the protective packaging that it had arrived in.
Even at his quick approach toward the receiving platform, he could tell that it had turned out stunningly. Exquisitely crafted by hand, molded to exacting specifications, and polished to a diamond sheen with custom matching lacquer, it managed to outshine even his previous three customs, all of which he‘d needed to return. At this point, he held out more than a vague hope that the factory had worked with him long enough to get one right.
However, he didn’t yet trust that they had worked out all the bugs.
“Activate.” Senator Ratbat’s vocals rang out sharp and clear inside the docking chamber, his silken intonation attempting to bury the annoyance that he felt.
He hated having to be present for this. As busy as he’d been with his affairs of state, he wanted to trust his personal assistants to be able to receive a simple drone…but that had not gone to expectations the previous three times. Sadly, his associates weren’t as discerning as he. They didn’t catch small nuances in programming, and they couldn’t differentiate between a high-gloss polymer and an actual carbon hexagonal matrix coating. He‘d learned, after he had sent the third one back, that it was necessary for him to look over his acquisitions personally.
This one needed to be right from the start.
The delivery-mech appeared to have some inkling of that, also. He stood at the ready, hovering several feet away from the drone, watching it with a slight shaking of his knees. Ratbat thought that he recognized the posture, confirming the familiar, timid stance of terrified underlings with a single glance over the common laborer. The mech seemed ready to run, as if something might go wrong.
Ratbat dearly hoped it wouldn’t come to that.
Thus far, however, there were no signs of flaws. The drone primed to life on his command, shedding the last few clinging strips of packing compounds as its engine started up, vibrating almost imperceptibly as it warmed.
Unlike the other drones, though, there was no flicker of life, no motion, no evidence of any kind that this new model was aware of its surroundings. It did not shift to look towards him when Ratbat took a step to the side. It did not query for its purpose or its orders. It did not send out a radar pulse. The only indication that its processor had activated, in fact, was a faint buzzing along the back of Ratbat’s sensors, ions polarizing with an inverse tang, that ‘new drone’ scent he recognized.
Nervous, the mech who had delivered the drone shifted from one foot to the other, glancing down at his receipt-pad. “Er…boss. I hate to rush ya, but I’ve got--”
“Time.” Ratbat finished, calmly, a delicate hand rising to override whatever excuse the worker made as his optics continued to bore into the blank faceplates of the drone. “You have time.”
The delivery-mech stilled, and in the sudden and very attentive silence, Ratbat waited to see what his new drone would do.
It continued to do nothing, standing at the ready, engines whirring, failing to display all signs of self-awareness.
This did nothing to calm the waiting mech, his mouth gaping, his optics shifting uneasily from Ratbat to the drone…but that was no surprise. Ratbat was sure that this commoner had never seen a drone behave like this before.
Of course he hadn’t.
Shipments such as this one were uncommon. Drones were still too new, too cutting edge, and too controversial for exposure to the general public. Certainly the dock worker had to have heard of them, but he’d never own one or be around one frequently enough to understand a drone’s typical behavior. He’d never know the difference between a batch-produced model and a high-end customization. He’d only be capable of listening to the news reports, unwittingly affected by whatever drivel the writers were currently feeding them about ‘unholy sparks,’ ignorant of what processes actually went on to create Cybertron’s newest work-force.
This commoner, unsurprisingly, wasn’t afraid of Ratbat’s approval or disapproval.
He was afraid of Ratbat’s drone.
That would make this testing perfect.
“Drone.” Ratbat began, gesturing to the delivery-mech while pointedly addressing his newest acquisition. “Provide this courier’s receipt-pad with my authentication, access level 48-3927, Senator Ratbat of the third nexus council, vocal imprint beta. Begin.”
There was no verbal response. Instead, the drone simply obeyed, turning with precision to face its quarry, solid heels clicking loudly across polished floors as it advanced.
Startled, the delivery-mech began to take a step back, and then another, and another, until the tires on his back pressed up against the metal of his cargo’s hold. Apparently unconcerned by this reaction, the drone continued its progress, methodically, each step of equal measure to the last. It bore down upon the smaller courier, and reached out toward it with a single cable that extruded from its torso, barbed at the end.
