Subaru’s body was frozen stiff. His fingers fumbled for his dagger-
Emilia was slack-jawed, her skin paler than usual.
The top of Rem’s head was sliced open, and… hollow. Her brain was absent. Somebody… some sick bastard…
Subaru’s head jerked up as he heard clanking-
Rambot stared at the highly distressed people. This was not its forte. Fortunately, ALPHA was decent at things like this.
“This is Rem’s new body. It is painted blue and has ‘REM’ written on it for easy disambiguation. Thank you.”
Rambot walked off, leaving Subaru and Emilia with the blue Rembot. It felt a little awkward. Setting up the neural connections had been difficult- a lot of things hadn’t matched up, but apparently BETA had majored in biology at some point and knew about these things. She had popped in between language lessons to get all the new Rambots- no. Rambot couldn’t call them Rambots. That would be- really confusing. Scuttlebots? They didn’t look like the experimental body Rambot had fiddled with early on. They looked exactly like Rambot, but with paint on them. But then again, nobody other than it had actually seen the Scuttlebot prototypes, so-
They were Scuttlebots. Yes.
Of course, there were problems, as was usual when New Science met Old Science. Firstly, the vast majority of those who had died had suffered brain death by the time the Medical Barges had arrived.
-And that was where the problems that made sense ended.
A decent number of the Scuttlebots had amnesia. This would have made sense if the brains had been damaged before being transferred- but many of those who lacked memories had died of blood loss, or had passed away waiting for care, their brains intact.
They had been welcomed back by Crusch, who vowed to take care of them, naturally. A point in her favour. More problematic were the comatose ones. When Rambot checked, there were no signs of them having fought- their corpses or injured bodies had just- been there. On the battlefield.
Apparently, these people had simply been- erased from reality. They had, apparently, once been employees of Crusch- yet now, nobody remembered them. This- insane application of New Magic had effected everything. Video footage, memories- time itself had been rewritten. They were alive, in the strictest sense- their hearts beat, they took breaths, yet they were forgotten, and did not move.
For now, they were just kept there, under a minimal guard, kept ‘alive’ by IVs. And Rambot- Rambot didn’t know what to do with them. The Healers said nothing could be done- they were as good as dead.
And then- there was the last group. Those who had ‘just’ been forgotten.
They had lived, yes, but there was no footage of them engaging in battle or being defeated. Nobody in Crusch’s camp recognised them- though she had welcomed those who chose to return back regardless. They had been wiped from the world’s history.
But they remembered. They remembered a world in which they had existed.
One had self-terminated- and Rambot had simply kept her consciousness suspended within her Heartstone. Rambot didn’t have access to a therapist, at present- she would have to wait for later. One other had asked to join Rambot’s service.
Rambot had to get back to them on that.
This entire incident had A. Brought Rambot’s opinion of Crusch up by a few points, and B. Reaffirmed just how completely and utterly bullshit New Magic was. Could it have erased Rambot? All the victims had been attacked by the odd child the Gratuitous’ laser had killed. If Rambot had been attacked, would ALPHA and BETA cease to exist? Would its empire cease to exist?
The sheer amount of power it had to take to alter time like that was- Processor boiling.
Which meant that Rambot really had to figure out how to get that stuff into its designs.
Rambot looked up from Harry Dresden’s Thesis on the Utilisation of Magical Stones. Beatrice had been willing to allow it access to the library with surprisingly little resistance, though Rambot had provided its treatise on three-dimensional CRAM Tetris regardless.
Subaru looked down at it, a mixed expression on his face.
“You saved Rem. Thank you.”
Rambot shrugged, and ALPHA hovered over from the History book he was reading to speak on its behalf. “I provided her with a new body. It was no great feat. Scuttlebot bodies are cheap.”
“She says that if it dies, you’ll provide her with a new one?”
Rambot nodded. It had specifically told the Scuttlebots these things so it would not be pestered-
“Why?” Subaru asked, an odd emotion in his voice. “Why do these things? Why help us like this? You aren’t even from this planet-!”
Rambot blinked. It didn’t recall telling Subaru that.
Subaru fell silent, waiting for an answer.
“You are not criminals. You are not our enemy.” ALPHA’s drone body bobbed in place. “Why would we not provide basic assistance?”
Subaru blinked. “What-?” Rambot returned its attention to the Treatise. ALPHA could handle this conversation.
“The Right to Life is enshrined in the New Constitution of Neter. Preserving life where possible is the role of the state, and Rambot is the Ruler of the state.”
This clearly wasn’t what Subaru had expected. His expression rapidly shifted, before settling on- confusion. “That’s it?”
