Short Story: What Happened

This latest short story continues in the science-fiction theme of Episode 48, but rather than being a look at the big-hero antics of super-robots takes a look at the “real robot” – the military-SF subgenre of mecha anime where the technology is less spectacular and more everyday, where the machines are not standins for superheroes and all that associates with them but tools of war.

At the same time it is heavily, heavily inspired by the wargame Infinity, currently in its third edition – a cyberpunk, real-robot wargame about high-technology superpower conflicts. A key part of Infinity is its mechanics for electronic warfare – something immensely useful in pure game-mechanics terms as a way of gaining action advantage and mitigating threat, but something which if considered from a setting perspective is possibly more terrifying a prospect than the firepower carried by most soldiers. This is not, specifically, Infinity fiction. I do not know enough about the setting to write something I would be prepared to claim as such. Instead it is my response to Infinity, and to its inspirations Ghost in the Shell, and Patlabor, and Appleseed and more.

Unit 2-3A has been impounded. Its guns are sealed with yellow warning tape, its cockpit sits closed and lifeless and it is cold to the touch in the shaded corner of the hangar. The engineers avoid it, for the most part. It is unlikely it will be reactivated for a very long time. If you were to examine it more closely, certain incongruities would be visible; it has suffered no external damage, its armour factory-shining and pale aviation grey. Its cockpit, though, is a different story. The hatch-lining, impact padding to protect the pilot, is scratched. Long finger-marks have been torn into the pale cream material. The seat reeks of vomit and sweat, and stains still darken its upholstery to an unpleasant brown-yellow. The seatbelts are wrenched and torn, their buckles just warped enough to resist unfastening. The controls are damaged – touch-screens cracked and the ejector-seat lever bent out of shape.

Were it not for the lack of bloodstains one would think the pilot of 2-3A died in their seat.

There is an empty bunk in the barracks, where 2-3A’s pilot used to sleep. His effects have been taken away, and the footlocker sits open and empty. The other pilots in 2nd Division do not talk about him any more. The subject, if raised by someone who does not know why, is always crushed with accusatory silence. It is strange that losing one unit has affected 2nd Division so badly. Anyone who has served in the Armoured Frame units will know the feeling of a lost comrade, and know that that is very much not the malaise affecting 2nd Division.

Pilot 2-3A is currently in an isolation room in the military hospital at the foot of the space elevator, where once a psychiatrist deems him sufficiently recovered he will face a very awkward court-martial. His charge is the killing by friendly-fire of five soldiers, and it is that that casts a horrid pall over this entire base. His squadron-leader has passed the point of defending his own man, because there is – in his eyes – no believable defence for the video evidence that returned from the operation. I have nevertheless spoken to 2-3A about this matter, and heard what he has to say. It is very likely he will be acquitted, but I still doubt he will ever step into that cockpit again.

Frame Unit 2-3A was assigned to support a frontline reconnaissance unit searching the former industrial zones outside Cana Luz about a month ago. Its pilot, Hitomi Fuyusaki, had at the time only two hours’ active combat piloting experience. Obviously his simulator hours were more than adequate for assignment to a low-activity sector, and his reported grades from mock battle exercises showed him to be a highly promising pilot. Pilot 2-1A, Team Leader Akane Izumi, thus felt it entirely reasonable he be assigned to this mission. The industrial zones were a contested area, albeit one that the enemy felt little pressure to actively attack. Their value – after several months of bombardment and continued inconclusive urban combat – was minimal in the eyes of both sides’ generals, and as a result they served as a no-man’s-land while the majority of forces were committed elsewhere. What follows is the statement of Fuyusaki, taken in my presence shortly after his return from the mission and arrest. It has been edited by the transcriber provided by the military police for legibility and to excise repetition, although a full version will be doubtless read at his trial.

Unit 2-3A was my first actual assignment since leaving the training Frames at the academy, and it was still new. New enough to have that strong plastic smell of unworn upholstery, and to have safety-covers over some of the control panels. New enough, indeed, that I had to have my own nameplate laser-etched by the mechanics and welded on – rather than a simple rewrite of the old one. It was mine.

I had taken her out once prior to… what happened… on an inconclusive patrol of the riverbank area. We spent two hours looking for a rumoured artillery position, and found nothing. But that isn’t what you want to hear, is it?

