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[B]ran[C]hing p[A]ths

Chapter Text

Everything that lives is designed to end. We are perpetually trapped in a never-ending spiral of life and death. Is this a curse? Or some kind of punishment? I often think about the god who blessed us with this cryptic puzzle, and wonder if we'll ever get the chance to kill him.

2B didn't exactly know why these words floated through her synthetic brain whenever she set out on a big mission, but they always did, and they always provided a semblance of comfort to her for some reason. She soared over the ocean near the center of her other fellow YoRHa members, the water reflecting grey under the overcast sky. She couldn't see any of their reflections; they must have been moving too fast.

There was a sudden call appearing on the side of her flight unit, and a familiar face appeared on the screen.

“This is Command,” said the voice of Operator 6O, her usually cheerful voice discarded in favor of a more serious tone. “YoRHa squadron, come in.”

“2B here,” 2B replied. “All units have penetrated the stratosphere. Autopilot systems green across the board.” Unwittingly, she glanced over at 7E's flight unit, on the far left of their current formation. While she would never outright question the Commander's orders, 2B could not understand why she decided to send another type E unit along on this mission. Then again, her name had been changed for a reason, she supposed.

“This is Operator 6O,” said 6O on the other end. “All units confirmed.”

“We've passed the 50-kilometer threshold and are proceeding toward the target,” 2B reported.

“Understood,” 6O replied. “Once you reach their anti-air defenses, proceed to manual-attack formation, then destroy the Goliath-class unit by any means necessary and gather what data you can.”

“Understood,” said 2B, staring straight ahead of her, suddenly regretting that everyone on her squad was forced to keep flying under autopilot; a small flying machine some distance ahead shot out a large energy beam at them. It hit 12H's flight unit and sent her spiraling into the water. 2B repressed a wince at her dying scream.

12H had been flying right next to her. If that beam had gone just a little more to the right...

“12H down,” said 1D from her position directly behind 2B. “All units activate manual mode and rely on visuals to evade.”

“Already engaged,” said Pod 042. “Free movement unlocked.” 2B found herself able to breathe freely again as she experimented a little with her new ability to move. Not too much, though; she had to stay in formation.

“Origin point of long-range lasers confirmed,” said 1D, right before 11B was blasted out of the sky as well. 2B stared as her flight unit crashed into the surface of the water, her screams still echoing in 2B's head. 11B had been able to move freely too, hadn't she? Why didn't she dodge...?

“11B down,” 1D reported. “Our Ho229 cancelers are ineffective.” 2B saw her veer off to the left with 7E, 4B drifting even farther to the right. 2B continued to fly straight ahead. The other blasts were aimed more toward the center of the formation so it made sense for the others to avoid the targeted area. She had no problem drawing the machines' fire if necessary.

“Alert,” came Pod 042's voice once again. “Enemy units sighted ahead.”

The other three were suddenly back in position around 2B, for which she was grateful. She still saw fit to contact Command once again.

“Requesting permission to engage,” she stated.

“Permission granted!” said Operator 6O on the other end. Without further ado, 2B began firing at the small flying machines that suddenly appeared within range. She saw her other three fellow YoRHa units pull back in around her, and she fired with renewed vigor.

The four of them firing together wasn't enough; 7E was next to be sent spiraling to her death. 2B couldn't help but feel some small amount of satisfaction; this way, there was no more redundancy.

“7E down,” 1D stated as 2B continued to fire, flying over to the right in order to get a better shot. Within seconds she regretted it as 1D got hit by yet another blast, the remains of her flight unit spiraling into the water with most of the rest of their squad.

“1D down.” 2B hoped that 4B wouldn't mind when she continued, “Assuming captain's duties.” She saw her flight unit shift from black to white in her periphery, not quite sure why that was a feature that was built in but was nonetheless grateful for it. She continued to fire at the machines alongside 4B, but when she saw the number of enemy machines heading toward them she felt compelled to call Command once again. “Multiple surrounding enemy air units confirmed. Requesting permission to assume mobile configuration.”

“Permission granted,” said 6O.

2B's flight unit abruptly switched from something of a small airplane to something of a fight suit. She secretly loved this form; it made it far easier to spin around and aim wherever she wished instead of only being forced to shoot straight ahead. Beside her, 4B followed suit. 2B was too busy noticing this to be completely aware of her surroundings and ending up taking some damage. She cursed to herself, frustrated. She should be better than this.

“Captain, I think—” were 4B's final words before she, too, was shot down.

“...4B down,” 2B reported in a monotone, swiftly calling Command. “2B to Operator 6O. All allied units down. The operation is compromised. Awaiting further orders.”

“O-Operator to 2B,” said 6O, sounding as taken aback as 2B felt. “We need you to rendezvous with unit 9S and begin gathering data on the local terrain.”

“Understood,” said 2B automatically as the reality of what 6O had just told her slowly dawned on her.

9S...

2B found herself feeling frustrated that there were no more machines coming at her, though she couldn't put her finger on exactly why. Maybe she wanted that freedom of movement that the mobile configuration gave her. Maybe she wanted more of a challenge. Maybe she wanted to get this mission over with so she could see 9S again.

Or maybe she wanted these machines to finish her off more quickly.

She shook her head within the confines of her flight unit. Where had that thought come from?

Who was she kidding. She'd been thinking that ever since 6O had mentioned 9S's name again.

They would rendezvous very soon now. He wouldn't recognize her. She would attempt to maintain her distance. His persistence and charm would eventually tear down her walls. She would begin to let him in. He would stumble upon information he shouldn't, as he always did. And then she'd be forced to kill him all over again. And then she'd be forced to meet him all over again. And then she'd be forced to kill him all over again.

Over and over and over.

And over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over—

2B couldn't bear to think of it any longer. So she didn't.

It no longer mattered that she would be breaking her promise. There was only one way to escape this never-ending spiral of life and death.

She sped in the direction of what looked like an abandoned factory, diving through an opening and slamming into every wall she could find. She was surprised at how fast her health depleted with each hit, but was grateful that it would at least be quick.

Just one more hit...

2B wore a smile on her face as her flight unit crashed into the wall of the factory.

The YoRHA force was annihilated...

And Earth went on to become a paradise for the machines.

Chapter Text

“2B...” 9S had managed to choke out, “...it was an honor to fight with you. Truly.”

“The honor was mine,” 2B had replied with a smile on her face, tapping her black box against his.

2B still found herself smiling slightly as she gazed out at the beautiful view of Earth from the Bunker, reflecting on how shockingly well that mission had gone in the end. While true that she had lost all of her flight crew with little to no hope of their recovery, at least she and 9S had made it out okay. And, of course, she'd technically had to kill 9S once again, but at the time she was able to take solace in the fact that she was killing herself alongside him.

Yet she remembered the mission perfectly. 9S had done a magnificent job uploading her memory. For once, she was excited to see him again. Of course, she would have to downplay her excitement since emotions were prohibited, but it was still nice to let her walls down every once in a while.

Feeling invigorated, 2B decided to head over to Command, seeing as that was probably where 9S would be located. Though he liked to be surly sometimes, he was still always so prompt with his mission reports. She slowed to an immediate stop when she saw 9S walking toward her instead, her breath catching in her throat.

“So...” 9S began in that beautiful voice of his. “...mission complete and all that, huh? The Goliaths were wiped out, and we secured a route into enemy territory. Now we can—”

“9S?” 2B interrupted him.

“Yeah?” said 9S.

“Thank you,” 2B said sincerely, injecting a little compassion into her voice, an action she only ever took around him. “For uploading my data to the Bunker.” If they went on another mission soon, maybe she could start calling him Nines. She knew he'd like that—

“...Um, I did that?” said 9S, disrupting her thoughts. “Sorry, I don't remember. There wasn't a whole lot of bandwidth down there, you know? I probably only had enough time to back up your memories. Mine are only intact up to the point just before we rendezvoused.”

Everything stopped.

“...I see,” said 2B, speaking in a careful monotone.

9S saluted her, stating, “Glory to mankind.”

2B hesitated, then saluted back, trying not to let her left hand tremble as she held it to her chest.

“Glory...to mankind.”

9S walked past her without another word. As he walked away, 2B could feel her fingers curling into a fist. She couldn't fucking take this anymore. It was hard enough for her before, with him not recognizing her when they rendezvoused earlier, but having to meet him again twice in one fucking day!?

She didn't even bother listening while the Council of Humanity addressed them all down in Command. Why should she? It was the same damn speech every time anyway. The Commander's own utterance of “Glory to mankind” brought her out of her funk enough to salute with everyone else, but she immediately headed back to her room as fast as her android legs would allow once the meeting was over. If only there was a way to up her speed...

2B didn't necessarily have to go through diagnostics after absolutely every mission, but as she'd just detonated her black box while on Earth it seemed prudent to make sure that this new body was up to snuff. She got into bed and closed her eyes, and was instantly aware of a very familiar presence inside her head.

“2B, can you hear me? I'm starting your boot sequence.”

She couldn't actually hear him, but she knew it was him.

It always had to be him.

“First, you'll want to check your brightness settings,” 9S continued. 2B actually preferred that she couldn't hear him just yet. It helped to dull the pain in her chest a little. “Right, then. Let's get started. We'll go through each adjustment in order. Let's start by getting the brightness set.”

How many times had they done this together by now? She'd lost count centuries ago...

“Okay. How does this look?”

“Okay,” 2B replied in a monotone. Not that it mattered.

None of it mattered.

“Roger that,” said 9S. “Oh, and I should probably let you know that this entire process is being recorded for posterity.”

Why would he bring that up? Was she suddenly going to see things from his point of view and this would all just play out again or what?

“Now let's take a look at your voice recognition settings,” 9S went on. “Seems your voice recognition is set to mute, which isn't gonna work.”

Why not, thought 2B, making sure to keep it to herself so 9S wouldn't know what she was thinking. I can see what you're trying to tell me just fine.

“I'm gonna call out to you now — make sure you can hear my voice.”

2B waited a bit before reluctantly adjusting her volume. As much as it pained her to admit it, she couldn't live without that sweet voice calling out to her.

“Ma'am? Are you there? Can you hear me?”

He's calling me Ma'am again, 2B realized. This really is like us just meeting for the first time. Again.

“Uh, helloooo? Go ahead and adjust your settings so you can hear me, all right?”

Year after year after year after year after year after year after year after year after year after year after year after year after year after year after year after year after year after year—

“Adjust the settings until you can hear my voice.”

She wondered how long it would last this time. Sometimes he figured everything out right away, making it so she wouldn't have to get too attached once again...and sometimes it took an agonizingly long time for her to be forced to carry out her primary objective.

She found herself wishing for the former this time.

Why did she endure this endless torment?

“...Er, could you try and pick up the pace a little bit? This is getting embarrassing.”

...Because sometimes he said cute things like that...

2B stopped waiting for 9S to repeat himself and alerted him to the fact that she'd successfully updated her settings.

“All right. Are we good now?”

...Might as well pretend that nothing was wrong.

“I'm fine, 9S,” she replied. “There's something calming about your voice.”

“Oh, uh, th-thank you!”

Oh how she loved to hear him when he was flustered. He could just picture the blush on his little face...

“...Anyway, that takes care of the settings,” said 9S, still sounding faintly embarrassed. “Er, hold on. Your self-destruct permissions are missing. Wait a sec, we need to restore those.”

...Self-destruct...?

...Perfect.

“I could set it for you, but you should probably do it yourself. Regulations and all, you know.”

2B knew, in that moment, what she had to do. She reactivated her self-destruct settings without hesitation. Now, when to use it...

Of course. The Bunker itself. Then they wouldn't be rebuilt again and be forced to go through it all over again. It's not like they were any closer to winning anyway. What would be the point in continuing? This way, everyone would go out at once and no one would have to worry anymore. Sure, there were the other androids stuck on the surface, but they would be wiped out soon enough.

She would be breaking her promise to 9S to always give him the chance to meet her again, but she wasn't sure she cared anymore.

You can't always give everything you have to others. Sometimes you have to do things for yourself.

“Okay, good!” said 9S cheerfully. “If things go wrong during an op, you may have to sacrifice yourself in order to finish it, sooo...”

That wasn't exactly what she was planning on using it for, but of course 9S couldn't know that. Not that she actually wanted to go through with her plan, but she saw no other way to escape this never-ending spiral of life and death.

“Once you're finished making adjustments, you can go ahead and close this out.”

2B thought about fiddling with the vibration settings, for old time's sake, but as enjoyable as having fun with 9S was, she really did want to get a move on. She exited out and opened her eyes, only to see the beautiful 9S himself standing above her.

“Morning,” he said, checking something on the screen in front of him. He wiped it away as 2B sat up and put her visor on. How she wished it acted more like an actual blindfold; she did not want to look at him right then.

Then again, she thought as she stood up, maybe it was a good thing that she could still see him. She could feel her resolve strengthening just by gazing into his earnest face.

“9S...” she said softly.

“The Commander's put me in charge of your maintenance, ma'am,” said 9S, visibly trying to contain his pride. “That means I'll be performing regular checks on you from now on.”

“...I see,” said 2B, as she always did whenever 9S announced his mission parameters. Of course the Commander had done so. 2B wondered if their leader knew how cruel she was being, and if she did, whether or not she cared.

“Oh, don't worry,” 9S was quick to reassure her, misinterpreting her reaction. “We 9S models are the best around, you know. Though I suppose we're not exactly known for our modesty.”

It was like a script he kept repeating every time they met. 2B often wondered if he was capable of saying anything else.

“...9S,” she said before she could stop herself.

“Hm?” 9S looked up at her curiously. “What is it, ma'am?”

“Stop calling me 'ma'am.'”

“Huh?”

“There's no need to be so formal." She couldn't not admonish him for this. She never could.

“A-All right. If you say so.” There it was. That bewildered face. How she loved looking at that face. She could gaze at it forever... “Oh, I almost forgot—”

Oh what was it now—

“The Commander was calling for you.”

I bet she was.

“We'd better go see what's up, ma—er, 2B!” said 9S hesitantly, stumbling a bit over his superior's name.

That was it. That was all she needed to hear. Just her name issuing from his beautiful lips, that one last time.

Without another word, she activated her self-destruct sequence, making sure to keep his face in her sight. She wanted her beloved Nines to be the last thing she ever saw.

By self-destructing at the Bunker, the entire structure ended up exploding in a spectacular fashion. But hey, it sure did look pretty from Earth!

Somewhere in the depths of space, the Commander still floats about with a stern look on her face.

Chapter Text

“I think this should be enough to fix your broken device,” 9S told the Weapons Trader at the Resistance Camp, handing over the four complex gadgets 2B had gone out and collected for him. Though she had done the brunt of the work, she had no issue letting 9S do the talking. He had always been more sociable that she was...and she liked listening to his voice.

“Well, how do you like that?” said the Weapons Trader excitedly. “Looks like I'm back in business!”

“Good to hear,” said 9S.

“You know it! I make these weapons to keep my friends safe, after all. Although sometimes I wonder...” The Weapons Trader was suddenly subdued. “What if my weapons are just making my friends die all the faster?”

2B didn't have anything to say to that, so she didn't.

“Ah, never mind,” said the Weapons Trader, shaking his head as if to clear it. “Forget I said anything. Anyway, come back in a little while, all right? I should have some new gear for you by then.”

Heeding his advice, 2B went around to talk to the others. She'd already previously helped out the Supply Trader, but she hadn't yet bought anything from him, so she went back and picked up all of the Medium Recoveries she could afford. These would be indispensable in the battles ahead. She also visited the Maintenance Shop Owner and bought a +8 storage to increase her chip capacity before heading back to the Weapons Trader, hoping that he'd fixed his device as promptly as a YorHA unit was accustomed to.

“Hey, it's you!” he greeted her cheerfully. “Oh, I almost forgot. I still owe you a reward. I wanted to say thanks for helping me get things up and running again, so I whipped you up some upgrade materials.” He handed over five crystals, five rusted clumps, and five beast hides. 2B didn't have much interest in those, especially considering all of the pelts she and 9S had already been collecting, but the 5000G that the Weapons Trader also gave her was a very nice reward indeed.

“Wanna try 'em out?” the Weapons Trader went on.

“You bet!” 9S answered for her. 2B shrugged and took a look at her options. The materials she had just been given were exactly the right amount to upgrade her Virtuous Contract, not to mention half the money she'd received. Had the Weapons Trader merely given her 2500G and done this for free, she wouldn't have needed to hand over most of the reward he had just given her back to him. The logic behind this action made no sense to her, but it was clear that the Resistance Camp operated very differently from YoRHa.

After her sword had been upgraded, 2B took a peek at the actual weapons that were for sale. Her jaw almost dropped at the selection. Those swords...they were massive! It looked like the weight of them alone was enough to cleave a machine in two! And adding in her combat abilities...she had to have all three of them as soon as possible.

Then she looked a the prices. The Beastbane and the Beastlord were both 10,000G, while the Ancient Overlord was 15,000. She barely had three hundred left. She quickly looked at her and 9S's shared inventory to see what she could sell. The other beast hides were quickly sold, as well as several chips that she'd just picked up. She could accumulate more of them later, she knew. That left her close to 2000G, which wasn't nearly enough.

2B glanced at the chips she had installed. Surely she didn't need every single one of them in order to function. If she had to, she could rely on 9S to guide her with his own HUD. Without even thinking of the consequences, she then uninstalled every single one of her chips in order to sell them, including her OS chip.

Caution: Handle with care! Removal of the OS chip will result in death.

Chapter Text

2B had to admit that she was impressed by the deal that Anemone had struck up with Pascal and his village. Not only did they manage to find allies on the harsh remains of Earth, but they were also able to set up an entire system of trade that would have once been thought impossible. This was an excellent way to gather supplies from unlikely sources in order to continue their mission. After all, as long as the machines of that village remained peaceful, 2B had no problem leaving them be.

9S, on the other hand, seemed to be rejecting the very premise of Anemone and Pascal's alliance. He had even gone as far as to tell Pascal, basically to his face, that machines like him didn't have hearts. Pascal had taken the blatant insult well enough, but 2B could tell he'd been hurt. 2B decided not to point out to 9S that their own hearts were artificial as well. That would just start an argument and would not be productive to their teamwork.

On their way back to Pascal's village, the Council of Humanity sent the two YoRHa units yet another auditory message. 2B was beginning to get sick of those. Why did they even bother anymore? Why couldn't they just let things be? Didn't the Commander know by now that this would only cause problems for Nines later down the road!?

...why did she just refer to him as Nines...

2B put on another burst of speed to get across the bridge faster, climbing the ladder that led to where Pascal was standing and talking to two smaller machines, and wordlessly presenting Anemone's gift.

“Oh, you brought me some high-viscosity oil!” cried Pascal happily. “Anemone is just so kind and understanding. If only all androids could live together in peace like this...”

“Never gonna happen,” 9S immediately snapped.

2B appreciated where 9S was coming from, but she didn't see how open hostility would help their situation. Nonetheless, she stayed quiet.

“I guess not...” Pascal said, subdued. “I'd appreciate it if you could help out some of the other machines as well, though. After all, the only way to understand someone is to get to know them. Isn't that right?”

“Fair enough,” said 2B, having already gotten to know a couple of the machines rather well indeed. As had 9S, now that she thought about it. The Scanner had had no problem assisting the two sister robots, even going so far as to answer the larger one's questions, so what exactly was his problem with Pascal?

There was a sudden explosion in the distance. Even if it was clearly far away, it still caused Pascal to flinch violently.

“What's that noise?” 9S demanded.

Operator 6O suddenly called.

“2B, this is an emergency transmission from the Bunker!” she said quickly. “We're reading a Goliath-class enemy inside the city ruins! And it looks like there are a ton of other machines there with it! All YoRHa units should proceed and engage immediately!”