ALPHA bobbed up, then down. “Yes. Life is to be preserved where possible.”
“I. See.” Subaru bowed his head. “Thank you.” There was a momentary pause. “We’ll be leaving soon. We need to get the rest of the people we evacuated from the village- Roswaal went with them.”
“Understood. We will monitor your location via Spysat, and meet you there. We cannot supply you with more Goliaths, unfortunately, but the Moths shall continue their escort.”
“Ah- those planes? Right. Goodbye, then.”
Rambot turned the page- and looked up. ALPHA was still floating in front of it. It tilted its head.
“Neter law was not followed with regard to the Witch Cultists.”
Rambot froze, rapidly looking over its memory and combat footage- huh. ALPHA- wasn’t wrong. Actual- people, who could die. They went into battle as a matter of course here.
It was such an alien concept, Rambot hadn’t even realised the implications. All real combat on Neter took place via AI commanded ships. Law enforcement was- well. People, equipped with non-lethal weapons, but Rambot didn’t have access to people.
It let out an embarrassed tone.
So- a secondary weapon, to incapacitate opponents where possible, to be mounted on tanks. Aircraft wouldn’t be able to reliably accomplish such actions. Realistically, such a weapon would only be used against targets that couldn’t breach several meters of armor, and whatever projectile it fired would need to be small and slow enough to usually break bones instead of completely obliterate bodies. Hm. Perhaps a coaxial railgun, loaded with solid rounds, since those wouldn’t detonate if the gun was hit…
It briefly looked up from its studies when Subaru was hurled out of the library, but the spirit did not object to its presence, so it remained.
Up North, no contact had been made with civilization. Resource harvesting operations, unhindered- and to some degree benefitted by, the extremely cold temperatures, continued to expand- a reasonable defence force of Skyclearers, LLAC Destroyers, and Rail Support Craft, and a single TCT Black Pyramid gradually growing, completely unchecked.
Rambot was pleased by this. It wasn’t even necessary to invest more resources from the Gratuitous- things were going just fine.
Crusch nodded politely, gesturing to the seat in front of her. “You wished to speak to me?”
Rambot nodded as it took its seat. “Correct.” ALPHA replied.
Felix’s tail swished from side to side, his eyes fixed on Rambot, but otherwise silent.
Crusch took the short silence as an opportunity. “I do not think I thanked you for what you did for my people. I- cannot claim to understand what you have done to those who are now- Scuttlebots, as you call them, but nonetheless, I am glad they live on. Many of them are having difficulty adjusting, but they are strong people.” Her eyebrow quirked up. “However- their bodies- they are similar to yours. Are they capable of-?”
“While their repair protocols are enabled, their construction protocols are not, and they have not been provided with any blueprints. We do not wish for any to see the bodies as- upgrades.”
Rambot inclined its head. It was a logical question. Regardless, it was time to move on to the meeting’s purpose- “The White haired man who attacked the convoy- he said you were a candidate to be the next ruler of this nation.”
“Yes. He spoke the truth.”
“What is the local view on open backing of candidates by foreign powers?”
Crusch seemed taken aback. “Open backing- ah.” Her face turned serious. “It is- allowed. Anastasia Hoshin has close ties to Kararagi, and despite this, she is a royal candidate. I find it distasteful. Lugnica’s affairs are its own.”
Rambot tilted its head. “Would you refuse if we offered to support you?” ALPHA asked.
“No, as long as you understood where we stand. I would not be willing to compromise my vision for Lugnica based on your views. I would not ignore you, of course. I am not so stubborn as to believe I know everything, or am right about everything. But do not presume to manipulate Lugnica’s affairs through me.”
“Of course. In that case, we wish to ask you some questions regarding your plans for Lugnica.”
Crusch’s eyes narrowed. “Why? You are a foreigner- you claim to come from beyond the Great Waterfall, a claim I feel I can believe. How are my plans relevant?”
“Initially, Rambot intended to conquer your world.” ALPHA answered, and Crusch’s mouth fell open at the sheer brazenness of it. Felix stiffened, his gaze rapidly flipping from Rambot to ALPHA’s drone. “However, the nature of combat and science on this world imply that this would not be an effective way to implement its aims. Instead, we are considering alternative solutions.”
Felix frowned. “Conquering? That’s nyowt very nice.”
Crusch’s expression was stony. “And those aims are?”
“Eradication of corruption in governance. Forceful eradication of social evils. General improvement in quality of life of citizens. Implementation of technology from Neter to ease various burdens. I believe you could call it an ‘uplift’ program.”