The patrol of the industrial zone seemed to be as inconclusive as my previous sortie, at first. We searched two grid-squares in a standard formation, my unit remaining central as the infantry entered the buildings. The closest I came to ever pulling a trigger on the whole mission was when the fireteam leader called in a potential contact in a warehouse – but it was a false positive.

You don’t believe me, I can see that.

It was probably three or four hours into the mission when we encountered an enemy infiltration unit – or rather, the fireteam leader did. I was unable to provide support at the range first engagement occurred, and informed the infantry of this. It didn’t matter, though, because we killed the advance-party. I can tell you that I heard four exchanges of gunfire, all recorded by 2-3A’s computers. During the engagement I can also tell you that one of the infantrymen – Private Leon Asami – was wounded, and so we established a perimeter while the field medic attended to him. 2-3A, as you can see from the black box data, was in a firing position overlooking the most open approach to the building in which the team were sheltered. Asami’s injuries needed some significant treatment, and I would say we defended that building for about half an hour or so before the enemy found us again. Those members of the fireteam not needed to assist the medic provided me with close support as I began to engage enemy heavy infantry advancing towards the location of the previous firefight.

Yes I know I said I didn’t pull the trigger previously, I… I’m not thinking straight. I did. I did fire on the enemy. I’m sorry.

The enemy fell back when they began receiving fire, and I began pursuit with five infantry escorting me. Yes, they were them. Yes, I know they’re dead I’m going to tell you what happened.

We had the enemy cornered in a small outbuilding, and were planning the process of clearing it when my unit began indicating minor electrical faults in its communications antennae. I began an automatic diagnostic program and went to inform the team leader of the issue when I discovered my radio was down. The diagnostic was still running so I thought I’d just wait it out, it was only a couple of minutes. Then… then it happened. All the monitors went black just for a moment, and when they revived the HUD was spitting driver errors at me. I panicked. This unit was new, this was my second ever sortie, and somewhere someone had messed up the maintenance. I tried rebooting the system and it seemed to straighten out things, I got radio back for one so I suggested we called off the operation because my Frame was malfunctioning. I didn’t get a reply and I didn’t know why, everything seemed to be working.

Then I realised nothing was working. The unit was online, I could see everything, but none of the controls responded. So yes there was a discharge of two high-explosive grenades into a friendly position. But I didn’t fire them. I didn’t. I couldn’t do anything. I tried shutting the unit down, I tried force-ejecting, I tried all the things the manuals say to do if there’s a system failure but nothing worked and you must see that, you had to have seen the inside of the cockpit. I tried to shut it down. I tried to get out. I could see the soldiers I was supposed to be protecting – they were dead. I couldn’t do anything but watch.

How did I return to base? Well- well- I don’t know. I think… the last thing I remember was the ejector-seat lever breaking because I was trying so hard to activate it. The hatch controls didn’t work either, you see, and I thought if I could get the hatch open somehow the fire-control override would stop the weaponry from activating. I wanted to make it stop, I didn’t want to kill them. I didn’t kill them.

No, I don’t know what caused it. It must have stopped at some point because I got the unit home.

I didn’t kill them. You believe me, don’t you?

I didn’t.

From receiving this statement, and from a subsequent interview with Fuyusaki, I truly believe that the actions logged in 2-3A’s black box were, at least for some portion of events, not related to his inputs. Convincing those people who need convincing of this, however, is not going to be easy simply because none of what Fuyusaki claims he did do was logged by the black box. There is no evidence of an electrical fault in the communications loop. There is no evidence that a diagnostic program was run at the time he claims to have done so.

And yet the cold-blooded way in which 2-3A opened fire on friendlies simply does not seem like something Fuyusaki would do. Our local mechanics have failed to discover any evidence of the cause of this malfunction and currently we await the arrival of an inspection team from the Frame’s manufacturer. All I can suggest is that by some method, the suit’s automatic testing systems were accessed remotely and activated. If this is the case – if the enemy have a method of assuming control of Frames and locking the pilot out – then…

I do not know what we can do if they have done that.

From the personal logs of Commander Littner, local reconnaissance co-ordination officer of the siege of Cana Luz, concerning the “Possessed Frame” incident.


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