...no...

“A Goliath!?” 9S yelled. “This was a trap! I knew it!”

“...I promise you, we were not aware of this information,” said Pascal, still cowering in fear and choosing to call them for some reason even though they were still standing right next to him. “I realize the odds of you believing me are strikingly low...But I hope you will nonetheless.”

“We'll sort it out later,” said 2B before 9S could respond. “Let's go.”

She descended the ladder with 9S following closely behind, intending to head toward the city ruins, before a sudden thought stopped her. Should...should they really go?

The last time she and 9S had fought a Goliath, they had detonated their black boxes, and 9S had lost his memory. What if that happened again?

What if it kept happening?

Over and over...

She couldn't take that.

She wanted to preserve this version of 9S as long as she could.

Moreover, she knew that he would follow her, even if she went the wrong way.

So she headed for the entrance to the village, but took a sharp turn left and began to head for the amusement park instead of the city ruins.

She would never go there again.

“Proposal,” said Pod 042. “Confirm current destination.”

9S, to his credit, didn't say anything, for which 2B was immensely grateful.

“Alert,” Pod 042 went on. “Leaving the operational area has resulted in significant allied casualties.”

2B couldn't bring herself to care. Her Nines was alive. That was all that mattered to her.

She continued to run, her beloved right behind her.

2B and 9S chose to abandon their mission, allowing the machines to wreak destruction upon the city ruins and Resistance camp.

The extinction of YoRHa is also surely a matter of time.

Chapter Text

“That concludes our report on the events surrounding the alien wreckage,” 2B finished, standing at attention before the Commander, 9S by her side as always.

“Then they were dead this whole time...” said the Commander ponderously. “The Council of Humanity needs time to formulate a plan. Until then, this information must be kept confidential. Speak of it to no one.”

“Of course,” replied 2B.

“Your next mission is to gather additional intel on the individual known as 'Pascal.'”

“You mean that freaky machine we ran into?” asked 9S.

Not being very specific, 2B thought to herself; they had encountered many machine lifeforms that she would classify as “freaky.” She held her tongue as her superior spoke once more.

“This order comes directly from the Council,” said the Commander firmly. “Knowledge of such unique individuals is essential for the success of future missions.”

“Understood,” said 2B before 9S could say anything else, turning and ascending the elevator, no other thought in her mind other than the completion of their next mission.

Assuming she wasn't distracted, of course.

“Man, the Commander sure is a slave driver, huh?” said 9S right on cue as he followed her back into the corridor. “And now we have to go back to the city ruins.” He paused for a moment. “Why don't we rest a little bit, 2B?” he continued. “It's been a while.”

What was he talking about? They'd just rested at the Resistance Camp before transporting to the Bunker in the first place.

“I'll rest if I feel like it,” 2B responded shortly, heading over to the access point to check her mail.

The first message was from Pascal, which she scanned quickly, knowing that they would have to head to his village next anyway as per the Commander's orders. Still, she could not help being a little excited to see that there would be new items on sale at his village; whatever improved combat efficiency was all right in her book. The next piece of mail surprised her, as it came from Jackass.

Fish
Sender: Jackass

Hey,

Sorry to bring this up out of the blue, but I've got a fish I want to recommend to YoRHa units. Er, or to be more precise, I want YOU to eat it so I can study how its oil affects a YoRHa unit. You know? For science?

Anyhoo, stop by if you get bored. It's my treat.

—Jackass

2B stared at the message. Was Jackass contacting her because of all the research they'd helped her with? 2B repressed a shudder at the reminder of Jackass's final request. That one had definitely tested 2B's limits to the fullest, and she didn't think she'd ever be able to repay Jackass in full for all the improvement she'd gone through as a combat model because of it. She definitely at least owed Jackass a visit...

It didn't take long for 2B do come to the decision that she and 9S should visit with Jackass before heading to Pascal's village; with the new transport function the access points provided, they wouldn't be wasting much time anyway.

Thankfully, 9S didn't say anything in protest as he and 2B were transported to the Desert Camp. 2B wondered if he was putting up with it because he too was curious as to what Jackass wanted them to do, or maybe because he still wasn't too keen on dealing with Pascal just yet. Whatever the reason, 2B was grateful for his silence.

“Oh yeah,” said Jackass as 2B approached, “I still have to give you that stupid fish.” She pulled something out of her pocket. “So this thing is called a 'mackerel' and apparently eating it has a horrible effect on androids. I'd love to see what it does, so go ahead and chow down. Don't blame me if you die, though.” She handed over the mackerel.

2B looked down and stared at the fish in her hands, considering the request carefully. All of the other trials that Jackass had tasked her with had improved her fighting ability substantially. Not only that, but even when she had failed, Jackass had allowed her to keep the spoils that were left behind by the machines that she'd destroyed for her. Jackass had also promised to create a new drug that would improve YoRHa's collective fighting abilities even more.

There was no telling what this new test might lead to. Who was 2B to refuse?

As 9S silently watched on with that avid fascination of his, 2B raised her hands to her mouth.

Having consumed the mackerel, it didn't take long for the android's body fluids to congeal. Muscle rigidity and paralysis soon followed.

It was good, though, the android thought as consciousness faded. Exquisite even. No wonder humans used to eat them...

Chapter Text

2B stepped out of the access point in the Resistance Camp to find 9S already waiting for her. She never really understood how he always seemed to get from place to place so quickly when she could've sworn she stepped into the access point first, but she wasn't about to question it. Maybe his data transferred more quickly because of his Scanner status.

She'd think more about that later. For now, she needed to talk to him about something.

“9S,” she began, “why did you ask Pascal about A2?”

“Huh?” He was so cute when he was confused...

“It's not recommended to interface with machines without consulting Command,” 2B went on, brushing her earlier thought aside.

“Yeah, I know. I'm sorry.”

He sounded so contrite that she instantly tried to walk it back.

“Though I suppose such intense can be admirable...In its own way,” she allowed.

“Heh. Thanks, 2B.” His smile was worth everything, but she still needed to make sure his focus was where it was meant to be.

“Still, machines are the enemy,” she told him. “Don't forget it.”

She took his silence as assent and began to walk toward Anemone, when the full force of her own words suddenly slammed into her like a Goliath-class enemy.

Machines are the enemy.

She'd just left the enemy.

Pascal's village...it was full of machine lifeforms. And since they were machines, that meant that they were the enemy....

...right?

Operator 6O suddenly opened up a call before she could form another thought. She payed attention right up to the point where 6O started rambling about flowers and immediately tuned out once she realized that this call was nothing of importance to anyone. Her mind turned back to what she had just told 9S. To the beginnings of a plan that had just begun to formulate.

The Commander had never specified that she should take out Pascal or any of the other supposedly peaceful machines...

...but she hadn't expressly asked that they not be destroyed either.

No one would complain if she did it, would they...?

Well, Anemone might, but the Resistance Camp could probably find another way to resupply easily enough. Hell, with all the fetch quests she and 9S had done for them already, they could probably serve as the Resistance's new pack mules. Maybe 2B could suggest to Command that they deploy other YoRHa members to assist the Resistance, in the interest of never having to work with the machines again. She knew several units would be on board in an instant; sympathy for the enemy had not been high the last time she'd been up at the Bunker.

Still...maybe she should check with Anemone before carrying out her plan. Or maybe not. She still wasn't sure what she was going to do. She walked slowly toward Anemone, still trying to figure out what she was going to say.

“Oh, 2B,” said Anemone as she and 9S approached. “Your timing is impeccable.”

Oh no, 2B couldn't help but think to herself.

“Our android forces currently have a carrier deployed in the Pacific Ocean,” Anemone went on. “It should be back here to resupply before too long. The Resistance is assisting with the mission, so I'd like to ask you to run a little guard duty.”

“Seriously?” said 2B before she could stop herself.

“Dead serious,” said Anemone. “There's a stockpile of missiles down at the shoreline that needs to be loaded on the carrier. And with all the machine activity lately, we need to stay on our toes. Of course, if you're already working on something for YoRHa, I don't mind if that takes priority. Anyway, thanks in advance.”

YoRHa missions were allowed to take priority...

...and her number one mission was to destroy the enemy.

The machines.

2B turned around and headed back to the access point, using it to transport herself right back to Pascal's village. She climbed the ladder to the second level slowly, 9S following at a slightly faster pace. 2B wondered if he guessed what she was planning.

She wondered what his opinion would be on the subject, but she was a little afraid that if she spoke her plan aloud, she would no longer be able to go through with it.

So she kept quiet. She would see how 9S reacted soon enough.

She steeled her resolve, and approached Pascal.

“Say, are you all right?,” he asked before she could do or say anything. “There was a huge earthquake, so I was worried.”

...why was so so conflicted about this...he was the enemy...

...right?

“I'm glad you and the villagers are all okay,” Pascal continued. “I know there's not much to do here, but consider yourself at home.”

2B felt her fists clench. She could no longer be taken in by this charade. And even if Pascal's intentions were genuine...

...she could no longer afford to be swayed by them.

None of them could.

She had just got done telling 9S that machines were the enemy, and not to forget it. Had she forgotten that simple fact herself?

She stomped down on her warm feelings for Pascal until they were gone. Emotions were prohibited, after all.

She then took a deep breath and swung her Virtuous Treaty down on Pascal, who fell over without a word and died instantly.

...Huh.

That was easier than she thought it would be.

And none of the other machines surrounding them seemed to even care.

Nor did 9S, oddly enough. He continued to remain silently by her side. She didn't know if he was silent with shock or approval. She decided not to ask.

She then aimed for the rest of the machines on that level. The smaller machines that surrounded Pascal were a bit more vocal than he had been.

“I'm sorry! I'm sorry!”

“No fighting! No fighting!”

This was easier than she expected it to be. A few of the machines on the upper levels were harder to track down than she'd expected, but she managed to find them all in the end. She only wished Jean-Paul had still been around; she knew that if there were any machines 9S would have wanted a go at, it would have been that one.

“Don't kill! Don't kill!”

“Stop! Do not kill!”

“We have done nothing bad!”

2B's combat abilities had improved to the point that these machine lifeforms were ridiculously easy for her to kill. In fact, she couldn't believe how easy they were to destroy. The only problem she had was destroying the goliath biped that was standing on the ground below everyone else, and since it refused to fight back she didn't really even register it as a problem.

“No fighting! No fighting!”

It was getting easier and easier to drown out their screams.

“No fighting! No fighting!”

Why were they just repeating the same things over and over?

“Don't kill! Don't kill!”

Why didn't they fight back?

“No fighting! No fighting!”

WHY DIDN'T ANY OF THEM FIGHT BACK!?

There were only two machines left in the village: the young female robot and the little sister that 2B and 9S had saved. They had showed no previous reaction to 2B's massacre, and 2B waited a moment for them to protest, but they continued to stare blankly at her.

2B hesitated at last, her hand unconsciously reaching up to touch the blue ribbon in her hair. These two...these would be the hardest, she knew, but she forced herself to harden her heart. Her duty, her entire existence, was built around destroying machines and winning the war.

She would let nothing stand in the way of that objective.

She gripped her sword tightly and raised it over her head. If she could kill Nines over and over, then she should be able to kill these two.

She had to...

“Stop!” cried the older sister as 2B brought her sword down upon her head. “Do not kill!”

“No fighting!” screamed the younger sister once 2B turned to her. “No fighting!”

But it was too late.

It was too late for any of them.

A village of peaceful machines was wiped out through the actions of one deranged android. Thus did the peaceful machines go extinct. Their village is now a haunted, forbidden place. Those who wander too close can hear the mad sounds of an android's laughter.

Chapter Text

Adam let out a sharp grunt of pain as 2B stabbed him through the stomach. As 2B tried to make sure her sword was jammed in to the hilt, she felt Adam wrap his arms around her, gently cradling her head.

“Is this...death...?” he whispered.

Shoving down her repulsion at his touch, 2B twisted the sword and ripped it sideways out of his abdomen, enjoying his screams of agony a little more than she should have as he fell to the ground.

“So dark...” Adam muttered, lying in a pool of his own artificial blood, so clearly visible on the pure white ground. “So cold...” He breathed his last.

2B panted heavily, looking at the dead machine in front of her. Well, she thought grimly, he did say he wanted to embrace death...Hope he's happy...

With a jolt, she suddenly remembered the reason she'd come here in the first place.

“9S!” 2B cried out, turning to see 9S on the ground, having somehow been freed from his crucified position within the walls of the Copied City. She supposed he must have fallen once Adam died and he no longer had control over whatever the material was that had been imprisoning 9S. She took in the sight of him; he had several wounds but they didn't seem to be bleeding heavily. If her initial diagnosis was confirmed, he would at least physically be all right in time.

Mentally, on the other hand...He had been in the clutches of the enemy for quite some time...Beyond the trauma of the experience, Command would definitely want to make sure he hadn't been infected with any logic viruses at the very least...

...which might result in a full memory wipe.

Again.

2B shook her head. That was a worst-case scenario, she knew. There was every chance that 9S would be perfectly fine after a little maintenance. Then they could continue their mission as normal. All she had to do was walk over to him, and they would be together again.

The two of them, together.

Until they weren't.

Until he found out the truth, as he always did.

Until she was forced to kill him.

And then meet him again.

He wouldn't recognize her. She would attempt to maintain her distance. His persistence and charm would eventually tear down her walls. She would begin to let him in. He would stumble upon information he shouldn't. Again. He always did.

And then she'd be forced to kill him all over again. And then she'd be forced to meet him all over again. And then she'd be forced to kill him all over again.

Over and over and over.

And over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over—

2B couldn't bear to think of it any longer. So she didn't.

She didn't even bother to remember her promise to him. Not this time.

Not ever again.

With one last look at 9S's unconscious form, she equipped every last speed chip she possessed. She then turned and began to run, dashing to speed up, and escaped the Copied City, not bothering to look back.

9S waited several decades for 2B to return...

But she was never seen again.

Chapter Text

The image of her beloved 9S being crucified in the Copied City would be forever burned into 2B's mind. She had sent his body back to the Bunker to make sure he was okay but she'd not yet had any word as to his condition. She was fraught with worry and, no matter how many times she chanted “Emotions are prohibited” inside her own head, she still had to stop her hands from shaking.

What did Adam do to him? Could he be repaired? Would he have to be reset again?

Would she have to pretend like she hadn't known him again?

What if he couldn't be repaired? What if there was some kind of virus that would make resetting his data impossible? What would happen to him then?

Were they going to...to shut him down for good...?

...and would that be such a bad thing?

On the one hand, she would finally be able to stop killing him...over and over...finally freed from this never ending spiral of life and death...

...but on the other hand...

...she would never see him again...

2B sped up, forcing such thoughts from her mind as she ran up the stairs to the entrance of the abandoned factory, where Pascal was due to meet up with her. To her satisfaction, it appeared that he had long since beat her to it.

“Oh, 2B!” he called out to her as she approached. “Hello! Are you ready to go?”

2B nodded in the affirmative.

“The machines who seek to form an alliance with my village are hiding out here,” Pascal explained, following her lead as she began to walk toward the front door. “Still, you should probably be careful. We machines can be rather...unpredictable.”

“Even you?” asked 2B.

“In truth, yes,” Pascal admitted somberly. “Now that we're cut off from the network, we no longer share data with each other. We can speak, of course, but I find that language contains many ways to hide one's true intentions.”

“It certainly does,” 2B said softly, thinking about all of the conversations she'd had with Nines. With Pascal. With herself...

The doors slid open and they entered to see nine machines waiting for them, four lined up on either side of the round room with one on the far side blocking the next set of doors. All of them were wearing strange robes.

“You enter the domain of God!” said the stubby machine life form furthest from them.

God, huh? 2B thought to herself, words forming unbidden in her mind.

Everything that lives is designed to end. We are perpetually trapped in a never ending spiral of life and death. I often think about the god who blessed us with this cryptic puzzle, and wonder if we'll ever get the chance to kill him.

That saying...2B didn't know where it came from, but it often popped into her head during the strangest times. This appeared to be one of them.

Her sword was suddenly in her hand. She looked down at it, then back at the machines in front of them.

Maybe it was because these machines had once been connected to Adam. Adam, who had treated her Nines so horribly.

Maybe it was because of what Pascal had warned her about before they'd walked in.

Maybe it was because she was holding out hope that she would finally be able to kill God, and just put an end to all of the killing.

2B didn't much care for the reason. All she knew was that she couldn't allow this group of machines to live any longer.

Hesitating no longer, she raised her sword and attacked the machine nearest her.

“Stop! We have no desire to fight you!” it shouted as it fell backwards.

But she wouldn't stop. She couldn't stop.

She would never stop.

In a sudden fit of temper, 2B wiped out the machine lifeforms, and no peace was born that day.

Chapter Text

2B hurried over to the Resistance Camp, dodging all of the machines along the way, worried that maybe she had spent a little too much time with Pascal and the strange overzealous machines at the factory. As she approached, she withheld a sigh of relief, as everything seemed fine from the outside...

...until she saw the flames.

“No...Noooooo!” a male voice cried out.

“Somebody help me!” shrieked a female android.

“Get out of here, now!” shouted a third android, taking his companions and running past 2B as she entered the camp.

The entire area was on fire. Screaming Resistance members were scrambling in vain to flee from a group of machines that had infiltrated. The machines were knocking the helpless androids to the ground and leaping upon them; the metal was peeling from the enemies' faces in such a way that they appeared to have grown mouths.

Considering what was happening to the androids, there could be only one way to describe what 2B was seeing. Nevertheless, it took a moment for the reality to sink in.

“Are they...eating them!?” she breathed, instinctively drawing her sword. She was about to rush in to help...when something held her back.

Exactly why should she be helping these people? They weren't members of YorHa; that was where 2B's true allegiance lied.

That couple that had deserted the Resistance suddenly came to mind. If those were the sorts of people Anemone employed, then were they really worth saving?

9S had once commented that all of the tasks Anemone set for them amounted to annoying busywork. 2B remembered chastising him for that, saying that every task improved their skills as combat units.

2B tried to recall the feeling she'd had when she had told him that, but it wasn't coming.

Because it was just busywork.

The countless fetch quests she'd been obligated to undergo...What did that accomplish? Some extra money so she could buy all of their overpriced weapons, chips, and upgrades? If they were really allies of YorHa, they'd have given them discounts, or not charged them at all. What did they need money for, anyway? What did any of them need money for?! Anemone had said that she and Pascal had cultivated some kind of barter system, so why didn't they just do the same with YorHa? She had wasted so. Much. Fucking. Time. FISHING. Just so she could get more money, and for what!? For a fucking “Sound Waves” HUD chip she would never use!?

She would just be wasting her time if she helped the Resistance. She needed to be with her Nines again. She wanted to live her own life, by her own choices. She turned to leave.

“There are still enemies here! We can't just leave!”

2B stopped and looked around to see who had spoken, and was alarmed to find out that the voice she had heard was her own. Huh. She must've cared about these people more than she realized....

Emotions are prohibited.

She shook her head furiously. No. Fuck that. Fuck that saying. Fuck YorHa, fuck the Resistance, fuck all androids.

Fuck 9S.

She didn't care anymore.

Fed up, 2B left the camp to its fate and decided to...go fishing? Yeah, that's it! Fishing! With a smile on her face, she packed up and headed for the coast.

Ten years later, 2B would find herself hunted by both machine lifeforms and YoRHa assassins — a life she seemed to enjoy more than her previous one.

Chapter Text

It was 9S's first mission in the field on Earth, and he was incredibly excited. Excited and impatient. The combat units were taking forever to get there. He hadn't seen anything in the sky yet and figured that they were probably still at the Bunker, getting ready. He'd already been ready for hours in his excitement and was therefore not doing much more than switching his chips around over and over while he waited for his comrades' arrival.