“I could call it colonialism.” Crusch answered.
“You would be incorrect.” ALPHA answered. “We do not wish to exploit this world economically- it would not be practical. Any yields would have to be transported by spacecraft equipped with Ion Thrusters, RTGs, and Warp Drives. It would, in theory, turn a profit, but one so small that it would not be worth the investment. Our materials are better spent elsewhere. The technology of this world is of interest to us, but we do not require political influence to investigate it.”
“I see.” Crusch steepled her fingers. “So- you wish to learn of my plans for Lugnica. Based on their nature, you will decide whether or not you wish to support me- how? What can you offer?”
“You saw the effect our aircraft and tanks had on the White Whale. We could not kill it with them, yet their work seriously injured it.”
Felix “Yes. Your craft were a big help- if those flying things hadn’t stopped the Whale’s scream, a lot of people wouldn’t still be here nyow!”
“And, of course, you know of the aid we provided in the fight against those that attacked the caravan.”
Crusch tapped the table, considering ALPHA’s words. “Yes. Your ‘tanks’ proved ineffective against the Sin Archbishops, but- ‘Rem’ tells me the Archbishop of Gluttony was obliterated by a pillar of fire.”
Rambot nodded. “That was our doing. The Gratuitous can strike, from space, at any place in the world. It can burrow through most buildings to get at its targets, and was made to kill targets covered in several metres of metal armor.”
“An impressive weapon. Why did you not use it against the Whale?”
Rambot tensed at Crusch’s words. Its next few beeps were relatively soft. “We are not used to combat where sapient life is risked.” ALPHA answered. “It requires a different mentality entirely.” At Crusch and Felix’s confused looks, he further elaborated-“On our world, wars are largely fought by automated Vehicles, controlled by simple, non-sapient AI. The battle against the Whale was meant to be a test for our cheaper craft, to examine the effectiveness of various forms of weaponry against what we assumed was a simple airship. At the time, we did not properly understand the connotations of- civilians, in battle.”
Crusch remained silent, for a time. “It is- difficult to imagine. Wars fought by machines…” She shook her head. “Regardless, I understand.”
“Such deficiencies are amongst the reasons we chose not to attempt direct conquest. This world is too different from our own- the cost would be too high.”
“I see.” The faintest flicker of a smile crossed over Crusch’s face. “I suppose we should be happy for that, at least.”
They talked policy.
“This has been an enlightening meeting.” ALPHA declared, as Rambot pulled back its chair. “We thank you for entertaining us.”
“Of course.” Crusch inclined her head. “I have learned much myself. You are- free with your capabilities.”
Rambot shrugged. “Being mistrustful of others has caused us… issues… in the past.” Alpha replied. There were some things Rambot preferred not to speak of. “Besides, there is nothing you could do to harm us.”
For a brief moment, Crusch was thrown off by the comment. “We do not intend to threaten you. However, you are unable to permanently kill us, and you are not immune to orbital lasers.” Rambot shrugged. “It is a simple fact. You are not dangerous.”
“Nyeowt a threat, huh? Could’ve fooled me.” Felix chuckled. The Knight had been bored for a fair bit of the conversation, but now he was completely attentive. Fair enough.
Crusch smiled, politely. “You are, perhaps, too blunt. I must admit, imagining you asking Priscilla these questions grants me no small joy.”
“I shall be sure to record the meeting.” ALPHA spoke, without Rambot’s input. Rambot tilted its head. “Regardless.” ALPHA continued, switching back to being Rambot’s voice-“We cannot make a decision now. We must speak to the other candidates. Once again, we thank you.”
Nods were exchanged, and Rambot left. Crusch was principled. Firm. Her views on the dragon were worrying, however. If it truly was a benevolent being-
Hm. Additionally, the nationalist views could be either a help or a hindrance. Crusch claimed not to want wars, but her distaste for foreign interference, her intentions regarding the economy- they were worrying. While she was open to the concepts of Nationalised Healthcare, she was stubborn regarding-
“I liked her.” ALPHA declared. Rambot let out a questioning beep.
“She possesses conviction. Drive. Honest belief in her ideals.” There was something unsaid in ALPHA’s words, but Rambot couldn’t tell. Regardless, it nodded, before letting out a complicated series of low-frequency trills.
“I can? That is- appreciated. I will be sure to communicate I am representing myself, and not the whole of Neter.”
Rambot nodded. If ALPHA wanted to spend time with Crusch, that was his prerogative. BETA was starting to have more free time, anyway- she could probably fill in, or even take over entirely, as translator.