Obviously terrified, the delivery-mech held the receipt pad between them, bringing it to bear as if it could provide protection. This hardly stopped the drone’s prehensile cable from snaking forward, winding around the device, feeling across the surface until it found an open port and…
Plugging in. A millicycle passed, data transferring, before the tiny red diode on the pad turned green.
The Authentication was accepted.
The drone was now his.
“Disconnect and return.” Ratbat commanded, and watched as it performed accordingly, unwinding its cable and leaving a shuddering mech in its wake.
Frozen in place, the delivery mech stared at the Senator while the drone left, watching for some sign that it was safe to move again. It wasn’t until the drone was solidly settled behind Ratbat that he even dared to lower the datapad, shaking his head. “I’ve got a return receipt in the cockpit if you’d like.”
“That won’t be necessary.” Ratbat finally smiled, tight-lipped and Austere, looking just past his left shoulder where the drone had taken up a position suitable for its status.
“B…but!” The delivery mech started, glancing down to the delicate receipt-pad that his fingers had left dents in. “You’re sure this one’s alright, sir?”
“This one?” Ratbat arched a finely carved brow ridge at the drone, letting his optics travel up and down the frame of his new drone as if confirming its worth. “This is the first one they’ve done right.”
“He’s right? Uh. Right.” Obviously not convinced, the mech clung to the pad a few seconds longer, watching Ratbat to make sure he didn’t change his mind. When a few beats passed without incident, the delivery-mech’s shoulders relaxed with a deep ex-vent of hot air, shaking himself down before he shelved the pad, turning to retreat toward the pilot’s chair now that his cargo was delivered and signed off. “Well, he’s yours, and he Authorized it officially, for you.”
“Yes.” Ratbat’s smile grew stale at the use of the autonomous pronoun, though he remained pleased despite the commoner‘s misinterpretation. “It did.” His long fingers reached up, tapping flightily along the dark blue sloping shoulder, practically purring at the lack of response. “It obeyed completely.”
This time, it hadn’t even suffered from a personality.
“Come.” He said, speaking calmly through the sudden loud whine of the transport’s warming rotors. “There’s much that we have to discuss.” He turned, smoothly, leading the way inside, knowing that it would follow, knowing that it would obey him unerringly, and knowing that this was the first success in what would become many new-drone purchases.
This was the future.
It was looking very bright, indeed.
It was a drone.
When it was online, it provided a number of specific functions.
Every 36 cycles, it would exit its docking closet and traverse 2.7 meters to the relay dock.
At the relay dock, it would plug in and begin processing airwaves.
For 33 cycles, it would monitor and intercept transmissions, attempt to decode any encrypted messages, and file each broadcast away in order of importance.
Importance was a variable, calculated by the addition of a multitude of factors.
Mentions of Ratbat. Mentions of the Council. Mentions of seditious acts. Mentions of unrest. Mentions of scandal. Mentions of Decimus, Optarus, and Septimus. Mentions of Sentinel Prime. Mentions of account numbers. Mentions of privatization codes.
Its list was extensive, with various numerical weights assigned in ratio to peripheral references, number of mentions, and urgency as allocated by supplemental programming.
After 33 cycles had passed, it would return to its docking closet and recharge for 3 cycles.
Interruptions to this routine were to only be authorized by Sentator Ratbat, authentication 48-3927, third nexus council, voice command recognition required.
In addition to its base manufactured skill set, it had been equipped to monitor short-range transmissions, safely interface with foreign technology, pilot vehicles of class L-MM, translate all known programming languages, and process…
It heard something.
Eighteen cycles into its thirty-eighth shift, a recognized pattern emerged and was misfiled.
It was incorrectly labeled as ‘important.’
It was re-filed into a sub-secondary directory, override 26-A, new-folder substantiation authority Qx2.
It was not deleted.
All other processes continued without incident, and the associated error was recorded, forwarded to the appropriate authorities, and ignored.