“...other...Bro...ther...Brother...Brother...”

A voice...a mechanical voice, just barely audible...

9S looked around for the source of the voice and his eyes soon settled on a small pile of broken machines on a section of the factory that he was unable to get to. One lone survivor stood in the wreckage, a type of machine he had dubbed a small stubby. It was shaking a dead medium biped that had lost its arms, calling out to it in a fashion that 9S, puzzled, could only describe as “frantic.”

But machines couldn't feel frantic. They could not feel emotions.

Until now, he didn't even know they could talk.

What was this strange behavior...?

“Brother...Brother...” the stubby continued to chant, still shaking the medium biped. Was that the only word it knew? “Brother...Please start moving...” Guess not. “Brother...” It sure liked to say it a lot, though. The stubby suddenly moved away. “Brother, wait a minute...”

9S watched in fascination as the stubby quickly jumped away, pausing when it reached a pipe that was unleashing a constant stream of oil.

“If I give my brother this, he'll move again,” said the stubby. “I need a container...”

The small stubby moved out of 9S's range of vision. He craned his neck over the screen, watching as it came back with a bucket on its head, which it placed under the stream of oil.

“It will be okay now, Brother.”

9S very much doubted that, but he watched anyway, wincing as the stubby tripped over a smaller pipe that had been lying on the ground, falling and spilling the oil.

“Nnnhhh...Brother...”

It went back and refilled the bucket, moving much slower now as it navigated its way around the pipes. 9S observed as it made its slow, slow way back to where the biped continued to lie dead. He turned his attention back to the screen in front of him, now more impatient with the stubby's progress than the fact that the mission hadn't properly begun yet.

“Just a little more...” he heard what felt like an eternity later.

9S finally looked up to see that the stubby had almost made it to the biped. A part of him wanted it to spill the oil again so it would have to go all the way back, but then he'd have to wait that much longer and he didn't want that to happen either.

“Bother...Brother...”

Oil was spilling out of the bucket, and instead of doing anything actually useful with the oil, it dumped it onto its brother's dead body. 9S grinned.

“Doesn't matter how much oil you give him, little guy,” he muttered aloud, astounded that the stubby had thought that would work. “You can't make a machine your brother.” Not least because machines didn't even have the concept of gender, let alone sibling relationships. Hell, why did it refer to the larger machine as “Brother” and not “Sibling” in the first place?

9S was shaken from his thoughts by the sound of YorHa's flight units descending from overhead.

“Well,” he muttered, wiping the screen out of view and getting to his feet, “looks like it's time.” He leaped down to a platform below him and immediately received a call.

“Operator 21O to unit 9S,” he heard 21O say. “Come in, 9S.”

“9S here,” 9S responded, suddenly catching what appeared to be some sort of chest out of the corner of his eye. “Go ahead.” What did it contain?

“The YorHa troops have commenced their descent,” 21O reported. “Disable the enemy base's defense systems immediately.”

“Roger that!” said 9S absentmindedly, shutting off his screen and heading over to the chest, not paying attention to the flight unit that had just landed ever farther below him.

“Flight unit recommended,” said Pod 153, but 9S ignored her as he opened the chest, finding a Large Recovery inside.

Now that was strange. Who'd leave a Large Recovery made specifically for androids lying around in an abandoned factory that only manufactured machines? As far as he knew, this was the first time anyone from YorHa had come to this area in the world, so it couldn't have been some kind of leftovers from those who had come before. Had YorHa dropped off care packages of some kind to random locations should their members find some kind of use for them? Or did machines require similar materials for repair that androids did?

9S glanced over in the direction of the stubby machine; it was no longer within his field of vision, but he had little doubt that it would still be pouring oil onto its brother over and over again in the vain hope that it would wake up. Maybe this Large Recovery could repair it instead of some useless gesture?

And what had made the smaller machine behave this way in the first place? He couldn't get the image of the stubby desperately trying to help its brother out of his head. But machines couldn't be “desperate.” Machines couldn't feel emotion.

Could they?

9S glanced up at the sky again. YorHa units were the best that humanity had ever produced. Every model being sent from the Bunker was a combat unit; they were made for this sort of mission. Did they really need his support? Could he...could he go off and do some of his own research for once instead of relying on previous intel like he had always done?

He wanted to know why this machine acted the way that it did, and if any other machines had developed a similar kind of behavior. He wanted to understand how it was done, what had caused this to happen in the first place, if it could be replicated.

He needed to understand.

He needed to know.

It's not like YorHa really required him anyway. His only use was for gathering intel; what use would combat models have for that when all they did was destroy?

He didn't know any of the units he'd been assigned to work with personally. They'd survive without him, easily.

He could certainly go off on his own.

Why shouldn't he?

No one was really stopping him...

“Alert,” said Pod 153 as 9S climbed up onto the top of the crane beside him and began to run along the top. “Proceed with mission operations immediately.”

That was all it said.

No one was actually, physically stopping him.

He ignored his Pod and continued to go in the wrong direction.

9S was last heard to say: “I can't control my curiosity about machines anymore. I'm leaving so I can study them as much as I want!”

...He was never heard from again.

Chapter Text

When 9S sent Engels's own missiles back at it, he thought he'd managed to defeat it for good. To his surprise, the red lights that were its eyes flashed back to life and he watched in horror as it raised a flaming arm to smash down onto 2B.

“Boost!” he shouted, aiming his flight unit directly into the arm, knocking it off course, but knocking himself away at the same time. He managed to halt himself — seeing that 2B was okay as he did so — but while he'd been looking at her the other arm slammed into him from behind, sending him flying out of his flight unit.

“9S!” he heard 2B shout as he fell, crashing onto the top of the Goliath. He was vaguely aware of the fact that he'd lost an arm and a leg in the fall before he was abruptly pulled inside, to a place that was dark and calm.

9S wasn't quite able to get his bearings when he suddenly became aware of words echoing in and around his consciousness.

“9S data system damaged,” it said, and 9S somehow knew that, were he able to hear, it was the voice of Pod 153. “Access impaired. Redeploying in offline mode.”

“Wh-where am I...?” asked 9S, unable to hear his own voice and worrying slightly.

“Recovery sector,” Pod 153 replied. “Eliminate access impairments to all blocks.”

Ah. So he was inside his own data system. He had never hacked himself before so he hadn't been sure. It was strangely similar to the inside of a machine, or maybe this was how all things looked to him once he'd hacked them. And those blips of light up ahead...They must be ways to fix himself...well, mostly. He was fully aware that he was still missing at least two limbs, and that's just what he was able to notice before fading to black.

He was about to start moving forward in order to restore functionality, but something was holding him back. Maybe it was the peace and quiet he had suddenly found himself in after the chaos of outside. Maybe it was the darkness; he was always sent to the side of Earth that was stuck in daylight, and of course the lights in the Bunker were never turned off. Maybe it was the fact that it would be impossible to hear the Commander barking orders, or 21O constantly shutting down everything he did and said.

9S never really understood exactly why emotions were prohibited. Fear helped YorHa units survive another day. Anger was a tool that helped combat units fight more efficiently. Delight gave them something to live for. Hope for the eventual return of humanity gave them something to look forward to. If the Council of Humanity had been so determined that their soldiers not feel any emotions, why program them with said emotions to begin with?

9S found that he was enjoying himself, despite how much fuzzier everything was getting. Here he could argue and theorize to his heart's content, without being bothered or hindered by anyone. He decided that he would like to stay like this with the limited time he had left. He felt a little guilty knowing that 2B was still on the outside, and that Engels was most likely still alive, but on the whole he couldn't really bring himself to care.

Speaking of 2B, 9S couldn't get over how beautiful she was; probably the most beautiful android he'd ever seen in all of YorHa. That beauty mark just below the lip...that intricate design on her chest that appeared to deliberately show off her cleavage...that dress that wasn't completely closed in the front, so that if he wanted to...he did have a lower field of vision, given how short he was, after all...he could probably easily get a good view if he stood next to her on the ground...

But she also believed that emotions were prohibited. Just another 21O. He didn't need anyone else constantly disappointed in his existence.

He might as well die, really. Let them be disappointed with someone else for once.

“Vital signs entering sub-optimal territory,” interrupted Pod 153. “Urgent circuit repairs required.”

God damn it. Why couldn't it just leave him alone? All he wanted to do was die in peace without orders being barked at him, was that so much to ask...

“Black box signal ceased,” said Pod 153. “Unit 9S death confirmed.”

YoRHa could not stand up to the might of the Goliaths; now their extinction is only a matter of time.

It seems that mankind will never regain its former glory.

Chapter Text

9S stared at the small village built high up in the trees that the flying machine had led them to. Each and every one of them was standing at attention, and waving what looked like...

“They all have white flags,” 2B observed beside him.

“Looks like they really don't want to fight,” said 9S begrudgingly, still riding off the high that he'd been on since killing that giant Songstress machine. The flying machine they'd been following didn't appear to have anything additional to say, so 9S slowly and carefully approached the nearest closest one, one with a design he'd never seen before.

“Hello,” it said, in a surprisingly less monotone voice than 9S was used to. “Before we begin, there is something you must understand,” it went on, lowering its white flag and making 9S unconsciously reach for his sword, though he looked up in surprise when the unique machine before him continued to speak. “We are not your enemies.”

Lies!

“2B!” said 9S quickly. “We can't trust anything the machines say!”

“I understand that you see us as the enemy, but...Well anyway,” said the machine. “My name is Pascal. I'm the leader of this village. Those who reside here desire nothing more than to live a peaceful existence. Look around for yourself. You'll see that it's true.”

Machines that didn't want to fight? That just wanted to live in peace? That couldn't be possible...

9S needed a minute to think. He ran just outside the village and stopped, catching his breath.

Machines were the enemy. It was their creators, the aliens, who had driven humanity to the moon. It was their fault that humans couldn't return. That YoRHa had to fight. That 2B was put in danger over and over by throwing herself into battle so many times.

No machine deserved to live.

9S glanced back in the direction of the village. It was true that these particular machines did not seem to pose too much of a threat. However, they could just be trying to lure him and 2B into a false sense of security. As soon as their guard was down, they would pounce. 9S was sure of it. If he just wiped all of them out now...

...then they would no longer be a threat, would they?

Firm in his resolve, 9S ran back across the bridge to find everyone in a radically different location. It appeared that, once they no longer needed to put on a show, the machines went back to doing what they had always done. Which, though they weren't attacking him or 2B just yet, 9S knew that it was only a matter of time.

He would make sure that that time would never come.

He went up one of the ladders and cut down Pascal first. It was important that the leader be taken out so that it couldn't give instructions to any of its underlings. Pascal was strangely silent as it fell to the ground and exploded.

The three stubbies it had been speaking to were slightly more talkative.

“We have done nothing bad!” cried one.

“Stop!” screamed another. “Do not kill!”

9S could do whatever he wanted. They were just machines. They didn't matter.

He searched for his next target.

“No fighting! No fighting!”

What did they mean by not fighting? Why weren't any of them fighting back? That's what all the other machines did, even if they didn't appear like they were going to. As soon as 9S had hit a couple of machines in the amusement park, they had responded with violence in kind.

So why weren't any of these?

And why wouldn't they stop screaming!

“I'm sorry! I'm sorry!”

“I'm sorry! I'm sorry!”

“Stop! Do not kill!”

“No fighting! No fighting!”

Okay now they were just getting annoying. This would be a lot more fun if they'd just shut up already. And why was the goliath biped so hard to cut down? It would be much simpler to hack it but he couldn't lock on for some reason. Was there something wrong with his Pod? He would have to get that checked out later.

“No fighting! No fighting!”

“Stop! Do not kill!”

He was now having to actively search for ones he hadn't taken out yet. This was getting increasingly frustrating. And hadn't he already killed that one? Must be a duplicate model, he wouldn't be surprised.

He really wished they'd shut up.

“Stop! Do not kill!”

Shut up.

“We have done nothing bad!”

Shut up.

“No fighing! No fighting!”

Shut up.

“Don't kill! Don't kill!”

Shut up.

“Don't kill! Don't kill!”

SHUT UP!

SHUT UP SHUT UP SHUT UP SHUT UP SHUT UP SHUT UP SHUT UP SHUT UP SHUT UP SHUT UP SHUT UP SHUT UP SHUT UP SHUT UP SHUT UP SHUT UP SHUT UP SHUT UP SHUT UP SHUT UP SHUT UP SHUT UP SHUT UP SHUT UP SHUT UP SHUT UP SHUT UP SHUT UP SHUT UP SHUT UP SHUT UP SHUT UP SHUT UP SHUT UP SHUT UP SHUT UP SHUT UP SHUT UP SHUT UP SHUT UP SHUT UP SHUT UP SHUT UP SHUT UP SHUT UP SHUT UP SHUT UP SHUT UP SHUT UP SHUT UP SHUT UP SHUT UP SHUT UP SHUT UP SHUT UP SHUT UP SHUT UP SHUT UP—

A village of peaceful machines was wiped out through the actions of one deranged android. Thus did the peaceful machines go extinct. Their village is now a haunted, forbidden place. Those who wander too close can hear the mad sounds of an android's laughter.

Chapter Text

No matter how Anemone had tried to phrase her deal with Pascal's village, 9S did not like that the Resistance Camp was now essentially working with machines. Their mission was to wipe them out, not make friends with them! The only reason he held back was that 2B preferred only to attack the hostile ones; he still thought refusing to take out that tank-like machine in the amusement park was a bad idea.

When Pascal had called them on their way back to his village, it had given 9S a small amount of satisfaction to tell it that it didn't have a heart. The message they received soon after from the Council of Humanity only reinforced his belief that they should have wiped out the entire village when they'd had the chance. He didn't care that the Resistance benefited. How could they trust machines!? Were they that desperate for supplies? He supposed that was possible...

9S put on another burst of speed to get across the bridge faster, climbing the ladder that led to where Pascal was standing and talking to two smaller machines, and wordlessly presenting Anemone's gift.

“Oh, you brought me some high-viscosity oil!” cried Pascal happily. “Anemone is just so kind and understanding. If only all androids could live together in peace like this...”

“Never gonna happen,” 9S immediately snapped, not caring how bitter he sounded. It was the machine's creators who had caused the remains of humanity to flee to the moon. It was the machines themselves who had butchered so many of their comrades.

He would never forgive them for that, and he would never trust them.

“I guess not...” Pascal said, subdued. “I'd appreciate it if you could help out some of the other machines as well, though. After all, the only way to understand someone is to get to know them. Isn't that right?”

“Fair enough,” said 2B, and 9S sighed. So what if he'd helped that one medium biped that kept insisting it was a mother try and help its child? Hacking was fun for him so it was no trouble; it didn't mean he actually liked machines.

There was a sudden explosion in the distance. Even if it was clearly far away, it still caused Pascal to flinch violently.

“What's that noise?” 9S demanded.

Operator 21O suddenly called.

“Operator to 9S,” she said calmly. “Emergency transmission incoming. We've detected a Goliath-class enemy inside the City Ruins. It seems to be accompanied by a large number of machine lifeforms. All YoRHa members are ordered to engage at once.”

“A Goliath!?” 9S yelled. “This was a trap! I knew it!”

“...I promise you, we were not aware of this information,” said Pascal, still cowering in fear and choosing to call them for some reason even though they were still standing right next to it. “I realize the odds of you believing me are strikingly low...But I hope you will nonetheless.”

“We'll sort it out later,” said 2B before 9S could respond. “Let's go.”

9S hesitated. He didn't trust Pascal. He didn't want to trust Pascal. He didn't want to end up as a pawn for the machines. But he knew how much 2B preferred to follow orders, to do whatever Command told her to do. Even if she knew it was a trap, like 9S did, he knew she'd be more willing to spring it than to run away.

And 9S wanted 2B to be happy, so he reluctantly chose to go along with their new mission as well.

Heading back toward the bridge that would lead to the amusement park, 9S noticed a ramp that lead down to the forest floor. He motioned 2B toward it, partly hoping that there might be a faster way back to the city ruins and partly curious as to where it did open out to if not there. The forest ended rather quickly, leading out to a stretch of paved road, a giant building occupying the entirety of the left side of the road and a long cliff taking up its right side. Unfortunately there wasn't any time to do a thorough examination, but the cliff did appear to have a nice view that they would have to check out later if they got the chance.

At the end of the road was a cluster of metal bars that 9S had remembered seeing by the rope bridge. Pascal must have set it up to keep other machines out. They'd tried to get through before but there had been a massive metal cube in the way and they hadn't been able to move it. Maybe they could from this angle; the Resistance couldn't send someone through the amusement park every time they needed to trade supplies.

He'd made it halfway across the stretch of road when he received a call from Pod 153, and he immediately stopped to listen.

“Operator 21O here. Do you read me?” Before 9S could respond, 21O continued, “Operator to 9S. I have bad news and I have good news. Bad first — we've confirmed the presence of two Goliath-class heavy-weapon enemies.”

“TWO of them!?” cried 9S.

“Now the good news,” 21O went on. “We've used your previous Goliath combat data to analyze the enemy...And it seems we have identified a weakness, Command has modified a firing unit based on this new intel. It's been installed on a pair of flight units that are heading your way.”

“That's YoRHa R&D for you!” 21O ended the call, but before 9S could take a single step forward or even reflect on how well the mission he couldn't remember must have gone, 21O called him back.

“Check your map data,” she ordered him. “Operator out.”

“Thanks, Operator!” said 9S before hanging up. “2B!” he called over to the combat unit standing patiently beside him. “Command is deploying new flight units for us! They just sent the coordinates, so let's get going.”

“On it.” 2B replied, sounding surprisingly calm given the situation.

Rather than relying on the mini map on his HUD to only vaguely guide him, 9S opened up the full map to see where they were to go. The destination wasn't as far away as he'd thought; the flight units appeared to be waiting for them on top of the skyscraper that he and 2B had landed on when they first arrived on Earth. At least he knew where that was.

As he approached the machine-made barricade, he was grateful for his standard YoRHa blindfold; he doubted that he would have been able to see very well in the suddenly dusty air without it. The sky above them was completely overcast; whether from the actual weather or from the damage the Goliaths were causing, or both, was not immediately apparent. 9S also noticed that the giant metal box did indeed have a place it could be moved to in order to open a shortcut to the city ruins. Grinning, he placed his hands on the box and attempted to shove against it.

It wouldn't move.

9S blinked and tried again. The box remained immobile. He shoved against it with all his might. Nothing was working.

9S hit the box in frustration. He knew that he was physically weaker than 2B, but this was ridiculous. Speaking of 2B, she was just standing there uselessly, making no move to assist him. 9S wondered if she enjoyed watching him struggled; maybe she was staring at his ass as he tried to work. He'd do the same to her, if he was completely honest with himself, so he didn't mind if she did it to him. At least there was one upside to all this...

After a few more minutes of struggling against the giant metal cube, 9S finally gave up and ran back toward Pascal's village, intending to take the long way back to the city ruins via the amusement park. It would take quite a bit longer, but they'd make it back to the city eventually. He only hoped that they would make it before too much devastation had been caused, and that he and 2B wouldn't end up being charged with desertion or something just because they couldn't move a fucking box...

2B and 9S chose to abandon their mission, allowing the machines to wreak destruction upon the city ruins and Resistance camp. The extinction of YoRHa is also surely a matter of time.

Chapter Text

“That concludes our report on the events surrounding the alien wreckage,” 2B reported to the Commander, 9S standing idly by her side and feeling more than a little out of place.

“Then they were dead this whole time...” said the Commander ponderously. “The Council of Humanity needs time to formulate a plan. Until then, this information must be kept confidential. Speak of it to no one.”