Still, the fact that both Crusch and Emilia were candidates for the royal selection…
Both would have an understanding of local politics. Subaru had not lied to Rambot, per se, but had simply chosen not to mention the two politically minded individuals who were close at hand, likely to ensure that his group was provided with an escort.
Rambot could not fault him for the decision- not when Rem, who he seemed to be close to, would most likely have died without Rambot’s intervention. His behavior was understandable.
Regardless, its next goal was clear. While speaking with Roswaal was most likely pointless, Emilia was allied with him-
And right in front of Rambot, who barely stopped in time to not bowl her over.
She lacked the presence Crusch had. It was hard to see her as a prospective ruler of a country. Rambot tried not to allow that to color its perspective.
Subaru was by her side, it noticed. It considered bringing up his lie by omission- then decided not to. Perhaps in private.
“Er, Rambot?” Emilia performed a shallow curtsy, which Rambot returned. “I wished to thank you for saving Rem. She is- very precious to all of us. Her new state is strange- but without your aid, she would be dead. If there is anything I can do to repay you-.” Subaru looked like he had bitten into a sour lemon, Rambot noted with some amusement.
“There is.” ALPHA answered. “I wish to speak with you regarding your Candidacy in the Royal Selection.”
“Yes.” Emilia answered. “There have been- intense racial tensions between demi-humans and humans. I suppose you haven’t had time to cover that-“
She was perfect. Too perfect. Emilia didn’t want war, she wanted people’s lives to be better, she wanted to deal with a social problem which had been plaguing her society for centuries.
Discrimination of some sort or the other had plagued Neter for generations- where there were people, there would be hate, yet the closest parallel to Emilia’s situation was most likely that of the survivors of the Scarlet Dawn’s downfall.
Emilia looked like this world’s greatest war criminal. She was a member of the minority which was being discriminated against. In a normal world, where Dragons handing out insignias did not form a basis for government, Rambot had a feeling that Emilia would never been able to take part in the selection.
And since the Royal Selection was supposedly a Royal Selection…
“I apologise.” ALPHA stated, before barrelling on, without hesitation, “But your appearance is similar to that of the Witch who destroyed much of the world beyond the Great Waterfall, correct?”
Emilia winced and Subaru levelled a furious gaze on Rambot. Before he could speak, however, Emilia answered-
Rambot could, presumably, only back one candidate. Abandoning one and jumping ship to another would butcher its credibility, and it had no idea of how the selection actually worked-
Hm. The other candidates would probably accept those who had backed a dead candidate-
Rambot nearly let out a beep of amusement. It would dance on its parents graves before it murdered someone like that.
So- a risky, problematic candidate- one whose retainer had, admittedly killed the White Whale by dropping a tree on it-
“Oi. Where do you get off asking questions like that?”
Rambot bowed its head. “I apologise, Subaru, and once again, I apologise to you, Emilia, but I have to know, before I make my decision.”
Subaru practically turned purple. “What?! Emilia-tan is nothing like-!”
“Subaru.” Emilia spoke, and he promptly fell silent, his fists balled.
“Her personality is not of relevance to us- though she seems to be of excellent moral character. We wish to approximate her chances of winning the selection.”
Subaru snorted, unable to stop himself. “One-hundred percent.”
“Your confidence in her is- noted. We shall have to meet with Roswaal, her backer, too, of course...”
Rambot wanted to support Emilia. Idealists were great- especially when they were backed by batteries of 2000mm guns, but- unless the other candidates were two children and a member of the Deepwater Guard, it doubted Emilia had even a snowball’s chance in hell of actually winning.
“Thank you for your time.” ALPHA parroted. Emilia bowed her head, her expression somewhat uncomfortable-
ALPHA tuned out the sound of Subaru talking to her as he left, on Rambot’s heels. Eavesdropping would be impolite.
Rambot shook its head. That had been- interesting. Well, two down, three- no, four, it had to speak to Roswaal, to go.
The Capital would be a challenge. Rambot would lack credentials- unless it introduced itself through Crusch, which would carry its own issues.
Besides, if it truly wanted to make an impression- it would require a bit more time. After all, Astrals were expensive-
Ah, it was futile. Rambot couldn’t fool itself. Politics was all well and good- the conversation with Crusch intriguing and pleasant, the conversation with Emilia depressing, but Rambot’s heart was already captured by figuring out how to incorporate those aggravating magic stones into a weapons system, and setting up naval resource outposts. After all, even if the water was apparently flowing off the edge of the world, there were minerals to be found in those Waterfalls.
Oh, and it had to figure out how to kill that smug bastard, and decide whether to hire that fellow the world had forgotten, and-