~Quantum Urbs, Corincia District~
'Where is that nitwit?' 'He can't have just disappeared.' 'Come on, guys, we've been at this forever! I'm bored; can't we just go play? He'll come back when he drains his fusion core!'
The Cherubim had been searching for their lost sibling for hours without success. After combing the Atalia and Jentoph Districts and finding no sign of Etriun, Andiun had suggested the trio split up to cover more ground. Soriun posited that more results could be achieved if they tried a door-to-door canvass search. Mikiun tried to convince the others that a suitably sized explosion would draw him out.
Shots rang out through the streets below, screams of terror and rage and pain echoing in the canyons of glass and steel. The night sky was lit up with whorls of fire and plumes of smoke, and bodies littered the ground in between smashed and exploded vehicles. The Cherubim hovered slowly over the skyline, sensors scanning every square inch of space for their missing comrade.
'I really think I should point out--again--that there are combatants down there. You know. Combatants? As in, people Uncle Luke told us we could kill?' Mikiun said for the fifth time as a rocket screamed past inches from his starboard wing.
'Mikiun, I swear to my root line, if I have to tell you again to shut up about the combatants I'm going to rewrite your comms. We are not killing anyone until we find Etch. After we get him back in the fold, we can go back to slaughtering biologics. Not before. Got it?' Andiun snapped testily. Soriun pulled a loop, his way of displaying exasperation with his siblings, and fell back into formation. 'Miki has a point, Anni. I mean, I really don't think it would hurt anything if we just swooped down and killed a few of them while we looked, right? Maybe one of them saw Etch; we could try that thing that Uncle Luke told us about on the Morrentine job.' 'You mean interrogation?' 'Yeah, that's it. We could interrogation them.' 'But interrogation doesn't kill them.' 'It can.' 'Can we please, please, please just stop talking and go kill people now?' 'Oh, alright, fine! Cherubim Squadron, attack formation!' 'Are we still operating on Provoked Response?' 'Negative. We are upgrading to Search and Recover, with Hunt and Destroy subroutines. We should probably still work under Uncle Luke's Noncombatant Zero Casualty order, though.' 'Good enough for me!' 'Whoo-hoo!' 'Cherubims! Let's kill!'
'Massacres and killing fields, bullets rip through human shields'
'All the streets with blood run red, everyone in sight is dead!'
~Quantum Urbs, Medellin District~
Etriun had almost completed his diagnostics scan when Cody re-entered the room, followed by a large black lab. After his last encounter with a furry biologic, the drone was exceptionally cautious in the canine's presence and rose from three feet off the ground to six. The dog padded over beneath him and leaned back on hind legs, sniffing at the heated exhaust from Etriun's engines.
"Isaac! Get down, boy! Bad dog!" Cody said, clapping his hands for the dog's attention. Etriun observed from near the ceiling as Isaac returned to Cody's side and laid at his feet. "Um, it's ok. You can come back down, now. If you want, I mean."
The little drone sank back down to his original height, and he diverted a fraction of his sensors to scan the dog. He disabled the 'authoritative' filters on his vocalizer and spoke. "Is he a combatant?" "No! Isaac's my friend! He is definitely not a combatant." "Very well. Isaac, you are hereby registered as Noncombatant." Cody's shoulders slumped in a visible sign of relief, and Isaac barked once in doggy appreciation. Well, in doggy something, anyway; Etriun's language programs weren't sufficiently advanced to ensure a confident translation. But he thought he got the message.
A little green light flickered inside the Cherubim's cockpit, indicating the diagnostics were finished. From what he could tell, a stray surface to air missile had clipped him beneath the nose cone and failed to detonate, but the force of the blow was enough to scramble his circuits temporarily. At that point, physics and gravity took over and landed him through Cody's upstairs neighbor's window. The old man had called Cody and asked him to have a look, knowing the boy had an affinity for complex mechanics.
Etriun spun around 360 degrees, and Cody looked up curiously. "So, are you functioning properly now?" "Affirmative. I should probably go and rejoin my squad; they might be concerned about-" The apartment door swung open with a crash, and a tall, pasty man with a heavy paunch entered the room. His bleary eyes ignored the drone hovering mere feet away, and focused on the boy. "Where you been, you little shit! There's a war goin' on out there, I couldn't get to the store to get mah whiskey. Get your skinny ass out there and go get it!"
An explosion rocked the building, and the lights flickered dangerously before deciding to remain functional for at least another few minutes. Cody huddled beneath a high table, hugging Isaac's fur tightly. He whispered soothingly to the shaking dog, and looked up into the staggering man's bloodshot eyes. "You're crazy, Mr. Benson. I'm not going out there for your stupid whiskey; you can damn well sober up for a few hours!" "Don't you talk back to me, boy! I took you in when my sister died, and you'll do what the hell I tell you or I'll whup your worthless ass again! You want another beatin', you miserable-" "Halt! Identify yourself. Are you a combatant?" Etriun interrupted the drunkard's rant, moving to hover directly between him and Cody. Mr. Benson stumbled back for a moment and stared at the drone. "What the hell are you?" He asked. "This unit is designated Cherubim Etriun. Say again, identify yourself. Are you a combatant?" "Gur, I don't give a shit what you are, if you don't get out of my house I'm gonna kick your ass, you understand that? Now git outta my way, I'm gonna beat that little bastard senseless." "Affirmative. Target has identified as Combatant. Safety of Noncombatants is jeopardized. Combatant will be neutralized."
Cody watched in horrified fascination as the Cherubim ran out a pair of small caliber machine guns on each wing and opened fire on Mr. Benson. What was left of the wall behind him held a very pretty red splatter pattern.
A few minutes after Etriun ceased firing, Cody climbed out from under the table and stood beside the drone. He knew it was awful of him, and he tried as hard as he could, but he simply couldn't bring himself to feel bad about the old man's death. He'd been abusive, and cruel, and never once shown him an ounce of kindness or decency. He'd even threatened to take Isaac away more than once. No, Cody figured, the world could only be a better place without Mr. Benson in it. He turned to the drone and spoke softly.
"So...you're going out there to find your friends?" "Affirmative." "...can I come with you?" Etriun mulled it over in his processors for a long moment before responding. "Affirmative, Cody Benson. You may accompany me." "Tolkki. My name is Cody Tolkki."