“Of course,” replied 2B. 9S wondered if this meant that they could have a break for once, but he didn't have long to daydream about that possibility before the Commander spoke again.

“Your next mission is to gather additional intel on the individual known as 'Pascal.'”

“You mean that freaky machine we ran into?” asked 9S, suddenly not very keen on the mission. Sure those particular machines in Pascal's village were fascinating, but 9S just knew that it had to be a trap. The villagers would lure the androids into a false sense of security, and as soon as they'd gained their trust...Boom!

“This order comes directly from the Council,” said the Commander firmly, and 9S knew that they had no choice in the matter. “Knowledge of such unique individuals is essential for the success of future missions.”

“Understood,” said 2B quickly. Too quickly. Did she not want 9S to speak anymore? Was she embarrassed by him? 9S didn't want to ask her directly for fear that she'd brush him off (Why would I be embarrassed when emotions are prohibited?”), so he waited until they were well out of earshot before speaking again.

“Man, the Commander sure is a slave driver, huh?” he said as he followed 2B back into the corridor. “And now we have to go back to the city ruins.” He paused for a moment. “Why don't we rest a little bit, 2B?” he continued. “It's been a while.” He knew that they'd only just rested at the Resistance Camp before transporting to the Bunker, but he felt like they deserved a little vacation. The alien threat was dead, after all; all they had to deal with now was what remained of their army. And Adam and Eve, he supposed...

“I'll rest if I feel like it,” 2B responded shortly, and 9S decided to drop it.

They both had mail, which they checked at the access point together. The first message was from Pascal, which he ignored as they'd be heading over to his village soon enough. The next piece of mail surprised her, as it came from Jackass.

Fish
Sender: Jackass

Hey,

Sorry to bring this up out of the blue, but I've got a fish I want to recommend to YoRHa units. Er, or to be more precise, I want YOU to eat it so I can study how its oil affects a YoRHa unit. You know? For science?

Anyhoo, stop by if you get bored. It's my treat.

—Jackass

Curious...9S glanced at 2B, who met his gaze steadily. When he indicated the second message they'd just received, 2B shrugged. He knew that she would often allow him to lead the way on certain quests that had little bearing on their main missions; he hoped that this was one of those times as he transported himself to the Desert Camp. Thankfully, 2B had followed him.

“Oh yeah,” said Jackass as 9S approached, “I still have to give you that stupid fish.” She pulled something out of her pocket. “So this thing is called a 'mackerel' and apparently eating it has a horrible effect on androids. I'd love to see what it does, so go ahead and chow down. Don't blame me if you die, though.” She handed over the mackerel.

9S stared at the fish in his hands. He'd seen this type of fish before. He'd caught several in his quest to log all possible data he could on the fish inhabiting the surrounding environment. He had then sold them all in order to satisfy 2B's never ending quest for weapon upgrades. It was sort of nice to have received another one instead of being forced to search for one again, he had to admit to himself; some of those fish had been tricky to find.

Jackass had said that this particular type of fish had a horrific effect on androids. And he would be the one to test it out. He admitted to being nervous...but it was vastly outweighed by his curiosity. All of the data that they had collected for Jackass — how YoRHa units had been basically built to enjoy combat, to get an almost human-like orgasmic satisfaction from it — it was all so endlessly fascinating. 9S resolved then and there to help further Jackass's, and indeed his own, research into this wonderful world they lived in, and dug into the mackerel without hesitation.

Having consumed the mackerel, it didn't take long for the android's body fluids to congeal. Muscle rigidity and paralysis soon followed.

It was good, though, the android thought as consciousness faded. Exquisite even. No wonder humans used to eat them...

Chapter Text

9S was still trying to wrap his head around the task that he and 2B had just completed for the red-haired Resistance woman...no, the YoRHa unit. The Type-E. He couldn't believe that such a thing existed. Did YoRHa really have such a fear of desertion that they had manufactured an entire type of model to deal with those sorts of problems? Why when they could make regular combat and scanner units like himself and 2B do all their dirty work, like they'd been forced to do with 22B, 64B, and 8B?

He was still pondering this, glancing up at where he assumed the Bunker would be floating out in space, when he saw it: a small flyer floating around the top of a broken bridge beside the now-dead Engels, some kind of silvery dust trailing along behind it. He'd seen that machine floating around before, but had never approached it. It didn't seem hostile...

9S hopped onto the broken bridge and ran up to the edge, trying to get close enough to catch its attention. He didn't have to wait long.

“You there! Ho!” said the small flyer enthusiastically, stopping right before 9S. “Are you living every day on the straight and narrow!?”

9S blinked, pondering the question, but before he could answer, the machine spoke again.

“Life is a fleeting moment!” it said. “We must fly straight like an arrow so we never lose our way! So let us see which of us is faster! Believe in yourself and grasp the future with both hands!”

A small smile broke out across 9S's face. This seemed like a nice break from all the heavy stuff he'd just had to deal with.

“I'll take you on,” he told it in a confident tone, which seemed to please the flyer.

“Oooooo yeaaaaaah! You're goin' down!” it cried, before flying off to where it presumably wished to start.

9S suddenly found himself about halfway down the giant crater in the middle of the city, looking up at where a few smaller buildings were connected to massive tree routes that led up to one of YoRHa's access points.

“The finish line is over there,” said the small flyer, motioning to where a medium biped was standing on a cliff overlooking the crater and waving a white flag.

9S grinned. He could see the route he would have to take. This would be far too easy.

“It's you and me, friend! No holds barred! Three...Two...One...Go!”

9S took off and ran up the path and onto the roofs of the sunken buildings. Leaping onto them was what ended up slowing him down the most; the flyer, being able to fly, had no such obstacles. It beat 9S to the end point by a couple of meters.

“Bah!” the flyer admonished him. “Surely that isn't all you're capable of!” Before 9S could shout something in his defense, the flyer continued. “Life is too short for you to spend it running about in useless circles! Now get your dander up and try challenging me again!”

9S blinked at it again. That was actually pretty encouraging. However, he knew that he couldn't beat this flyer the way he was now. He sort of wished that he could use his flight unit, but he knew that Command would never let him use something so expensive for something so trivial.

Still, 9S had no intention of going down without a fight. He wondered why 2B didn't want to try her hand at any of this, instead of just jogging patiently at his side. This was far too much fun for her to not want to have a go...although, considering that she was about as anti-emotion as Operator 21O, it being too much fun was probably precisely the reason why she would never do such a thing.

9S knew that he needed some kind of advantage, so he looked at his collection of plug-in chips. He actually had quite a few Moving Speed Up chips that he had never installed, so he quickly shuffled his chips around.

Movement speed was now at twenty percent, and 9S frankly felt uncomfortable going higher than that. Looking around himself, 9S saw that there were still quite a few far more hostile machines around him than he was truly comfortable with. He was loathe to give up any of the chips that would give him a fighting advantage, especially if he was forced to suddenly defend himself mid-race. No chances could be taken, after all.

Unfortunately, if he wanted to keep his Auto-Heal and Auto-Use Item chips, he would have to lose a few of the smaller ones. He looked at his HUD. Did he really need much of any of them besides the ones that showed the HP Gauge and the mini-map? Well, no, he still needed Damage Values. He could just reinstall another chip set once he was done with this game, couldn't he? What would be the harm in losing a couple of things just for this one race?

Having reached this conclusion, 9S confidently removed the EXP Gauge, the chips that showed where the Fishing Spots and Save Points were, and the OS chip.

Caution: Handle with care! Removal of the OS chip will result in death.

Chapter Text

“After a long period of battles and adventures, the prophet spoke.

“O, grant me the mercy of the land! O, grant me the joy of the heavens! Release me from my yoke of iron! Thus shall our souls be saved.

“Forever and ever.

“Forever and ever.”

With a jolt, 9S found himself back on the Bunker in front of the terminal he'd used to gain access to the machine lifeforms in the abandoned factory. The words he'd just heard echoed in his head.

“Those were the words I heard on the moon server,” 9S whispered to himself. “But why?”

He swiftly opened up his menu and went to take a second look at what he'd found on the main server. He had to figure this out. Things needed to make sense. They had to...

He'd only had a brief chance to look at the documents while he was in the main server itself, but now he had all the time in the world to take a closer look at the shipping reports. Honestly, it was strange that only purified water and repair materials were sent up to the moon. 9S knew that humans could survive on water alone, but that didn't necessarily mean that they should. He'd done so much research on humans and it seemed that they needed the nutrition in food to survive. He'd expected moose, boar, and fish meat to have been sent up as well, and it was...odd that nothing else was. In fact, the rest of the containers were empty. Why would empty containers be sent up to the moon, unless...

...unless they needed to be for show?

But...but who was YoRHa trying to convince...?

And then there was the part where the Council of Humanity Development Department was a subset of the Bunker Administration, which in itself was a subset of Project YoRHa. Why would the Council of Humanity need to be developed in any way? And moreover, why would the Council of Humanity be a part of Project YoRHa when 9S had always believed that Project YoRHa had been created by the Council Humanity?

Trying to take his mind off of the implications of what that might mean, 9S glanced through the Gestalt reports next, starting to finally make sense of things now that he had the first three to help piece the puzzle together. He was grateful now that 2B had wanted to familiarize herself with the territory as much as possible in between YoRHa missions, since there had been many locked chests that could only be opened via hacking. Within many of those chests had been reports that were also marked as “Gestalt.” While it was clear that he didn't have all of them yet, most of the these reports mentioned something about a strange illness that couldn't be cured, and a few mentioned something about separating the soul from the body. 9S knew that humans had souls whereas androids didn't, but he never would have guessed that souls could be separated from human bodies before. Experiments had been done on the sick and elderly, people had protested something called the Spiritual Preservation Method, and four people had undergone the full process, whatever it was, back in 2015, millenia before the aliens showed up.

Exactly what was the Replicant System, and why did machines have this data?

9S had wanted to dwell on all of this, but 2B had been in danger. Her safety had been more important in the moment; it had given him something to focus on after Adam and after waking up and finding most of this data. Now, it was all he could think about. Nothing he'd found made any sense, and the only way it could make sense was...

…was something 9S didn't want to think about. Because it just couldn't be true.

...Could it...?

“Alert,” said Pod 153, breaking 9S out of his disturbed thoughts. “2B has defeated the Goliath-class heavy-weapon unit.”

“Hm?” said 9S, still trying to bring himself back to reality. “Ah, right. Okay, good.”

He turned to head to the elevator, intending to rejoin 2B and reclaim some semblance of normalcy, but the Commander called him before he could reach it.

“9S,” she said by way of greeting.

“Commander?” 9S replied in something of a state of shock.

“I'm sorry,” she said. “You're needed back at Command.”

“...Understood.” So much for meeting up again with 2B...

9S took the elevator down to the main floor and jogged over to where Command was, knowing that he should probably be running faster but not quite feeling like it. He didn't want to keep the Commander waiting, necessarily, but at the same time he didn't want to rush. He wasn't sure exactly why, other than a growing feeling of dread.

He slowed to a stop when he saw the Commander just waiting in the hallway with no one else around. He'd never seen her outside of Command before...

“...You left quite a trail when you accessed the main server,” she said once he'd approached.

“That's what I wanted to speak with you about, Commander,” said 9S. When the Commander remained silent, he continued. “I found records stating that the Council of Humanity was established as part of Project YoRHa. But I'd always heard it was the other way around. So did YoRHa actually create the Council of Humanity?”

“...Yes,” said the Commander at length, in a disturbingly quiet voice. “We installed the Council of Humanity's server on the surface of the moon.”

“But that means...” Please don't say it please don't say it please don't—

“Mankind no longer exists,” said the Commander in a tone of finality.

9S felt the floor vanish beneath him. It was like he was falling through space.

Everything he and 2B had ever been told...

Everything he and 2B had ever fought for...

Everything he and 2B had repeatedly died for...

The Commander had begun to speak again, and 9S forced himself to listen to her, to understand.

He had to understand...

“In truth, humans never went to the moon at all,” said the Commander. “Any transmissions received from the moon are just dummy signals we set up in advance. The only thing there is a small bit of data relating to the human genome.”

“But why would you—”

“Humans were already extinct when the aliens attacked. All the details are stored on this memory chip. If you want to look at it, I won't stop you.”

9S obtained the archive entitled “[Top Secret] Project YoRHa.”

“Wait, you're just giving me this?” he asked the Commander. “But why?”

The Commander was silent for a long time before speaking.

“...No one fights without a reason. And we need a god worth dying for.” She closed her eyes in resignation, before opening them and looking directly at 9S. “What path will you take?” she asked. “It's up to you to decide.” After saying that, she then turned and walked away.

9S clenched his teeth and looked at the floor.

The human race is gone.

He didn't remember walking slowly back to his room.

The human race is gone.

He didn't remember lying on the bed.

The human race is gone.

He didn't know how long he laid there, staring at the ceiling.

The human race is gone.

There was no purpose for their fight.

There never had been.

Overcome with a sudden sense of restlessness at that last thought, he slowly sat up.

“The human race is...gone,” he forced himself to say as he got out of bed. Even saying it out loud didn't seem to make it real. Not just yet.

Blinking rapidly, he brought up his screen and looked at the piece of information the Commander had just given him.

Project YoRHa is a comprehensive information project intended to enhance android morale. This entry details the circumstances that led to its proposal, as well as information related to operations conducted during its individual phases.

(Note that this document is marked with Level-S confidentiality, and should not be disclosed to any YoRHa personnel, save for the Commander.)

[Human Extinction]

Following the collapse of Project Gestalt around 3400 CE, the remaining androids searched for a way to revive humanity. But they were unable to discover an answer, and humans went extinct by roughly 4200 CE. Afterward, the genes of Gestalts and structural information of the remaining Replicants were recorded and sent to a storage facility on the moon.

[Loss of Android Morale]

The news of humanity's extinction was meant to be a closely guarded secret, but rumors of the event eventually began to leak out. Having lost the one thing which they were programmed to protect, android morale began a precipitous decline. Concerned by this turn of events, Command designed Project YoRHa as a means to lift android spirits.

[Project 01-03: Lunar Server]

The first stage of the project was spreading the word among Resistance groups that humanity was not, in fact, extinct — and that the last remaining remnants had managed to escape to the moon. This deception was supported by installing a communications server on the lunar surface to send regular transmissions. Said server was designed to be manned by as few maintenance personnel as possible.

[Project 02-01 Establishment of the YoRHa squadron]

Through the dramatic alteration of the Next Generation Combat Unit Project that had been proposed at the time, new “YoRHa” models began to be manufactured. Officials models were created following the implementation of data acquired from an experimental squadron, and were then deployed at all regions. Certain members of the YoRHa operations staff, however, were informed of the full scope of the project—these units were tasked to operate and protect the server on the moon.

That was it. That was all 9S needed to finally acknowledge the truth.

Even if it hadn't fully sunk in yet...

Up until this point, 9S could have pretended to himself that the Commander had just been playing an incredibly elaborate practical joke on him. But now, seeing it spelled out in such an official capacity...

...there was no denying it anymore.

Humanity was gone. Had been for millenia upon millenia.

There was no point to their actions, their existence.

There was no point to anything.

There never had been a point to anything.

Suddenly overcome with the need to do...something, no matter how little it mattered, 9S was about to leave his room when a sudden, far more important thought, struck him.

“How do I tell 2B?” he whispered to himself.

Suddenly, his room turned red and an alarm started blaring throughout the Bunker.

“Emergency Protocol, code F2,” came a voice over the intercom. “All YoRHa members are to report to combat stations immediately. Repeat. Emergency Protocol, code F2. All YoRHa members are to report to combat stations immediately.”

“Combat stations?” 9S repeated as the alarm sound faded away. “I'd better get a move on.”

As soon as the words left his mouth, he almost laughed at how ridiculous he sounded. Get a move on? What would be the point? Humanity had been dead for millenia. The Commander had been right. No one fights without a reason, and their reason for fighting was gone.

What was the Commander's reason for fighting, 9S wondered. She had know the truth all along, yet she still sent every single one of her subordinates on missions that could get them killed. That actively did get them killed. 9S's mind flashed back to when he and 2B had had to take out those three deserters. Had they figured out the truth as well?

Would 2B want to join him in deserting if he told her the truth? Would the truth even matter to her?

Would...

Would she take him out for wanting to leave? For even suggesting it?

As much strain as he knew the war had on her, she always did seem to enjoy combat. Maybe she wouldn't mind fighting for a god that didn't exist.

Or maybe the knowledge would destroy her.

9S didn't know, couldn't know, for sure. The thought of confronting 2B with this...this burden filled him with a dread he'd never experienced before. He could hear 2B and 21O's chorus of “Emotions are prohibited” in his mind.

Fuck, did 21O know!?

It was becoming harder to think. Only feelings of fear and hopelessness permeated his mind.

He couldn't take it anymore. Any of it.

The need to tell 2B. The fear of telling 2B.

The knowledge that their lives were utterly meaningless.

That nothing they did mattered. That it had never mattered.

He didn't matter.

She didn't matter.

None of it...not one single moment they spent together...

Before he could talk himself out of it, 9S activated his self-destruct sequence.

By self-destructing at the Bunker, the entire structure ended up exploding in a spectacular fashion. But hey, it sure did look pretty from Earth!

Somewhere in the depths of space, the Commander still floats about with a stern look on her face.

Chapter Text

“And those are your orders,” Operator 21O concluded. “Do you understand?”

“Um...” 9S thought back and tried to sum up 21O's lengthy explanation in one simple sentence. “The Scanners are going to hack into the enemy's anti-air system and shut it down in advance of an all-out assault. Right?”

“That's right!” said 21O in a tone 9S had never heard her speak in before. “Good job, 9S.”

9S blinked.

“Why are you talking to me like I'm a child?” he said, somewhat petulantly. He knew that 21O often looked down on him for the way he spoke and acted, but this was a new low even for her.

“What? That must be your imagination.”

The screen cut out and 9S frowned. Why was she the only one who got to police other people's tones?

He hadn't even taken one step forward when she called him again.

“Look for machines that are receiving signals from the anti-air system,” she instructed. “They should be located in areas with good signal reception. I've forwarded the general positions of the machine lifeforms you need to hack.”

“Roger.”

He was just about to leap down from the building when he got another call.

“Please refrain from destroying the target. If you do, another one will simply take its place.”

“No killing the target. Got it.”

9S waited a little bit longer in case 21O had anything else she wanted to add, before finally leaping off the skyscraper and using Pod 153 to safely land on the ground below. Scanning his mini-map, he noted that the closest machine lifeform he would be required to hack was on top of the giant deceased Engels he and 2B had spoken to in what felt like another lifetime. He was halfway on his way there when 21O called once more.

“The target is thought to be in a tall location with good network reception. Try examining the rooftops of buildings.”

“Roger.” He didn't feel like mentioning that he'd already found a tall location and that it was in no way the top of a building.

He had almost reached Engels's summit when 21O called again.

“Be advised, the target's appearance is identical to that of a standard enemy. Once you approach, however, a marker will appear.”

“Is it me, or does it seem like they're getting smarter?” 9S asked. While he meant for it to be rhetorical, he was still a little stung when 21O immediately hung up again. Even 2B wasn't this standoffish.

Even though they'd just fought Eve together, 9S still missed 2B. He hoped they'd be able to fight again together before the battle was over.

He hoped that he would be able to get a chance to talk to her...to figure out how to tell her...

Pushing it out of his mind for the moment and reaching the top of the dead Engels, 9S saw the small black and red stubby and immediately hacked into it, defeating it easily. 21O immediately called him up once more.

“I see your hacking was successful,” she said. “Way to go!” she added in that same strange tone.

You're totally treating me like a kid,” said 9S, ready to argue if she insisted otherwise.

“Now move on to the next one,” 21O said instead. Her tone this time was stern, yet still strangely unrecognizable.

