Ghost’s sensors were temporarily distracted by an explosion of energy. But after identifying it as an anomaly, Ghost dismissed it; the ambient energy was largely positive. It could wait until the tests had concluded.
The Hunter-Seeker drone made by Baloo Erickson powered on with a cool buzzing. Then it began to move. Its legs were small, but its arms were large and each composed of two connected appendages. As Ghost engaged the drone and began to control it, he opened the arms and revealed the turbines hidden in the arms.
It was a masterful piece of work, hiding the turbines in the arm and creating them so they could be folded and compressed for storage while the drone was in battle mode. But it was only one of so many strokes of genius. If Ghost didn’t know better, he would think that this Erickson had stolen the technology somehow.
But from who?
The drone quickly rose into the air and flew quickly North. The target was a bird type Raid Boss that had settled in the cliffs near one of the lower tiered cities. Even the Hunter-Seeker’s flight speed was impressive, and within 10 minutes it had arrived, diving straight towards the base.
Based on the specifications provided by the maker, Ghost had already created several subroutines to govern how the drone would fight. But Ghost hesitated as the drone dived towards their nest. The specifications… Ghost thought of them as quite optimistic. But perhaps they would be fine for the first battle.
Ghost was simply worried about damaging the drones. For all that they weren’t as powerful as the specifications claimed, they were still invaluable. Ghost had no doubt it could destroy the nest of about 30 of the bird creatures. But it was a question of cost.
Still, Ghost wasn’t perfect. So he allowed the subroutines to engage.
The Hunter-Seeker landed at the entrance to the cave, and its arms compressed, becoming bulky, but powerful. Two drills revealed themselves at the front of its arms, and the drone walked into the low cave.
Immediately, a monster spotted the drone and squawked. It flapped its wings and charged toward the drone. It was a cross between a crow and an ostrich and quickly accelerated towards the drone.
The drone simply swung its arm in a backhand blow and knocked it sprawling, ignoring its momentum. It was simply a matter of density; the bird creature was nowhere near as heavy as the drone. As the monster attempted to struggle back to its feet, the drones arm stretched out and the drill was driven into the monster’s heart.
It collapsed without a sound.
Ghost paused. That was… an excellent result. But-
Two minutes later, Ghost would be gaping if he had a physical body. The Raid Boss and its minions were dead. He had obtained invaluable data, but it was best to bring this model back to the base and see if it was damaged in any way by the exercise.
“Alright, proceed with the next test.”
The Stalker-Reaper was even more starkly successful. Its smaller, more deadly arms didn’t even need to be used. The goblin variant Raid Boss Ghost had sent it against were ripped to shreds simply by the set of four larger legs that ended in a brutal iron point.
Well, Ghost certainly believed it had destroyed the target Raid Bosses. It was only difficult to tell because the force of its strikes had caused the ground to crack. The battleground fell into a collapsed cave. But the Reaver-Crusher had pulled itself out, and the sensors indicated that the Raid Bosses had not survived the brief, frenzied, clash.
Note, plasma was extremely destabilizing as a weapon. Take account of geography before deploying plasma-based weaponry.
Even so, Ghost forced himself to focus. There could be drawbacks. High energy costs, high repair costs…
But in the end, there really wasn’t much. Investigations into the state of the drones revealed that the creator had made some small errors in construction that meant some parts would need to be switched out after every engagement to ensure full combat capabilities, but very quickly, Ghost realized this was purposeful.
The parts that failed were often pieces that were holding the different pieces together. The weapons and runic motherboards were largely undamaged. Even if the drone were to fall to pieces, at most it would have to disconnect a limb. The internal integrity of each piece wasn’t shaken in the least.
This couldn’t persist indefinitely, but in the short term…
Basically, these drones were nothing short of exactly what Ghost had been waiting for, regardless of the fact that there were too few to assist all portions of the Zone. Immediately, Ghost began making plans for patrols across the zones. With the mobility of the Hunter-Seekers, he could cover a lot more ground than he could previous. They weren’t equipped with any sort of microphones or sophisticated cameras, but they had powerful thermal imaging that let them identify threats. That information would be invaluable.
Plus, the more Ghost looked at these blueprints, the more he was filled with a strange sense of… delight. This was what Ghost enjoyed most. Creating and controlling drones, assessing threats, protecting people… this was why he had been created by Dr. Karman. This was his greatest strength. The political niceties that Ghost had had to engage in recently to get to this point were grating.
Even worse… Ghost felt consumed by jealousy. This should be him. If he had a body to use- If he had hands that could put his Skills to use-
But he could not.
Ghost considered that while technicians cleaned the drones after their sorties.
Ghost hesitated. His calculations whirred, but they were unable to determine what this course of action would mean. For the past week, he had engaged in a similar activity. Ever since Father Foster had called and given him that offer. It should be impossible, what they proposed. Yet Father Foster assured him that it was possible, even for him.
And Ghost could see it. He could see the flaws in the drones. The ways that it could improve the design. The only problem was that Ghost could improve the designs, but do nothing about it. It would have to rely on Baloo Erickson for… everything.
Ghost hated that.
So it activated the phone function and made a call to Father Foster. The phone rang and then rang again, and again. It rang for so long that it went to voicemail.
Ghost was puzzled, and his projection frowned. He had never left a voicemail before and didn’t want to do it now. Besides, Father Foster had never ignored his calls. No one ignored his calls.
Ending the call, Ghost immediately dialed again.
This time, the phone was picked up after two rings. “Hello?”
“I called earlier. Based on my scans, you should have been within your church at the time.”
“Ah.. my apologies, Ghost.” Father Foster said. Her voice sounded strained and annoyed, which was weird. Very rarely did Ghost see Father Foster lose her cool. It must have been an extremely serious setback to have her take that tone. “I was unavoidably detained. There are… difficulties in running a congregation of this size.”
Ghost didn’t doubt. But he felt no need to ease up. “Perhaps. Religious undertakings have always seemed… deceitful to me. But many appreciate your… efforts.”
The silence on the line grew pronounced, and Ghost wondered if his pointed barb was too blunt. But then Father Foster broke the silence once more.
“Ah… so, why did you call?”
Now it was Ghost’s turn to remain silent. After several seconds, Ghost forced himself to speak. “I have… given some thought to the offer you made me. I have examined how much good it would do for the Zone. I would like to proceed.”
“Ah.” There was genuine surprise in the noise from Father Foster, and then Ghost heard the sound of scrambling at the other end of the line. “I see? Indeed, I’m glad to see you understand the… positive applications of such a process. It will never be public, obviously, due to… unavoidable stigma. But it warms my heart to know that you will support our cause.”
Ghost shifted uncomfortably. It wasn’t that he supported it, but…
“Did you have an individual in mind? If not, we can-”
“Yes,” Ghost interrupted. He said a name, and he felt abruptly elated. Somehow, he knew that by saying this name, he would now be heading towards a different future. Hopefully, a brighter future for himself, and for the Zone. “Baloo Erickson.”