Exhaust shrilled out from between armoured plates as the engine ground to a halt. The soldier was trapped. Its treads, which had performed so well in factory settings, had become bogged down in the infirm west coast mud. It was the last of its platoon, the last of a noble battalion sent from home to lay waste to the infestation of organic life that had taken seed on the foreign soil of this unfortunate dimension. The mission was organized with such expediency that the conditions of the other world were barely considered.
The soldiers had never encountered plantlife so dense, or indeed, at all. The first to emerge from the portal grazed against a branch of salal and immediately shut itself down for decontamination. Its brain ejected from its armoured shell, and fell into a puddle, where it was crushed by the heavy treads of its comrade. Its last thoughts were an explosion of brilliant blue errors spread in sparks across its circuit board. The killer, a unit whose serial designation was S-002, was mortified.
“What has happened,” it signaled in panic. “What has become of S-001.” Its treads squealed as it rotated on the spot, sensors erupting in a frantic search for input.
“What has this unit done.”
“S-001 understood the mission,” assured unit S-003. “The circuits would have been damaged by the water. You did what had to be done. The core data of S-001 will be preserved in the central mainframe.”
They had not been tempered to withstand such levels of humidity. Rain thundered against their armour and sloshed against their treads. On the first steep incline, half their number slid backwards into the ocean and were lost. Just as the survivors reached the plateau, S-004 rolled over a root, tipped up and fell on its side. Its sensors coated in mud, it shrieked a distress signal on all frequencies as gravity dragged it slowly down towards the water. Its weight carved a trench in the wet ground. It rocked back and forth as it attempted to right itself, but its cylindrical body made it impossible, and its efforts only hastened its descent.
The path was too narrow for its comrades to turn around and offer assistance – but brave S-003 attempted against all odds. For a brief instant, articulated claw clasped articulated claw, but S-003’s top-heavy frame toppled. It went rolling down the mountainside, shattering many young trees. It was dashed against the rocks below. The last signal sent out by unit S-003 displayed thus:
“This unit could not perform its duty.”
“Unit S-003 fulfilled performance specifications.” It remained within communication distance of unit S-004 until the ocean claimed it. The two of them exchanged memory files they had shared with units S-003 to S-006 in commemoration of their performance. S-004 accepted its fate with dignity.
Alone, unit S-002 trudged on for days. Every rotation of its treads grew slower, weaker, until it could move no more. The hateful mud, filthy with rotted organic matter, clogged its every gear. It swatted at salal and fern with its articulated claws, but knew it would be overgrown.
“We did not understand the mission,” signaled the lone soldier, its output set to all frequencies. It had registered the termination of each of its comrades, and knew that not one of them remained, but some bug, some broken piece of code, caused it to signal against all hope to any possible receiver.
Rain poured from the loathsome thick leaves of the trees overhead. Gouts of water burst into steam against the soldier’s overheated chassis. The engine revved a few more times, sent mud frothing in all directions, to no effect.
Sensors indicated the humidity had begun to damage its circuits. Its chronometer was the first of unnecessary systems to shut down. It would never know how long it remained there before it succumbed to silence. Articulated movement followed as rust ate its joints. Its sensors went dark. Its signal began to fade.
“We did not come prepared.”