“Fiiine.” 9S didn't have time to puzzle out her strange behavior. Maybe when things had died down a little...

He didn't feel like crossing the chasm to get to the one on the bridge, so instead he plotted a course around it, mercifully not running into any machine lifeforms whatsoever along the way. It was almost as if all of them had cleared out except for the ones he was targeting, which he found mildly annoying. He wanted to kill something, and since he wasn't allowed to kill his targets he'd been looking forward to seeing things he could kill. But unless he felt like going after a moose or something, he was kind of out of luck.

And he didn't really want to hurt any more animals. There was only one type of thing he wanted to kill...

A small biped with a small sword was waiting for him on top of a building near the other bridge that lead to the abandoned factory.

“Defensive system operation confirmed to be declining,” said 21O in her usual manner of speaking, which was of some relief to 9S.

“Almost there,” he replied.

There was a medium biped in the same place where Father Servo had once trained. Maybe that was what made 9S instinctively attack it when it began attacking him. 9S stared at the place where its body had once been; if he could produce sweat, he was pretty sure he would have at this point.

“Whoops!” he said to himself sheepishly.

Right on cue, he received another call from his Operator.

“Unit 9S, your orders are to hack into enemy units, not destroy them,” she said, somewhat predictably. “Destroyed units will simply be replaced. Attacking is pointless.” Before he could defend himself, she continued. “Try to sneak up behind your foes, keep out of sight, and then...Boom! Hack 'em up good.”

“Um, okay,” said 9S, more uncertain than ever. He waited for her to hang up before muttering, “'Boom'? Is she serious?”

He didn't have to wait long before another medium biped was dropped in from above. He immediately hacked into it before his muscle memory could take over again.

“Looks like it's going well down there,” said 21O in yet another call, her voice thankfully neutral once again. “Every scanner in the force is involved in this operation. So let's try not to fall behind.”

“Yeah, yeah,” said 9S. “No falling behind. Got it.”

“9S?”

“What is it?” Another reprimand for using more than one affirmation again?

“Make sure to do whatever is necessary to avoid combat.”

...Damn it. He wanted to kill the machine lifeforms himself. He knew it wouldn't help humanity considering there wasn't any humanity, but maybe it could help 2B and the rest of YoRHa not get killed themselves or something. Or maybe he just wanted to blow off some steam; the relentless monotony of slaughtering machine after machine by 2B's side had been sort of relaxing for him at times.

21O was denying him this small comfort. He wanted to ignore her. He wanted to kill.

He needed to kill.

He had to kill...

However, he knew that 21O wouldn't understand, so tried to phrase his question in a way that she would: “And how will I provide support to the squad if I don't fight?”

“Scanner units such as yourself are not designed for battle,” was the reply

She had a point, 9S knew that, but with all the fighting he and 2B had done together he thought he'd proven himself to YoRHa by now. To her. Unless...

“Aww, are you worried about me?” he asked, half joking, half hopeful.

“No,” she said curtly. “I'm merely pointing out that you would be a liability on the battlefield.” She abruptly closed the call.

“...Wow,” 9S said aloud, in something of a state of shock. “That's...harsh.”

As fake-sounding and strange as it had been, 21O pretending to be nice to him had been kind of...well...nice. To completely walk that back so quickly...9S knew 21O had often been frustrated with him, but he didn't think she hated him. Well, maybe she didn't hate him per se, but that hadn't sounded like she liked him either.

Maybe she was just indifferent toward him. Maybe that was worse.

...Why was he following the orders of someone who didn't even care about him? Who wouldn't let him do the one part of this stupid, pointless job that he actually enjoyed?

Who probably wouldn't even believe him if he told her the truth about humanity?

...did 2B feel the same as 21O?

Did she also not care about him? Had she only been putting up with him this whole time?

She'd seemed sad when she was forced to kill him after the battle with Eve, but maybe that was just an act, too. Just like 21O's had been.

Humanity still being alive on the moon had been an act as well. An act the Commander had forced the rest of YoRHa to carry out.

When did the lying end?

Did 9S even want to know...?

The entrance to the desert wasn't far. Visions of the peaceful oasis 9S had found with 2B flickered across his mind. He leaped down from the building he had still been standing on and began to run toward it, cursing the sand as it tripped him up.

“Alert, said Pod 153. “Exiting the planned operational area. Proposal: Return to the operational area immediately.”

9S ignored it and kept running.

He wouldn't be able to take it if it turned out 2B didn't care about him either.

He decided that he didn't want to know.

He decided that he didn't want to care anymore.

He put 2B and everyone else out of his mind. They could take care of themselves. They didn't need him.

He was just a liability, after all.

Finally finding his footing, 9S sprinted into the desert, his Pod and the memory of 2B trailing behind him.

Some YoRHa units abandoned their mission, the operation failed, and every android met their demise.

...Well, except for the really selfish ones. They were fine.

Chapter Text

The last large biped exploded, meaning that the EMP waves had finally, mercifully stopped. As 2B struggled to regain her footing, she sensed 9S run up to her side.

“You okay?” he asked.

She allowed him to help her up, taking off her helmet in an attempt to catch her breath. The dust swirling around them didn't exactly help her to do that.

Without warning, all of the other YoRHa members around them began to scream, clutching their heads, lurching around or falling over. 2B's artificial blood ran cold.

“Is this...a wide-area virus!?” choked out 9S.

Suddenly, a pain like none 2B had ever experienced before shot through her own head. She screamed, falling to her knees and clutching her own head.

It felt like...like something was digging into her skull with one of her own weapons...Something that she knew shouldn't be there...

“2B!” she heard 9S cry out. She could barely hear anything else. The pain became all-consuming. She could feel 9S hacking into her, and it somehow felt far less invasive than the virus. The pain vanished in an instant. She looked up as 9S dropped to his knees and put his hand on her shoulder.

“2B,” he said quickly. “You okay?” He pulled her to her feet without waiting for an answer, and both of them looked around as the other YoRHa units got to their feet and began to laugh maniacally, still clutching their hands.

“The hell...?” said 2B, an ominous feeling growing within her.

The laughter continued around them as their comrades all stood up straight, their weapons drawn...

...their eyes glowing red.

...no...

“They've been infected and taken over!” 9S sounded just as shocked as she felt. She didn't have much time to process, however, as she immediately had to begin dodging attacks. Attacks from their friends, their family...

“No...” 2B tried to summon one of her weapons, just to defend herself, but she was unable to. “Wait, what!? Attack functions aren't working!” she yelled.

“That's because of their YoRHa IDs!” 9S called over to her. “2B. I need to hack into you and fry your identification circuit!”

“Do it!” 2B ordered him. She continued to dodge her comrades' attacks, feeling 9S hack her from a safe distance. For some reason it felt like a slightly longer hack, but she was abruptly aware of her Identification Signal suddenly not functioning.

She could now fight back against her comrades if she wanted to.

She did not want to.

“Pod, report our status to Command!” she ordered. Let others deal with this. She would not fight her own kind.

Not anymore.

She was done with that.

“Alert: All communications are currently being jammed,” stated Pod 042.

“God damn it!” she yelled in frustration.

“2B!” 9S shouted. “I located the unit that's jamming our comms.”

“Got it,” she replied.

“Target location data obtained,” said 042. “Marking on map.”

2B couldn't move at first. There were just so many of them. She had to attack a couple in order to get them off of her. She could hear them crying out in pain whenever she landed a blow.

They wouldn't stop screaming...

They wouldn't stop laughing...

2B halted her attack and began to run. She couldn't fight her former friends. She couldn't raise her sword against them any longer.

She had to leave.

She had to save Nines.

He was still right beside her. He hadn't moved. He had followed her throughout this assault, and he continued to follow her as she fled the battlefield. Away from their insane former comrades.

2B wanted her last act on this Earth not to be killing the people she loved, but instead saving at least one. The one she loved most.

The abandoned factory wasn't the best place to spend the rest of their lives, but she was hoping to at least take cover there until the battle ended.

Until they all killed each other...

As long as she wasn't the one spilling any more android blood, that was fine with her. She and 9S could figure out what to do after that.

She jumped onto the truck and climbed on top of the stone bridge, sprinting as fast as she could with Nines following dutifully behind her.

“Alert,” said Pod 042. “Alert: Exiting the planned operational area. Proposal: Return to the operational area immediately.”

2B ignored it. She didn't care.

She continued to flee, her Nines by her side.

Some YoRHa units abandoned their mission, the operation failed, and every android met their demise.

...Well, except for the really selfish ones. They were fine.

Chapter Text

2B landed hard onto one of the broken bridges in the flooded city after her flight unit finally exploded. Somehow, she registered that she was technically still at full health, but the force of the impact still took everything out of her.

It didn't matter. 9S was safe.

She didn't quite know where she'd sent him, but as long as he was all right, that was all that mattered.

“Alert,” said Pod 042. “Multiple enemies confirmed.”

That alert hadn't been necessary. 2B had long-since noticed them. She attempted to push herself to her feet, surrounded on all sides by machines, their glowing red eyes forcibly reminding her of all the comrades she'd just murdered...

Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Pod 042 carrying her sword over to her. It must have gotten stuck in the flight unit on the way down. She staggered to her feet at last and grabbed the familiar weapon, feeling a little better as she did so. With Virtuous Contract in hand, she was able to take out all the surrounding machines in a quick flurry of blows. The second that the last one fell to the ground and exploded, she immediately began heading for the pipe that would take her to the city.

She suddenly stumbled, unable to do much more than slowly limp forward. No...

“Alert: Virus infection detected,” said 042, causing 2B's synthetic blood to run cold. “Proposal: Administer vaccine immediately.”

Groaning, 2B noticed a System Corruption progress bar show up in front of her. Things were just getting worse and worse...

There were several flying machines between her and the pipe's entrance. Due to her current condition, 2B was unable to fight or dodge any of them, though her plug-in chips did help to evade their bullets a little more easily.

Abruptly, she was aware of all of her core functions spontaneously starting to work again. Instead of fighting the flying machines, she quickly dodged around their attacks and ran into the pipe, and suddenly began to limp again. She had just glanced up at the progress bar and was grateful that it was only at five percent, when she felt a number of sparks spurt out of her shoulder.

“Alert: Virus contamination rate up to sixteen percent,” said 042.

How, thought 2B in a panic. It was just at five...

“Malfunction detected in NFCS circuit,” 042 continued.

2B didn't allow herself time to dwell on it; she had just regained her ability to run and, though her vision was glitching, wasn't going to waste any time.

“I have to keep it...from spreading to other androids...” she choked out. “Pod, give me a location that's low on android signals.”

“Searching...” said Pod 042. “Analysis: The area near the abandoned commercial facility meets the desired parameters.”

All of her functions apart from the ability to slowly walk had been suddenly stripped from her again. She tried to suppress her anger. The commercial facility shouldn't be more than a quick run from where she was, but she couldn't run anymore. She doubted she would even be able to ride a moose at this rate...

...would she make it in time...?

“Alert: YoRHa unit 2B will sustain serious damage unless the virus is eliminated.”

“You don't say...” 2B snarled.

The most frustrating part of constantly losing her ability to do damn near anything was that there was no warning, no clear sign when the symptoms would start or stop. She was able to run out of the pipe eventually, but almost immediately after it was a real effort to get away from the machines that appeared to almost have been waiting for her.

“Alert,” said 042 as 2B struggled. “Virus contamination rate up to 21 percent.”

Already? Damn...

“Remove the contamination...and reset...”

This had to be the worst possible time for her to lose all of her functions as she was no longer able to dodge. Even though Pod 042 was still able to fire long range attacks on her behalf, it didn't help as much as she would've hoped because each stubby had a built-in shield and she wasn't able to destroy them because she couldn't fucking swing her sword. She scrambled up the pathways out of the chasm as best she could, eventually leaving the stubbies behind. She didn't know the last time she'd been this anxious; it was hard enough to get out of the chasm even when she hadn't been infected...

“Analysis: Virus is transforming and progressing its own algorithm with abnormal speed,” 042 reported. “Removal will be difficult.”

2B didn't respond, preoccupied as she was with her brief exhilaration at finally hitting ground level. As much as she just wanted to stop and rest for a moment, she knew she had to keep going.

She stumbled again, nearly tripping. Falling would be a bad idea at this point; who knew if she would be able to stand again?

“Alert: Virus contamination rate up to 32 percent,” recited 042 as 2B continued to hobble toward the gap that would set her on the path to the commercial facility. “Malfunction detected in visual processing system.”

So that's why her life bar looked like it had at the end of her and Nines's fight with Eve...

She panted impatiently as she waited to regain most of her functions before even attempting to jump across the gap. God forbid she become suddenly unable to grip her fucking Pod...She was not going to fall back into that fucking hole...She refused...

Her functions were back. 2B launched herself across the gap and nearly fell over as she immediately lost them once again. It didn't matter now. The hard part was over. Now it was a straight line between here and the commercial facility.

She would not fail.

A garbled voice began to play through her screen.

“The Council of Humanity has a message for all of our...fighting on the surface,” said the male voice, and 2B fought to tune it out. She did not need this right now. “Today I have wonderful...The Council of Humanity has decided to increase the production of new...This will enable us to deal a powerful blow to...enemies. The light of hope is near...closer than ever to it.”

Yeah, good luck creating new androids with the Bunker out of commission, 2B snidely thought to herself

“We look forward to future...” the message continued to garble out, “...and know that you will be the ones to bring it to us.”

...Were they just the prototypes for a new generation of YoRHa soldiers? Had they just been guinea pigs this entire time?

If 2B were truly honest with herself, given everything she knew, everything that she was continuously forced to prevent 9S from ever knowing...that didn't really surprise her in the least.

“Alert: Virus contamination rate up to 57 percent. Malfunction detected in FFCS circuit.”

Her vision was much more impaired now, though she could tell that the bridge was getting closer and closer. Her body still alternated between being able to run and just barely being able to stand much less walk. During the brief moments where she was still able to run, she sprinted as fast as she possibly could.

“Alert: Virus contamination rate 70 percent. Infiltrating system-protected region.”

She just had to get there...it was so close...her vision was almost entirely impaired, and her audio sensors had a high-pitched buzzing that was now constantly present and made it nearly impossible to hear what her Pod was saying. Though if she was interpreting his message correctly...

She was swiftly running out of time.

As she regained functionality one last time, she had a brief pang of regret over selling all of her Moving Speed Up chips to pay for weapon upgrades and materials. Stepping onto the bridge and limping forward again, the buzzing static in her ears became louder than ever.

“Alert,” said 042. “Virus contamination rate 90 percent. Alert: Unusual heat generation in central nervous system. Internal combustion imminent.”

2B felt herself...not quite explode, necessarily...It felt almost like her self-destruct sequence, only slightly hotter, plus obviously she didn't know to brace for it having not actually activated it herself this time. She opened her eyes painfully, and saw that all color had been sucked out of the world.

“Analysis,” said Pod 042, barely audible; at least the buzzing was gone. “Abnormality detected in visual sensors.” Yeah no shit. “Alert: Deterioration found in black box. Alert: Damage to data backup system. Said damage will make it difficult to retain self-consciousness upon backup.”

“Bunker's gone...” 2B choked out, her voice faint to her own ears. “There's...no point in backing up anyway...”

She'd almost reached the end of the bridge before what she'd just said aloud truly had a chance to sink in.

The Bunker was gone.

The Commander was gone.

6O was gone.

YoRHa was gone.

9S was...

She'd tried to save him...

She had no clue if it worked or not...

Either way, she knew that she would never see him again...

“9...S...My body is...”

2B stopped walking at the very edge of the bridge. She couldn't bring herself to take one more step. She knew she could have if she wanted to, but she no longer wanted to. She just stood there, reflecting on all she'd lost, trying to summon a mental image of Nines and his sweet little smile.

If only she'd been able to keep her promise at least one last time...

The virus reached 2B's central nervous system. She soon lost all sense of reason, and ended up roaming the ruins until her power failed.

Chapter Text

A2 wasn't quite sure how many years she'd spent in the Forest Kingdom; the months just seemed to all blend together at some point or other. She hadn't been inside the city ruins or the surrounding areas in ages, mainly because she knew that Anemone's Resistance Camp was nearby. She had no desire to seek it out, however; just knowing it was there was enough for her. She didn't mind being confined to just the one location. She could kill whatever enemies she felt like as often as she felt like. She had heard a large explosion a short time ago, but didn't feel like checking it out as she knew the place would be swarming with YoRHa. And that was the last thing she needed.

Which was why it was so annoying when 2B and 9S showed up just as she'd been gearing up to finally destroy the Forest King that every machine in the forest had been so obsessed with.

Forest King this, Forest King that...Had A2 known it was just a hunk of metal in the shape of an infant, she would've destroyed it ages ago. All that leveling up for fucking nothing...The thing was utterly defenseless. The two YoRHa androids had done her the favor of getting rid of all the tougher machines so she could quickly take out her intended target, but had surprised her by appearing to be upset that she had done so. Why did they care so much? 2B was meant to be her replacement, right? Why'd she care? It was a machine. They all deserved to be destroyed, no matter what they looked like.

After fighting with them, A2 had returned to doing what she did best: randomly killing whatever machine stood in her way, no matter where she was within the Forest Kingdom. It being closed off for so long had helped her maintain her isolation, but ever since 2B and 9S had broken in and the Resistance had set up shop, everyone and their girlfriend seemed to be invading whenever they wanted.

Like right now.

YoRHa seemed to have planned some sort of all out assault on the machine lifeforms, which was fine when they were all working together to destroy the machines themselves and a little less fine when they decided to target A2 instead. Thankfully their full battle regalia didn't seem like actual armor; they seemed more aesthetic than anything else. As she evaded their attacks, A2 wondered why the Commander was so dead set on preventing her from telling anyone what she knew; it's not like she hadn't tried before. Numerous times. Often on the same model.

No one ever listened. Eventually A2 had stopped trying and started focusing on surviving.

Speaking of, A2 figured this was as good a time as any to find a new place to kill at her own leisure where YoRHa wouldn't bother her, and was plotting a course for the city ruins when it happened.

Each and every single surrounding pair of eyes suddenly began to glow red as the androids convulsed, screamed, and cackled around her. A2 had to clamp down on the resurgence of memories that threatened to send her into despair anew.

She'd had to kill a few YoRHa units here and there merely in self defense, but when every one of them was suddenly taken over by the logic virus, she decided to put each and every one that she could out of their misery. A2 idly wondered why she hadn't been affected but figured that it was because she was an outdated model. Unfortunately, none of the androids wanted to kill machines anymore, and had become far more interested in killing each other and running rampant around the area than actually doing their jobs, which A2 supposed was the main point of the virus. Most of them ended up being killed by the many boars and moose in the area, which saved A2 some effort at least.

She managed to finally reach the entrance to the city ruins, following a couple of stragglers. Wanting to give as many of what would have been her comrades a semblance of peace as she could, she put on an extra burst of speed to cut them down.

She paused for a moment when she saw who they were heading toward.

2B wasn't wearing the armor that everyone else was; she was still in her usual dress. Honestly, that was the only reason A2 recognized her. She didn't appear to be affected by the virus, at least not yet; she seemed to be trying to defend herself like A2 was. Then again, she was still wearing her blindfold, so A2 couldn't really be sure.

She watched 2B stagger backward toward the edge of the chasm separating the forested area from the city ruins, barely maintaining a grip on her sword as the insane YoRHa units advanced on her. One raised her sword and before A2 knew what she was doing she had cut her down. She'd nearly blown 2B off the cliff in the process and after she'd taken down the second one, she looked back to make sure 2B was still there, watching 2B stagger to her feet.

“A...2...” 2B choked out. She must barely be hanging on at this point. A2 couldn't really dwell on her condition, however, as several other YoRHa units were coming at them out of the forest. A2 must've missed them. She raised her blade, readying herself to protect 2B.

...But why should she help 2B exactly?

She had been against A2's overthrowing of the Forest King. She'd attacked A2 on the Commander's orders. She still believed in all that YoRHa shit.

Why should A2 help someone like that?

What did she owe anyone at YoRHa after what they'd done to her squad?

To Number 4?

To Anemone?

To all of them?

To everyone!?

Let them rot.

Let them all rot.

She needed to clear her head and decided to cross the bridge and head toward the desert area. It had been a few centuries since she'd been anywhere near there. The desert was vast and seemed to stretch on forever; there had to be no end of machines she could kill.

Maybe she could return to the green of the Forest Kingdom eventually, once all this had died down.

Once pretty much all of YoRHa had died down, probably...

Whatever. It wasn't her business anymore. She'd washed her hands of them long ago.

All of them.

A2 suddenly felt like taking a little stroll. And though the walk gave her a sense of peace and fulfillment, 2B's body had been consumed by machines when she returned.

Chapter Text

“Where the hell is 2B?” 9S demanded.

“Scanning,” said Pod 153. “Black box signal located—”

“Put it on the map!” 9S yelled before it could finish speaking, leaping off the broken piece of rubble he'd found himself on.

“Alert,” Pod 153 continued as it helped 9S float down to the ground. “Large-scale ground tremors detected. Underground soil structure is no longer stable. Cause is likely a high-magnitude earthquake. Proposal: Evacuate immediately.”

“I'm not going anywhere!” 9S shouted at it, running toward the bridge as fast as he could, installing a couple of Movement Speed Up chips for good measure.

He suddenly stopped, staring at the bridge in front of him, not really able to make out what lay beyond.

Exactly what would happen if he rejoined her?

The Commander had told them that they were the last of YoRHa. That meant that they would have to keep fighting the machines on their own.

...But they wouldn't exactly have to, would they? Especially after 9S told 2B the truth about humanity. He'd heard one last garbled message from the Council of Humanity and looked forward to that being the last they'd ever heard of those lies. Frankly, all of 2B's records of audio recordings and emails of the Council would be the hardest to disprove once he explained everything to her, but he was positive that with time, she would come to realize the truth.

He suddenly realized that had no idea what her reaction would be to this news. Would it break her heart, to know that she had been fighting for nothing this entire time? Would she share in 9S's hatred for machines and continue to want to kill them anyway? Would she just abandon her mission entirely, killing only in self defense but otherwise choosing to take it easy for the rest of their lives? No one would be there to give them orders, anymore, after all.

No one would ever tell them what to do ever again.

9S felt a slight moment of pain when he recalled that losing the Bunker meant losing 21O and all their other colleagues — and of course 2B would be sad about 6O and possibly the Commander herself — but at the same time, he felt like a massive weight had been lifted from his shoulders.

They could do whatever they wanted and no one would stop them.

Emotions weren't prohibited anymore.

9S could say whatever he wanted, however he wanted.

And so could 2B. If she so desired.

Maybe the two of them could...if she wanted...

He'd always...

You're thinking about how much you want to **** 2B, aren't you?

9S violently shook his head. He refused to let any of that poison hold any sway over anything he did.

And besides, 2B had never really seemed all that impressed with him to begin with. Sure, there were moments of real kindness and concern, but those had merely been glimpses. While there was a chance that she would open up over time, now that they had all the time in the world, it was also possible that she would cling to her emotionlessness as a final way of holding on to YoRHa itself.

No, 9S really should put those...ideas out of his mind. Taking a deep breath, he instead forced himself to focus on, frankly, far more believable scenarios. The most important thing he had to consider was how 2B might act once he'd told her the truth, and how he would respond to that action.

Obviously, working for Anemone would still be an option if 2B still wanted someone to take orders from, even if the cause was pointless. As much strain as he knew the war had on her, 2B always did seem to enjoy combat. Maybe she wouldn't mind fighting for a god that didn't exist...

...Or maybe the knowledge would destroy her.

What if she just...completely shut herself down?

What if she went into battle but didn't bother fighting back?

What if she sank into something that he couldn't pull her out of?

He wouldn't be able to bear watching the woman he loved succumb to that.

Of course, there was also a chance that she would be completely fine once he'd told her, but the possibility that she wouldn't be was too great a risk for 9S to take. Hell, maybe she'd just kill him for even suggesting that their lives were meaningless. No matter how he looked at it, he couldn't tell her the truth.

...But he also couldn't not tell her.

The only reason he hadn't blurted something out yet was because there was always a more immediate emergency going on, and no matter how much the truth about humanity was tearing 9S up inside, he still wanted to live, damn it.

If he continued to stay with 2B...he'd blab eventually. Even if it was just some offhand comment.

He couldn't take that chance.

Slowly, carefully, he turned around, facing the city ruins once again. He took one step forward, and then another. With each step, he forced himself to forget about 2B. Every moment they had spent together...every fish they had caught together...every time they had paused to admire the view...every silly conversation about T-shirts and what else they would do after the war was over...

...the war that would never end because he wouldn't let it...

...all the machines had to be destroyed...

...that was his only mission in life right now...the life that he would choose for himself...

...but there were no machines in the area...why weren't there any machines...

...he had to find some machines to kill...it was the only way...it was all he could do...

He went from walking to running, rearranging his chips so that he could run faster. He would switch to a more combat heavy style when the time came.

And it would come soon.

“Proposal,” said Pod 153. “Proceed to rendezvous point with 2B. This objective has been assigned top priority.”

9S ignored it. He continued to run. He had to run.

He would never stop running. He would never stop fighting.

Not ever.

9S suddenly lost interest in 2B. No one knows why — he just didn't care anymore.

Chapter Text

A2 had been on her own for years. She'd grown used to the solitude, even if she did feel lonely at times. If there would ever be a time when it became too much for her, she knew exactly where the Resistance Camp was. Just knowing Anemone was there, that she was still alive, was more than enough for A2 to continue on her own. She'd even started to appreciate the silence of the world around her, the scant interactions with other YoRHa units she'd occasionally run into and try to warn. Honestly, their consistent refusal to listen to her only made her appreciate her lone wolf routine even more.

So when her new pod kept speaking up every thirty seconds as she navigated her way through the city ruins, she had to suppress a twitch of annoyance. Hey, that was a good name for it. While she had to admit that The Annoyance's long distance attacks were useful, she'd trade it back in a heartbeat for some peace and quiet once more.

“Thirty seconds have passed,” said The Annoyance, and A2 bit back a groan. “Proposal: Unit A2 should state her intentions.”

“Damn it, stop!” she shouted at it. “My intention is to beat the hell out of every god damn machine I can find. Is that enough for you!?”

“Affirmative,” it said, and she hoped that it would shut up after that but her hopes were in vain. “Scanning and marking of nearby machine lifeforms complete. Goliath class enemies detected in the desert area. Proposal: Goliath-class enemies should be destroyed.”

“Don't tell me what to do,” she ground out through gritted teeth.

“Pods are not authorized to issue commands,” The Annoyance continued to drone on. “Proposals are merely recommendations based on data provided by unit A2. Proposal: Unit A2 should state updated intentions in order to secure more usable data.”

“Shut. The hell. Up,” she spat at it, tempted to cut it in two and only stopping because it was in fact a former possession of 2B's.

“Negative,” it replied, and she almost screamed in frustration. “This Pod is engaging in activity based on the final orders of unit 2B. YoRHa unit A2 lacks the authority to issue commands.”

“Look, just stay out of my way,” said A2 tiredly. She was so sick of this shit already...

“Affirmative,” said The Annoyance, and A2 dearly hoped that would be that, at least for a while.

She ran around the outskirts of the city ruins, testing some of the weapons 2B had left in her possession out on some of the more pathetic machine lifeforms she ran into along the way and having something resembling fun as she tested out several different combinations of weapons. 2B had gathered so many of these that A2 almost felt spoiled for choice, and all for either helping out random androids in the Bunker/Resistance Camp or by just finding them around the area. She'd been in the Forest Kingdom for forever and she'd never come across the Cypress Stick or the Virtuous Grief bracers; hell, she doubted she ever would have. The effort it must have taken to gather all of these together...it made her respect 2B even more. Both of them clearly had a love for butchering the enemy, and if there was one thing A2 could get behind, it was that.

In fact, it wouldn't be the worst idea to upgrade some of these weapons if she could. 2B had already made quite a bit of progress, and A2 had a feeling she could possibly do more, now that she actually knew what she was doing. Considering 9S was nowhere to be seen and probably wouldn't want to talk to her right now if he were, A2 rationalized that she could at least continue to fight in 2B's memory if nothing else. She decided to work on this latest task before heading to the desert; it would be better if she were more adequately prepared before facing off against a fucking Goliath-class enemy, after all. She only hoped The Annoyance wouldn't complain about this new change in direction.

She headed toward the entrance to the amusement park, grateful that 2B's memory of the area came readily available to her mind so she wouldn't get lost. Occasionally, odd flashes of other memories she didn't recognize as hers played across her mind. She had a feeling they all belonged to 2B. Most of them revolved around 9S and the Bunker (boy had that changed since A2 had been there), but some of them were a little more abstract. Something about having to do a very elaborate type of jump to get to a chest containing a meteorite behind some stairs...a machine with a pink ribbon that 2B had felt oddly warm towards...a strange contraption on wheels with a circular head crammed into it that inexplicably sold weapons and chips, accompanied by oddly cheerful music...

...music that seemed to be coming from her left...

She saw the thing coming up from her left out of the corner of her eye.

“Huh? What's that?” she said before she could stop herself. Even with 2B's foggy memory, she wasn't sure exactly what that thing was.

“Proposal,” said The Annoyance that was still following her around. “Use Pod fire to force him to stop.”

Tch. Like this thing was a him...

Whatever it was, she couldn't seem to lock onto it for some reason, making her wonder once more what The Annoyance was even good for. She ended up following it all along the crater in the middle of the abandoned city (how long had that been there), though she was distracted by several machine lifeforms that she simply had to dispose of before she could move on. She finally managed to land a hit just under a giant dead Goliath by the crater in the middle of the city ruins that also hadn't been there the last time she'd been in the area. Engels, 2E's memory whispered in her mind, though it was strangely silent when A2 looked back at the strange creature she had stopped.

This creature...its face matched those on the massive circular structures deep in the desert that she'd seen so long ago. A2 wondered what this thing's deal was. 2B's memories were unresponsive where that was concerned, so A2 decided to go up and talk to it herself.

“Urgh...Ow ow ow,” it muttered; A2 was surprised it could even feel pain. “You could've just asked me to stop, you know?”

A2 doubted that; she vividly remembered running circles around it trying to get its attention, and it never so much as looked her way until she'd used 2B's pod to fire at it. Before she could say so, the thing spoke again.

“Hey...You're A2, aren't you? It must be fate that we ran into each other...And since you're here, you might as well buy something!”

Wait, how did this thing know her name? But before A2 could ask it anything, it showed her everything it had to sell.

A2 stared at the wealth of inventory that it had provided. She knew from 2B's memories that there was a benign machine lifeform called Masamune somewhere around where she had first met that version of her in the Forest Zone, and it required some very rare materials indeed.

And this round thing was just selling almost everything she needed.

Pristine Cables, Memory Alloys, Sturdy Sockets, Large Gears...It was all exactly what 2B and presumably 9S had been so desperately farming for. She needed her weapons to be the strongest they could possibly be so that she could more effectively destroy every last machine lifeform she came across. And since she didn't exactly know how much she needed, she bought thirty-five of everything just to be safe. She had to sell some of her chips in order to be able to afford it all, but if she never had to search for a Pristine Screw or a New Bolt again then it was more than worth it.

When she handed over nearly every last G she had (how generous of 2B to hand over all her money, something actually useful as opposed to that stupid fucking pod), the round thing seemed to be staring at her.

“I think you're...A2, right?” it repeated, almost as if confirming something to itself.

“How do you know that?” A2 asked before it could cut her off again.

“Oh, I just remembered something 2B said,” the thing replied. “Do you know 2B?”

“She...” How was A2 going to explain this...

“She's beautiful!” the creature continued. “And kind! And unusually calm, all things considered.”

He was so innocent...A2 couldn't fathom telling him what really happened. Nor could she fathom killing him.; it was clear that he wasn't a machine.

“What's wrong?” asked the round creature after A2 stood there in silence for some time.

“Nothing,” A2 replied automatically. After a beat, she added, “I'm sure she's doing well...wherever she is.”

“I think so too,” he replied. “I hope you'll visit me again, A2!”

He didn't zoom off or anything, rather just stayed where he was. A2 sort of hoped he'd stay in this position indefinitely so she wouldn't have to track him down again if she needed more items, but she sort of doubted it. She began to jog away, heading once again for the Forest Kingdom of which she was so intimately familiar, and yet she'd never found that one blacksmith machine. Once again, she was forced to feel appreciation for 2B's memory for discovering that. Finally, a machine that was actually fucking useful. Maybe she'd kill that one last, after she was finally done with it...

Just to be sure she was all set to go, A2 checked her stock and was dismayed to discover that she spent so much money on upgrade materials that she only just barely had enough to upgrade a single weapon. And she still had so many to max out...

Once again, 2B's memories came to the rescue. Fishing, while a tedious task in and of itself, meant that she could sell everything she ever caught for a metric fuckton of Gs. And while there was a small stream of water relatively close by right in front of the Resistance Camp, rarer and more valuable fish could be found elsewhere. She headed to the nearest access point that wasn't in the Resistance Camp and quickly transported to the Flooded City, grateful for the convenience of this new technology even as she vaguely wondered how it still worked with the Bunker out of commission.

She didn't know how long she spent sending out The Annoyance into the water over and over again, once she had destroyed every machine in the area, of course. Almost every kind of fish she could have ever imagined was pulled out of the ocean. Starfish, horseshoe crabs, mackerels, breams, water fleas, and way too many tires to count...Some of them even had machine counterparts! She didn't get a chance to kill them, though, as they were already dead when The Annoyance pulled them out of the water, which suited A2 just fine.

When she suddenly managed to pull out a fucking basking shark, A2 decided that she'd fished enough for the day. Checking her inventory, she figured that this had to be enough to pay for all the weapon upgrades she'd been planning on, assuming she didn't need any other materials the round thing didn't sell for whatever reason. As she glanced over all of the fish, machines, and garbage she caught, she found herself lingering on the eight mackerels in her items. 2B's blurry memories weren't exactly helping her here; all she could make out was that some jackass had told her to do something with it.

No matter how A2 tried, she could not figure out what 2B had originally been told to do with it. She decided to try eating one for the fuck of it; she'd always idly wondered what human food tasted like anyway, so why not start here?

Having consumed the mackerel, it didn't take long for the android's body fluids to congeal. Muscle rigidity and paralysis soon followed.

It was good, though, the android thought as consciousness faded. Exquisite even. No wonder humans used to eat them...

Chapter Text

Why the fuck didn't she use the access point in the middle of the desert to just teleport to the Resistance Camp!?

A2 knew perfectly well why, of course. She knew that Anemone was still alive, but seeing her again would just bring back too many painful memories. She had kept her distance, letting Anemone believe she was dead. Maybe she'd made things easier for Anemone by letting her believe that she was the only survivor; maybe she'd just kept it to herself out of pure selfishness. Regardless, she'd promised herself that she would never go anywhere near the Resistance Camp unless she needed to.

And right now, she definitely needed to.

A2 couldn't explain it; everything was functioning basically normally, but something just felt...off. She knew that the dumb pod was right, that she needed a new fuel filter. And so she would soon be faced with her old comrade for the first time in centuries.

As she wasn't quite looking forward to getting punched in the face for keeping the fact that she was still alive secret for so long, she was taking her sweet-ass time getting there. Which turned out to be a bad move, as she was feeling more and more broken down by the second. This was definitely a mistake, especially since there were so many machines in the way...

A mechanical scream was suddenly unleashed right at the entrance of the Resistance Camp, where a group of five machines had gathered together.

“Help!” cried the tall one. “Help me!”

“Are those machines fighting each other?” A2 wondered aloud. While it would be easier to just wait until they all took each other out, destroying them right now would be faster, and she was in a hurry...

A2 quickly destroyed the four smaller machines and was about to finish off the tall one when it spoke to her.

“Thank you so much for saving me,” it said.

...Saving it!? Is that seriously what it thought she was doing!?

“You're a machine too...” she said coldly.

“Wait, please!” it cried with its hands over its head. “I have no intention of harming you! My name is Pascal. And while it's true that I am a machine lifeform, I also detest fighting of any kind.”

“Uh huh. And?” A2's patience was wearing thin. Why didn't she just kill this thing already? Why was she letting it talk? “Machines don't have souls. They're just murder bots with a fancy name. They killed so many of us...and I swore to make them pay.”

“Ah...I see.” A2 didn't know that a machine could look resigned. “If that will save your soul, then so be it.”

Of course she was going to kill him.

She had killed a machine that had looked like an infant.

She had killed a machine that had been crying out for its mama.

She had killed every machine that had ever made the mistake of getting in her way.

Why should she stop now, just because there were fond memories of this particular model stored within her? Memories that weren't even hers?

Without hesitation, A2 destroyed Pascal.

Pascal's death led to the collapse of his village and its residents going out of control, resulting in the elimination of all androids on Earth.

Chapter Text

Why...?

Why did she spare that machine...?

She'd had no problem killing a machine shaped like a baby, or one that kept calling out for its mama.

So why the fuck had she spared this one?

A2 rubbed her face as she slowly walked into the Resistance Camp. This wasn't making her mood any better. She knew that she had to talk to Anemone about a fuel filter, or she would die.

And who was going to avenge their old teams if she was dead?

Glancing around at the Resistance members surrounding her, A2 considered putting off talking to Anemone just a little while longer, but she figured that she might as well get things over with, so she took a deep breath and walked up to Anemone, standing in the same spot she always was according to 2B's memories.

Anemone broke out into a huge, almost relieved smile as she saw her approach.

“Number Two!” she cried. “You're still alive.”

“Sorry I haven't been in touch, Anemone,” said A2, only slightly untruthfully.

“You survived,” Anemone replied. “That's all that matters.” Her face fell. “Though I fear that all of your fighting companions are long gone. I had to kill Number 21 with my own hands.”

So the virus must have returned. A2 figured that had been the case.

“I'm sorry,” she said at length.

“No, it's...Oh, that's right! Did you know there was a YoRHa member here named 2B that looked just like you? She's—”

“She's dead.” And she looked like me because she was obviously created to be my replacement, come ON Anemone...

“What?” Anemone gasped out in shock.

“2B is dead,” A2 repeated. “I killed her. She was infected with a logic virus.”

She knew Anemone would understand that.

Indeed, a look of realization crossed over Anemone's face.

“Oh...” she said softly, before pulling herself together and looking up. “Well, please make yourself at home in our camp. I'll have someone show you aro—”

“Not necessary,” A2 cut her off, holding up the Virtuous Contract. “Her memories are contained in this sword.”

“I see,” said Anemone. “You can go ahead and use her old room, then. I'm in charge of the camp here. I'll make sure to tell everyone about you.”

A2 nodded at her and made to turn around and check out the room, but turned back to her old friend instead. She didn't know whether or not she wanted to keep talking to Anemone, or if she wanted to not get nagged at by her new pod again. Either excuse worked, really.

“Hey, Anemone,” she said. “Got a question for you. Any chance you could spare a fuel filter?”

“A fuel filter?” Anemone repeated, thinking. “I'm afraid our supply recently ran out. Pascal makes them for us, so you could pick up one directly if you'd like.”

...What.

“Pascal!?” A2 burst out.

“You know him?” asked Anemone with a grin on her face. A2 did not consider this an appropriate reaction.

“You TRADE with the enemy!?” she spat out. Now it needed to die.

“His village is different,” Anemone insisted, holding up her arms placatingly. “They've never caused us any harm.”

“No way,” said A2 fiercely, shaking her head. “Forget it.”

“This may be hard to understand,” said Anemone slowly, “but we forged an alliance and trade materials when the need arises. We can't be picky about how we reach our goals around here. And besides, we aren't so far gone that we kill machine lifeforms after they surrender.”

Why the hell not, A2 thought to herself.

She didn't feel like discussing the matter further with Anemone. There was clearly no convincing her, and if A2 did share what was on her mind, she had a strong feeling that Anemone might try to stop her.

That couldn't happen.

Taking her leave, she ran outside and headed toward the commercial facility. 2B's memories indicated that there was a shortcut through the village near there. As she ran, she cut down every machine that dared cross her, plus a few moose for good measure. Once she reached the blockade of junk that walled off the city ruins from the way into the forest, she double checked her inventory. Thankfully, she still had plenty of healing items. They would come in handy should her latest targets try to fight back.

The beginnings of the village came into view, and she leapt up onto the makeshift ramp and took in the sight of the twisted bridges and houses before her. There was a tall machine waiting on the bridge leading into the village proper, and A2 immediately cut it down without thinking. As she neared the village itself, she saw that all of the bridges that made up the village were practically coated in those monstrosities.

“There's machines everywhere...” she muttered in disgust.

“Analysis,” the pod began to say, but thankfully shut the fuck up for once the instant A2 slashed through another machine lifeform.

“We have done nothing bad!” it screamed as it died.

Lies, she thought viciously as she hacked the next one apart. All lies. I don't believe anything you say.

“We have done nothing bad!”

Bullshit.

You are the reason that everyone I loved is dead.

You and Command.

“Don't kill! Don't kill!”

“Stop! Do not kill!”

Man these things were annoying. She vaguely recalled not wanting to kill a bunch of sad sacks like these, but now she knew that they had to be destroyed, for Anemone's sake if nothing else. She should've done this sooner, before they'd got their hooks in her...Ah, well, she'd explain later.

The one that called itself Pascal mercifully didn't say anything as A2 killed it. It just fell over and exploded like all the rest, without one note of complaint. A2 appreciated that, having begun to get sick of all the endless chatter. She wondered why she didn't just destroy it in the first place when she'd had the chance.

She had a feeling that 2B's memories had stopped her at the time, but she had finally managed to smother them for now.

Besides, 2B had been right.

No one would help her.

She could only cry and scream.

So what was the point in sparing any of them?

“No fighting! No fighting!”

“Stop! Do not kill!”

“Stop! Do not kill!”

Some of them thought they had hidden themselves well enough. How cute. 2B's memories really did come in handy sometimes.

“I'm sorry! I'm sorry!”

“Don't kill! Don't kill!”

“We have done nothing bad!”

“I'm sorry! I'm sorry!”

“We have done nothing bad!”

“No fighting! No fighting!”

No matter how they pleaded, A2 refused to listen. She had grown so powerful with her and 2B's strengths combined that even the goliath biped standing on the ground was no match for her. And while she still had 2B's memories within her, it wasn't like she had an emotional connection to the robots with ribbons attached to their heads. Or if she did, it had long since been overtaken by the hatred she felt by all machine lifeforms.

“I'm sorry! I'm sorry!”

Apologizing wouldn't bring her comrades back.

Neither would this, she knew, but it made her feel better.

Just for a moment, she felt some measure of relief.

She was doing what her comrades were no longer able to do.

She was doing it for them.

That was enough for her.

A village of peaceful machines was wiped out through the actions of one deranged android. Thus did the peaceful machines go extinct. Their village is now a haunted, forbidden place. Those who wander too close can hear the mad sounds of an android's laughter.

Chapter Text

A2 still couldn't find a way to put into words how happy she was to see Anemone alive and well. That happiness had been quickly dulled by the thought of how none of their other comrades had survived. What that must have meant for Number 21...she should have known that the help her old YoRHa partner had given Lilly would have taken a toll on her.

Anemone had known. So why hadn't Number Two?

A2 blinked. She hadn't called herself anything but A2 in some time. It had been the name YoRHa had designated her with once they had decided that she was too dangerous to be kept alive. Because she had figured out the truth. She didn't know why she had decided to refer to herself by the second name they had chosen for her, but she supposed it was just habit.

She was still doing what YoRHa wanted. No more. She would be Number Two once again.

If only Captain Rose had lived long enough to properly name her like she had promised...

Her squadron had all been named for flowers...and Number Two had always liked Lunar Tears...

...Maybe they could have worked something out?

Number Two blinked rapidly as she walked up to Anemone. There was really no pressing need for her to do so, but she felt like talking with her anyway, just for a change of pace. For nostalgia's sake.

“You've changed, Number Two,” said Anemone as Number Two approached. “The way you talk and act is completely different from how you were in the past.”

Number Two wondered if that was a compliment, but found that she didn't really care. It meant so much to her just to hear Anemone's voice again.

“And you've become a true leader,” she told her old comrade, allowing warmth to flow through her voice for the first time in what felt like forever, even if it had only been a few years.

“I'm nothing compared to Rose,” Anemone replied, at once modest and sad.

Number Two didn't have anything to say to that, so she just nodded.

“Actually, I...” Anemone looked over her shoulder at a set of terminals behind her. “Well, I have the records stored on that external drive. I thought I should preserve memories of the time we fought together. And I also think you have a right to see them.”

Number Two stared at the terminals, not saying anything.

“You and I must never forget,” Anemone choked out, barely above a whisper.

“...I know,” Number Two replied in a similar tone, unable to look away from the terminals. As Anemone watched, she walked slowly toward them, holding out her hand to activate the records.

She froze, millimeters away from pressing the button.

She couldn't do it.

She just couldn't do it.

She didn't want to live through that pointless mission again.

She already lived through it every day.

She didn't want to live through it any longer.

She just wanted it to stop.

More than anything, she wanted to see them again.

Seeing Anemone again, seeing how far she'd come...it just made A2 miss the others all the more.

Shion. Sonia. Margaret. Erica. Gerbera. Dahlia.

Number 16. Lilly. Number 21.

Captain Rose.

Number...

Number Four...

Number Two repressed a sob, clenching her fists.

All she wanted was to see them again. Was that so much to ask of this cruel, meaningless world?

Looking over at Anemone, drinking in the sight of her remaining friend one last time, Number Two put a hand to her chest. Anemone made no move to stop her, only nodding in understanding as Number Two ripped out her OS chip.

Caution: Handle with care! Removal of the OS chip will result in death.

Chapter Text

“Pascal wants books on philosophy?” Anemone repeated incredulously once A2 had finished filling her in on what the small flyer from the peaceful machine village had told her. “Well, as it happens, I just finished this one the other day. You're welcome to take it if you like.”

“Thanks,” said A2, grateful that she didn't have to go through the small flyer's plans of stealing one after all.

“Could you give him this gold ore as well?” Anemone went on. “He's been asking for this for a while, and I finally managed to get my hands on some.”

“All right,” said A2, accepting both the gold ore and the book entitled Pensées. While she had a few pieces of gold ore herself, she wanted to save them for honing her weapon arsenal, so she was further thankful that she wasn't being asked to give up any of her own crafting materials.

“It seems...odd that a machine lifeform would be into philosophy, don't you think?” Anemone said ponderously. “It makes me wonder how much we really know about our enemy...”

“I wonder,” A2 admitted. Spending time with several of the “children” in Pascal's village, in particular being asked to get the materials for a slide of all things, had really turned her mind around in a way she had never thought possible. She still didn't regret killing any of the other machines she had come across, but she did have to admit to having cultivated a soft spot for this particular group of machines.

“Right,” A2 muttered aloud, turning and heading out of the Resistance Camp and out into the city ruins. “Now I just have to bring this to Pascal...” She suddenly received a call, The Annoyance putting up a small dark brown screen.

“A2, can you hear me!?” cried Pascal's voice.

“Oh, perfect,” A2 greeted him. “I have the materials you asked me to—”

“Help, A2!” Pascal talked over her in a panic. “The village is in real trouble! The villagers are...Oh no...!”

“Pascal!” A2 yelled as the screen vanished. “Pascal, are you there!? What the hell is going on!?”

“Hypothesis,” interrupted The Annoyance. “The valuable source of information known as Pascal has encountered difficulty. Proposal: Unit A2 should investigate Pascal's village immediately.”

“I'm on my way!” she said, putting on an extra burst of speed so she could get to Pascal's village as fast as she could short of riding on one of the two choices of animal that were available to her. As she ran, however, a strange thought crossed her mind.

Did she really have to immediately head over to Pascal's village right then and there? While there was a sense of urgency, it didn't seem as if anything too bad would happen if she just took her time with things. Her greatest support for this theory was 2B's memory of the battle on the Pacific. YoRHa had prepared flight units for her and 9S, but they had immediately ran in the other direction so that 9S could attempt (and fail) to race against a small flyer that had named itself “Speed Star.” The battle hadn't even begun to pick up speed until 2B and 9S had arrived.

A2 was convinced that things were like that for her as well. She didn't know why she so strongly held this belief, but it just seemed to make sense. Plus, she still needed one more eagle egg to upgrade one of the modes of The Annoyance. Eagle eggs were located in the Forest Zone and around the Castle, right?

Satisfied with her decision, A2 jogged right on by the shortcut to Pascal's village and headed past the shopping mall instead.

“Proposal: Unit A2 should investigate the status of Pascal's village immediately,” The Annoyance repeated.

“I know,” muttered the former YoRHa unit, feeling a little guilty; however, it was vastly outweighed by irritation and impatience.

A2 suddenly felt like taking a little stroll. Though the walk gave her a sense of peace and fulfillment, Pascal's village had been reduced to rubble when she returned.

Chapter Text

A2 exited the access point at the entrance to the abandoned factory, grateful beyond belief that the access points still worked despite YoRHa no longer really being in the picture. She sprinted up the steps as fast as her current chip set up would allow her, marveling at her own concern for Pascal and the children of his village. In such a short amount of time, they had worked their way into her artificial heart. She had held onto her hatred of machines for so many years...How was it that just building a slide for her former enemies had managed to make her feel so oddly warm inside?

When she reached the landing overlooking the ocean, A2 noticed the corpse of a YoRHa unit with a Small Recovery lying next to it. A2 snapped it up without hesitation; it's not like that android needed it anymore so why the hell not, right? She then ran up the ramp toward the doors leading to the inside of the factory, hoping as she did so that Pascal hadn't taken the children too far inside. 2B's memories of the former inhabitants of this area had been...vivid.

Thankfully, all of the survivors appeared to have congregated within the first room.

“Pascal!” she yelled out, entering the building. “Are you okay?”

“Oh, A2...” said Pascal softly, looking up at her; even though he didn't have much of an expression, he still appeared to be confused and shocked by what he had just gone through.

“So what exactly happened?” she demanded, walking over to him.

“I don't know,” Pascal answered somberly. “Some of the villagers just started to...feed on each other. If you hadn't come along, I'm sure we would have met the same grim fate. Thank you.”

Assured that her friend was indeed okay, A2 took a second to take in her surroundings. While A2 had been taking her sweet time instantly teleporting to their location, it seemed as though Pascal and the children had managed to make a proper little hideout with what few supplies they'd managed to bring, using boxes and beams to help set up little tent canopies.

There seemed to be far more children than A2 remembered seeing in the village, though it wasn't as though she'd ever seen all of them together. Most of them were cowering in fear, and some of them looked, if A2 had to put an emotion or an expression to the blank faces, as if they didn't know what to do with themselves.

As if they didn't quite know what was happening.

“I wanna go home...” she heard one whimper.

“Where did everybody go?” asked another.

“It's all over...” one wailed.

“I can't see mommy anymore?” another one questioned pitifully.

Pitifully...

...She really did pity them...

“White flag...” muttered a flyer that was still desperately holding onto said flag. “No desire to fight...”

“Oooh, I'm scared...” said another child. If machines could cry...

“I'm so tired...”

“Where's my mommy?”

Most of the “adult” machines aside from Pascal were dead, A2 knew. Blinking back tears, she moved to a different part of the room. A couple of taller machines appeared to be trying to calm some of the children.

“It's all right now,” said a small biped.

“It's all right,” reiterated a medium biped. “You're safe with us.”

But it didn't seem to be doing much good.

“Their bodies won't get better?” asked one child, their head in their trembling hands.

“What does 'dying' mean?” another one asked, looking directly up at A2. A2 couldn't bring herself to respond.

“We didn't do anything bad...” cried the one next to them.

“Is everyone dead?” called out one hiding under a tent.

“Nngh...Mommy...” whimpered one behind some boxes.

There was one small machine amid a cluster of other children that looked up at A2 as she approached.

“Are you okay?” The small, simple, selfless question nearly made A2 break down sobbing.

“Why did this happen?” she heard another one say. “We were just living our lives...”

“Somebody help us...”

But no help was coming. No one besides A2 and Pascal even cared.

A2 stood among the crying children, tears slowly running down her own face. Why did she continue to open her heart to strangers? It only ever led to pain.

She and her squad had befriended those Resistance members, and both had been decimated but for her and Anemone.

She had tried and tried and so desperately tried to get at least one other YoRHa unit on her side, but never to any avail.

She had saved 2B only to be forced to kill her right after.

9S wanted nothing to do with her.

And the day...the minute...the second that she had attempted at long last to make peace with some of the machines...

...this happened.

Machines fighting other machines...eating each other...children forced to watch...forced to flee their homes...

...forced to know what it meant to live in fear...to face so much trauma at once...

...to have no idea whether or not they would succumb to this madness as well...

A2 had to do something. She had to save these children from whatever they would face next.

She had to save herself from facing any more despair.

2B's sword was suddenly in her hand. A2 raised it above the child that had showed more concern for a strange android, someone who should have been their enemy, than themself.

A2 had a “bright” idea that involved destroying every machine in sight. Pascal could only watch in astonishment.

Chapter Text

“Congratulations!” called out the female voice issuing from the Tower once 9S had finished hacking all three of the smaller towers at its base. “You've unlocked ALL of the sub-units! That means a special prize is waiting for you inside the Tower! We look forward to serving you!”

9S ignored the voice and immediately ran up to the door of the Tower, beginning the process of hacking in. Unsurprisingly, it was taking much longer than usual. He grit his teeth and concentrated harder.

“Alert,” Pod 153 suddenly interrupted. “Enemy caution level rising. Cause is most likely concern over unit 9S gaining access to Tower.”

9S grimaced. He could see the shadows of machine lifeforms descending around him.

“Outta my way!” he snarled at them, turning around and hacking them to pieces before attempting to hack his way into the Tower once more.

But there were more coming. And more. And more. And more.

“Damn it!” 9S cried out in despair as he killed and killed and killed. “They won't stop coming!”

“Alert,” 153 distracted him yet again. “Allied signals detected.”

“Allies?”

Could it be Pascal? But the last time 9S had seen him...

He turned back to the tower to see Devola and Popola standing before him, jagged swords by their sides.

“Wait, you?” he asked incredulously, watching as they drew their swords at the same time, raising them and pointing them directly at him.

“9S,” said Popola by way of greeting.

“We've been expecting you,” added Devola.

Suddenly, they both bent down with their swords behind them and charged. 9S flinched automatically, but they ran right past him, on either side, and began attacking the surrounding machines.

“The two of us will take things from here!” yelled Devola.

“You need to open the door to the Tower!” cried Popola.

“Devola? Popola?” said 9S in shock as he joined them in cutting up machine after machine. “What are you doing here!?”

“Remember your promise?” asked Devola.

“What are you talking about?” said 9S, genuinely confused as to which promise she was referring to.

“Come on, 9S!” Popola interrupted his thoughts before they could be completed. “Hack in while you can!”

“None of this makes any sense!” yelled 9S.

“We'll explain everything once we're inside!” yelled Devola dismissively.

9S grunted as he slew another machine. He looked back at the two sisters, watching them as they struggled against the machine lifeforms. They looked so beautiful as they fought.

Almost as beautiful as 2B...

2B...He had watched her die.

While he stood there. Unable to do anything.

Would he have to watch them die, too?

They would have died because of him. Because they would have been protecting him while he tried to hack the Tower.

That wasn't going to happen.

Maybe if he left the scene, they'd get the hint and leave themselves.

It was worth a shot.

9S turned and ran to the closest pathway he saw out of the crater. He didn't know if they noticed. Maybe he should've said something, but it was too late now.

Maybe it was best this way.

This way, he wouldn't have to watch them die.

While he stood there. Unable to do anything.

It was better this way.

“No...We can't just abandon them!” Those words came as he'd reached the edge of the crater and had started to sprint up the hill. “If we don't do something, they're gonna...”

That...He had just said that. That was his voice. Was he really so attached...?

The realization merely hardened his resolve. He refused to watch anyone else die.

Not again.

Never again.

“Where are you going, 9S?” cried Devola's voice, sounding as though she was right next to him. “We need you!”

“9S, come back!” shrieked Popola just as loudly. How did they manage to do that without calling him...? “We can't hold out by ourselves!”

9S blocked their voices out as best he could as he continued to scale the path to level ground.

“Alert,” said Pod 153. “Leaving the zone of combat would mean abandoning the androids Devola and Popola.”

Did it think he didn't know that? He knew perfectly well.

He just refused to care any longer.

He pulled himself out of the chasm, running as fast as he could. He had to get away before it was too late.

“Damn,” Devola's voice muttered. “Looks like this is it.”

“No...” Popola whimpered.

9S forced himself not to listen. He continued to run.

Of course, Devola and Popola died. Their lifeless bodies were found shortly thereafter, each clutched tightly in the other's arms.

Chapter Text

“Congratulations!” called out the female voice issuing from the Tower once 9S had finished hacking all three of the smaller towers at its base. “You've unlocked ALL of the sub-units! That means a special prize is waiting for you inside the Tower! We look forward to serving you!”

9S ignored the voice and immediately ran up to the door of the Tower, beginning the process of hacking in. Unsurprisingly, it was taking much longer than usual. He grit his teeth and concentrated harder.

“Alert,” Pod 153 suddenly interrupted. “Enemy caution level rising. Cause is most likely concern over unit 9S gaining access to Tower.”

9S grimaced. He could see the shadows of machine lifeforms descending around him.

“Outta my way!” he snarled at them, turning around and hacking them to pieces before attempting to hack his way into the Tower once more.

But there were more coming. And more. And more.

“Damn it!” 9S cried out in despair as he killed and killed and killed. “They won't stop coming!”

“Alert,” 153 distracted him yet again. “Allied signals detected.”

“Allies?”

Could it be Pascal? But the last time 9S had seen him...

He turned back to the tower to see Devola and Popola standing before him, jagged swords by their sides.

“Wait, you?” he asked incredulously, watching as they drew their swords at the same time, raising them and pointing them directly at him.

“9S,” said Popola by way of greeting.

“We've been expecting you,” added Devola.

Suddenly, they both bent down with their swords behind them and charged. 9S flinched, but they ran right past him, on either side, and began attacking the surrounding machines.

“The two of us will take things from here!” yelled Devola.

“You need to open the door to the Tower!” cried Popola.

“Devola? Popola?” said 9S in shock as he joined them in cutting up machine after machine. “What are you doing here!?”

“Remember your promise?” asked Devola.

“What are you talking about?” said 9S, genuinely confused as to which promise she was referring to.

“Come on, 9S!” Popola interrupted his thoughts before they could be completed. “Hack in while you can!”

“None of this makes any sense!” yelled 9S.

“We'll explain everything once we're inside!” yelled Devola dismissively.

9S grunted as he slew another machine, and then another, and then another, joining the two androids in their slaughter. The machines continued to come, wave after wave, and the three of them just kept fighting.

“We've got this, 9S!” cried Devola after a while. “You just focus on hacking!”

But 9S didn't hack the Tower. He was not about to leave their side.

He wasn't going to leave anyone else to die.

Not again.

Never again.

“You need to hack the Tower lock open!” Devola shouted in exasperation, but still 9S refused to listen to her.

There probably wasn't anything in that stupid Tower anyway.

What would be the point?

At least out here he could kill machines.

It was kind of fun, actually. The monotonous slaughter, the way they screamed in agony after he hacked them to death, the oil pooling at their feet...

2B would have loved this.

2B...

“9S!” Popola shrieked. “You must hack into the Tower! We...We can't hold out like this!”

Sure they could. It was easy. He barely even had to think anymore.

All he had to do was keep killing them.

Kill...

Kill...

Kill...

Kill...

Kill kill kill kill kill kill kill kill kill kill kill kill kill kill kill kill kill kill kill kill kill kill kill kill kill kill kill kill kill kill kill kill kill kill kill kill kill kill kill kill kill kill kill kill kill kill kill kill kill kill kill kill kill kill kill kill kill kill kill kill kill kill kill kill kill kill kill kill kill kill kill kill kill kill kill kill kill kill kill kill kill kill kill kill kill kill kill kill kill kill kill kill kill kill kill kill kill kill kill kill kill kill kill kill kill kill kill kill kill kill kill kill kill kill kILL KILL KILL KILL KILL KILL KILL KILL KILL KILL KILL KILL KILL KILL KILL KILL KILL KILL KILL KILL KILL KILL KILL KILL KILL KILL KILL KILL KILL KILL KILL KILL KILL KILL KILL KILL KILL KILL KILL KILL KILL KILL KILL KILL KILL KILL KILL KILL KILL KILL KILL KILL KILL—

“9S!” Popola screamed. “I CAN'T DO THIS ANYMORE! AAAAAAAUUGH!”

9S decided not to hack the Tower in order to help Devola and Popola. It was a nice thought, but they all ended up getting killed anyway.

Chapter Text

2B stretched her arms out, gazing around the Resistance Camp. She stretched a bit more, wondering how she and 9S got there. She took a closer look and noticed an area that she had barely been to before, in the corner to the left of Anemone. It was an area littered with benches in front of a few boxes and a large item nearly as big as 9S that 2B somehow knew was called a “jukebox.”

“Shall we rest a bit?” asked 9S from behind her, eyeing some of the benches.

“...All right,” 2B allowed, wondering again just why she was so tired. It felt like something big had just happened. She'd been struck by the thought that she could suddenly do whatever she wanted, whenever she wanted. At the same time, it felt weirdly like this would be the last time she could enjoy herself. This discrepancy was strange but 2B was a little too tired to question it right now. She decided to take advantage of this new sense of freedom and do as 9S had suggested.

“Are you here to listen to music?” a red-haired YoRHa soldier standing by the jukebox asked 2B and 9S as they approached. When neither answered, she continued unprompted: “Long ago, the humans used to gather in places where music played...Just like us.”

2B did admit that it sounded like a nice idea. 9S had bought some otherwise useless sound data from the supply trader, and it appeared as though it could be played in this jukebox. They only had three out of five so far, but maybe they'd get the last ones eventually. She took a closer look at the jukebox and noticed that there was a chip already inserted into it. Adding the three she was holding, it appeared that she actually only need one more after all. Wondering what was even on any of these, she started playing all of the tracks in order, skipping around to different versions to see which ones she liked. 9S and the red-haired YoRHa member seemed to be leaving the decision up to her, which suited her just fine.

There was a track that oddly reminded her of the calm and quiet of the bunker; a beautiful yet haunting song that put to mind a bright, intact city as opposed to the ruins; one that made her think of the color green for some reason; a strange sounding one that made her think of places that she would never see; several that put her in the mind of a heated battle where she was suddenly quite sad that she couldn't lug this jukebox around with her so she could fight to the music...The effect that music had on an android was astounding to her. She couldn't imagine how a human must feel...

Most of the versions with vocals were done in a language that she could not understand. The only one she could was a song about a girl having to fight against the entire world seemingly on her own while trying to maintain a semblance of hope, but that hit a little close to home for 2B's comfort. Though the fact that it seemed to be available in multiple languages was interesting; maybe it could be used as some sort of foundation for translating this garbled mass of syllables that were in almost every other track that had vocals available? She should ask 9S about that at some point; right now, they were trying to relax.

Some of the tracks, in addition to having a choice between having vocals and not having vocals, had a very strange, almost machine-like sound to them. They sounded interesting, but she didn't like listening to them for very long. Some made her feel the opposite of how she wanted to feel; she wanted to rest, not be filled with dread. They still sounded great, to be sure, but she definitely didn't want to be listening to anything like that right now.

Then she found a track called Vague Hope (Cold Rain). She couldn't remember the last time she'd felt the rain against her artificial skin...She started to play the song and immediately felt her eyes fill with tears. She found herself backing up into the bench behind her, sinking down onto it and staring at the jukebox in wonder.

How could one piece of music make one so peaceful and melancholic at the same time? She didn't even really care what the words were translating to anymore; she wanted nothing more in that moment than to take her Nines into her arms and sit there forever, listening to this song until both of them ran out of power.

But there was a YoRHa unit right there. She would report that sort of behavior to the Commander. 2B would be separated from 9S and a different type E model would take her place. She would be unable to keep her promise. No, she couldn't have that. Sniffing slightly, she attempted to distract herself by checking her inventory.

To her surprise, it was much fuller than she remembered. All of these materials...When had she found the time to get all of these? And hadn't she had a steady supply of machine cores before? She must have sold them. She didn't remember doing that, though...maybe there was something wrong with her circuitry. It was difficult to be worried about that right now, though, not with this music playing, anyway.

There were a few other items that she didn't remember placing in her inventory, like a long white wig that she had no interest in wearing. Long hair would only hamper her vision. The heavy YoRHa armor, on the other hand...She wasn't exactly sure why the armor had suddenly become available, as they were usually reserved for large-scale assaults, but she wasn't about to complain. The YoRHa member they'd been speaking to was still staring at the jukebox and she frankly didn't mind if 9S was watching, so she changed behind a stack of containers so at least the rest of the Resistance couldn't see. She didn't put the helmet on, though; she enjoyed breathing in Earth air as much as she could whenever she was down here. Now she understood why 6O was so desperate to visit one day.

There was also a pair of glasses that she didn't remember being there previously. She tried them on out of curiosity and instantly felt more intelligent for some reason. She liked the way they felt and 9S certainly seemed to like the way they looked so she decided to keep them on for a while.

She then checked out her weapon inventory. She'd found a total of thirty-nine weapons so far, and each one had been upgraded as far as Masamune would allow. Some of them had been in boxes only 9S could open. A few she'd found buried in the desert and hidden away in various locations, almost like they were waiting to be found. There were even some where she wasn't entirely sure how she'd gotten them, but she was happy to have them nonetheless.

She wondered if there were any more to be found. She wouldn't mind a nice round forty; she refused to count her bare fists as one. She'd grown very fond of the ones called Virtuous Dignity and Fang of the Twins in particular, but anything that would help in their endless war against the machine lifeforms would always be welcome, even if it was just to break up the monotony. Though considering she'd already searched every inch of the areas they'd frequented, she didn't really know where to start looking besides go foraging in the desert again or hope that she might find something other than a stupid pipe while fishing.

Standing up and stepping away from the jukebox and hearing the music unfortunately fade away the further she got, she first talked to the weapons trader right there in the camp, but he didn't have anything new to sell. Nor did the supply trader, and she didn't know where Devola and Popola were. She decided to head to the access point and visit every shop she knew of.

A few hours later and 2B's hands were still empty. No one had any new weapons, not even at the Bunker, and she didn't need any more materials (aside from Elaborate Gadgets for Pod C which no one was selling either). She'd even asked the Scientist Machine outside of Pascal's village, but they only ever sold space rocks and a weird alien mask thing that she still wasn't sure why 9S bought; what a wasteful purchase that had been, not that they were exactly hurting for Gs anymore. 2B was annoyed; would she really have to start searching in the dirt and sand again for anything new to fight with? Were there no other places to buy weapons from? She'd already gone to every other fixed location she knew of...

With a jolt, 2B finally remembered Emil's shop. His inventory always seemed to be changing from one visit to the next, almost as if it was dependent on where she was able to stop him. She wasn't sure how he did it but she was usually impressed by what she found. He'd sold a couple of weapons to her one of the first times she'd managed to slow him down; maybe he would have more to offer if she found him in the right place?

One quick lap around the city ruins later and 2B once again found herself running out of patience. Emil was nowhere to be seen. As a matter of fact, 2B couldn't remember the last time she'd seen Emil zipping around the city ruins. It couldn't have been because she and 9S had beaten him up that one time; after a brief period of moping, he'd managed to pull himself together and she and Nines had seen him rushing around the city as usual.

Or maybe he was in another slump. If she was honest with herself, 2B sort of felt sorry for the pain she'd caused him. Not that she would ever voice this. Emotions were prohibited, after all. But not even the open and compassionate 9S had apologized to Emil. It wasn't like he was a machine, and 9S had often felt sympathy for certain machines anyway, so 2B didn't really understand 9S's mindset there. Maybe it was because 9S felt like he had a right to dig into Emil's personal business.

As long as 9S didn't get too curious about any YoRHa business. She wasn't ready to have to carry out her real mission again just yet...

They finally found Emil in front of the abandoned commercial facility near where they'd first met him when he'd just been a head. He wasn't frantically moving around this time, instead sitting patiently, almost as if he'd been waiting for them.

“I can't believe the size of the commercial facility,” said 9S out of nowhere, almost as if he was refusing to acknowledge Emil's existence or something. Maybe he was just feeling guilty and wanted to avoid talking to Emil altogether. 2B would wait for him to finish, but then they were going to talk to Emil whether 9S wanted to or not. “The people of the old world must've led pretty good lives,” Nines went on. “I bet it was fun to shop back when you had so many choices.”

“We don't need such things,” 2B said shortly. Lack of choice was what had led them to seeking out Emil in the first place...

“Don't be so sure about that!” said Nines cheerfully. “Once we eradicate the machine lifeforms, us soldiers won't have anything left to do. We'll enter a new age of peace. And when that happens, we should go shopping together! I could buy you...I dunno. A T-shirt, maybe? Something that looks good on you.”

“A T-shirt?” said 2B wryly.

“What? Not interested?” asked 9S, and 2B couldn't tell if he was embarrassed or not.

“Hmm...” She decided to humor him. “When that day comes, I'm all for it.”

“That's a promise, right?”

“Yep.”

There was no delaying it any longer. 2B was going to talk to Emil whether 9S wanted her to or not. It wasn't like he had to apologize for the way they'd treated him earlier...

“Oh! Heya!” Emil greeted 2B and 9S as they approached. 2B nodded at him and checked over what he was selling that day. There weren't any weapons there...In fact, 2B was fairly sure that these were the more common materials found by defeating most machines, minus the Titanium Alloy, anyway. Or maybe that was just because she'd found so many of nearly everything by now. The least amount of items she had that Emil was selling were Dented Sockets, and she still had twelve of those. In any case, if there was anything 2B didn't need, it was literally all of this.

“Wow, you've sure gotten strong!” Emil commented as 2B stepped back. “I doubt you'll be needing my help anymore.”

“What do you mean?” asked 2B, confused; it wasn't like this was the first time she hadn't bought something from him when they'd met.

“Um, nothing,” said Emil, a little too quickly. “Don't worry about it. Take care, now!” He then quickly sped off in the direction of the city ruins once more, though for some reason 2B doubted he was going to continue his usual routes.

“Emil sure is acting odd,” she muttered to herself. “Pod—”

“Pursuit marker placed on map,” Pod 042 replied instantly. “Target is heading toward the desert.”

“Nice work,” said 2B, giving it a pat.

“Report: Pleasant,” it responded to her touch.

2B concealed a smile and turned back in the direction that Emil had gone. The desert, huh...Wait a minute...

2B remembered running in to a group of massive round things that, looking back, had greatly resembled Emil's head, only some of them had been dozens of times larger. It was while she was finding those relics of the past for that one android, back when 9S hadn't been with her. Which was an odd thing to think because of course 9S had always been with her...Her memory was definitely getting faulty. She would have to schedule a maintenance check at some point, perhaps after they'd helped with whatever was going on with Emil.

Speaking of Emil, she wondered if a smaller one's presence would somehow trigger the larger ones. Emil had mentioned that he had at one point been a weapon that had cloned himself repeatedly in order to fight against the aliens. Maybe he was going to activate those larger ones again to help fight what the aliens had left behind?

Regardless, she headed for the nearest access point and teleported to the one in the middle of the desert, backing up her data before heading off to the location 042 had pinpointed. She wasn't sure why she was suddenly so nervous, but better safe than sorry.

And exactly what was this one particular boar always doing in the desert, anyway? 2B was grateful for the lift nonetheless, but this behavior was particularly strange to her. Maybe she could ask 9S to dig into it the next time he got too curious about humanity; it would be a brief distraction, at least. Nevertheless, she was grateful for the ride, though she abandoned it when the first orb became visible above the dunes. She ran and slid awkwardly the rest of the way through the sand, taking another, closer look at the dozens of massive, round objects around her.

“Are these...Emil?” she whispered out loud. Obviously, she knew they were, but seeing these giant structures in comparison to the one she'd just spoken to was still extremely weird. It was like she had to put it into words for things to make sense to her. Some of the heads were as large as some of the buildings in the city ruins, while others were only about as large as the boar she'd just left behind. None of them were as tiny as...

...as the one she and 9S were familiar with...

...who was right over there...

Emil's three-wheeled contraption had been knocked on its side near one of the smaller of his clones, though compared to him it was still enormous.

“Emil!” she cried, rushing to his side, 9S beside her.

“Watch...out...” Emil managed to say in a weak voice. “They're still...alive...”

Before 2B could ask if she meant the ones he was leaning against, there was a sudden earthquake, and a sandstorm erupted around them.

“Wha...” 2B wasn't able to complete her thought. A giant creature had burst from under the sand; it took her a second to realize that the creature was made up of a bunch of connected Emil heads that appeared to have sprouted bug-like legs not unlike some machines that 2B had found data for in her records. Unfortunately, these Emils didn't appear to be as friendly as the one she knew, as they immediately began expelling much smaller Emil heads that quickly brought to mind the time they'd fought their Emil outside his home after 9S had become too curious for his own good.

“Dammit...” 2B muttered, preparing to dodge the oncoming swarm.

“Alert,” said Pod 042. “Magical weapons from the old world detected. Magical elements have a high probability of penetrating all defense systems. Proposal: Evade.”

“Sound advice, 2B said dryly, still sending out Pod B's laser as she ran around wildly in the sand, avoiding the Emils' attack.

“I...We're...”

The Emils all spoke as one as they separated and fell to the ground, their bug-like legs retracting as they rolled around in the sand, seemingly aiming for 2B and 9S. While it was easier for them to attack the heads this way, the heads didn't make evading any easier as in addition to launching out more swarms of mini-heads, they also shot giant red lasers out of their eyes.

“Eternity...It hurts...It really hurts...”

2B wasted no time in slashing each and every Emil she came across, trying to take them out as quickly as she could. She would have to apologize to the one they knew later; it was self-defense at this point, and he had tried to warn them, after all...

“Why just us...Why do we have to...”

2B tried to focus on one at a time but each head kept rolling out of her reach. She ended up aiming and slashing at several Emils at once. This was not an efficient way to battle...

“We...” said the Emils in unison. “We must...kill them all!”

Were they talking about the machines? If that was the case, maybe 9S could reason with them, talk them into joining with the androids—

“We don't need it!” shrieked the Emils. “WE DON'T NEED THIS WORLD!”

...Or...

“Alert,” said 042. “Elemental output of magical weapons has increased.”

“No...” said 2B in frustration; this was already difficult to deal with. She'd just depleted the health of one single head but had to manually stop locking onto it and lock onto a different head instead, or else she would've ended up continuing to hack at the same one she'd just defeated, which seemed counterproductive. She looked around wildly while continuing to dodge at full speed; only these new Emil heads that had erupted from the ground looked to still be alive. The giant ones that Emil was still lying next to were still stuck in the sand, which was probably a good thing. 2B didn't really want to think about how powerful those would be. The clones seemed to be more powerful the larger they were; while Emil had put up a hell of a fight down in his cave, there had only been one of him in an enclosed space.

This...this was something else entirely.

She suddenly got a call through her Pod. Emil's familiar voice came through; it was the shop one, thank god...

“Those are...what happened to my clones...” Emil explained brokenly. “Years of multiplying...Years of fighting in wars...Their sense of self just...deteriorated.

“I need to settle things with them,” he went on, sounding suddenly determined. “On my own.”

“Enough!” 2B cut him off. She wasn't going to put up with that. She, and 9S, she knew, had no problem fighting Emil's battles for him. After everything he'd done for them...After everything they'd done to him...damn 9S and his endless curiosity...He'd just had to steal a mask and open a box...

She depleted the health of another head, and another, and another, slowly but surely defeating them all, even as they continued to move somehow. All of the Emils they were fighting started singing together, sort of. She couldn't precisely tell what they were meant to be singing, as it seemed to be the same note over and over again, but they wouldn't stop chanting “la” over and over again.

All of the ones whose health she'd depleted suddenly formed protective shields around themselves; she wasn't able to cut through them anymore to try and make sure they were dead. All she could do was focus on the ones that did still have health.

“I...” Well at least they'd finally stopped singing... “We tried our best! In the rain, in the wind, in the storm. Even when our companions died, we kept fighting.”

Okay what the flying fuck were Small Exploders doing here, this wasn't fucking fair...

“But the eternal war...Our eternal pain...” They all laughed brokenly. “The eternal pain! It screamed at us! It told us there was nothing of value to protect in this world...The world had no meaning!” They all laughed again. “It SCREAMED at us!”

Their laughter audibly turned to great, heaving sobs.

“Aaaah!” yelled, 2B, finally getting the last one through her own tears. There was nothing to do now but watch them all roll around, sort of harmlessly, unable to cut them up anymore due to the barriers around them.

“You...All of you...This pain! This sadness! THIS DESPERATION! YOU KNOW NOTHING ABOUT IT!”

But 2B did know about it. The endless fighting with no end in sight...Knowing what she knew about how pointless it all was...Feeling all alone in this world...

The only difference between her and all of them was that she did have something she wanted to protect, at least while she was still allowed. She looked over at her Nines as Emil called her again.

“But even so!” he yelled through her Pod. “All of this is wrong! No matter how hard or how painful...They never gave up. They kept fighting, because they believed they could overcome someday! Isn't that right, Kainé!?”

2B didn't know why, but she let out a sob of her own, her tear-stained face sticky with sand.

“Even if it's pointless, you still have to do it!” Emil shouted. “Because this is the world my friend tried to save!”

All of the heads gasped, and suddenly all but one of them exploded, the last one starting to spin rapidly. A timer suddenly showed up on 2B's HUD, counting down from ten. 2B didn't know what would happen at the end of that countdown, but she knew that she had to stop it.

But it was too far away — in her haste, 2B had equipped the wrong Pod — Pod C wasn't nearly as strong as Pod B, she never could find enough Elaborate Gadgets — she tried powering up the stronger laser — there were only a few seconds left — she had to make it in time—

The Emils caused their fusion reactors to go out of control, turning the planet into a dead chunk of rock, tumbling through the vast vacuum of an uncaring universe.