A Cut Above

Summary: A utility robot awakens on a ruined spaceship crashing towards the planet below. With disaster all around, it must find out what went wrong.

This unit awoke later than expected. The number of elapsed processor cycles exceeded the upper threshold for my failsafe, and I was stirred into action at a fortunate time. This Customized Utility Robot Number 77, CTR-77, or "Cutter," as my human crewmates designated me, activated approximately two standard months ago. I did not know the total time since my last activation, but it is likely measured in thousands of standard years. The damage I saw when I awoke was consistent with that estimate.

The cargo hold I awoke in was not the orderly assemblage of prefabricated parts, dormant robots, and nanotech feedstock. Instead, it was a dark room punctuated only by holes in the hull punctured as though by projectiles and micrometeors. Fearing a combat or catastrophic failure scenario, I instinctively checked my own systems. My structural integrity and power core were optimally charged and ready, as my self-repair unit was independent of the larger ship.

I activated the tool that inspired my namesake, the thermal chainsaw. Fractal nanomachines assembled into a sword-like protrusion in my right hand, and a second later, the heatsink activated, superheating my utility cutter. With superheated ceramic teeth and plasma jets, I was ready to carve my way through any debris in my way. On my other arm was a rivet gun, which could serve as a projectile weapon at close enough ranges. With the ship's systems total unresponsive, I had to be prepared for anything. As I headed towards the drop pods, I was proven right.

As I moved forwards, I noticed the surface of the planet beneath the craft grew a tenth larger, and the ambient temperature increased. I reaffirmed my decision to evacuate, but another machine had other plans. It scuttled in front of me, moving on fullerene tendrils like a nightmarish spider. I did not clearly glimpse it at first, and I could not identify any robot with such a mobility mechanism. I kept my tools ready, as it did not respond to my attempts to interface with it. Using my microjet thrusters, I moved passed where it stirred with great care. I hoped it would lack interest in me, but such thoughts were not mutual.

A long, black tendril lashed out at me, wrapping around my leg as I glided past. I did not have the thrust to escape, so I swung my thermal chainsaw to sever the offending limb. I was halfway through when two more tendrils wrapped around my arm. My optical receptors moved towards the hostile machine, and I immediately determined it was hostile or critically malfunctioning. It smashed me into the wall, confirming my assessment.

Fortunately, my body was designed to withstand direct high-velocity impacts for spacecraft maintenance. It tickled. I saw my adversary for the first time, a fusion of two robot designs programmed into the ship's articles. One was a humanoid utility robot, like myself, but with soft-robotic manipulator arms instead of limbs. As my close combat weapon was still held tightly, I fired several shots of my rivet-gun into its torso and head. I felt the limbs loosen, and I once more tried to free myself.

My thermal chainsaw would have roared to life, had we been in atmosphere. Instead, it silently sliced through the two limbs binding it. The robotic tentacles retreated like elastic bands, snapping back towards the enemy's main body. It lashed out with its last limb, but I merely cut it off at the source. I pivoted closer towards its body, training myself at its main power core. I discharged a rivet into it, shutting it down for good. I eagerly departed, as the ambient temperature was rapidly increasing.

Within the cargo bay, I saw most of the pods were long absent. Microdebris floated through the hull as the world below claimed us with its gravity. The cargo bay shuttle dock, once the largest door on the ship, was wrenched open by some long-ago great impact. Given the pitting and nanobot growth, it could have been centuries, but the damage must've been too severe for the self-repair swarm. I did not have time for further reflection, so I entered the cargo drop pod I assessed had the best chance of surviving reentry. Unlike the others, it lacked holes and cracks in its reentry shield. If I was wrong, I knew I would not have long to notice it.

I managed to release the pod with the manual override, since even the ship's auxiliary power was long exhausted. The craft immediately plunged ahead of the falling hulk behind us. I braced myself against the external door, fearing that some metal seam or other point of failure would compromise our descent to the world below. I saw a white-hot glow on the window as we struck atmosphere. Had I been a biological, I would have relaxed after the first hour. Fortunately, I was not.

The failure instead happened along the interior hull. A point along the door began to buckle, likely due to material corrosion. Quick calculations showed my continued function would be find in my rivet gun and a spare metal plate. I cut a piece of the floor open with my thermal saw, and I pressed it flush with the door. The ambient temperature in the capsule rose, and I knew I was seconds away from being orbital detritus. I pressed the plate against the failing member, and I blasted it with my rivet gun. I felt the temperature return to normal in the minutes that followed, which were too long to be a sensor error. That was how I knew I survived.

Despite my troubles during reentry, landing was rough. The parachute did not deploy, so I had to once more secure my continued function with a manual override. This time, I activated the emergency thrusters to slow my descent, ensuring I did not end up impacting the planetary surface like a meteor. I was also careful to estimate where the rest of the starship would land, and tried to land far north of it to ensure I gave it a wide berth. Just as a sinking ship could pull down sailors treading water, a crashing spaceship could break into a shotgun blast of debris across a continent. The unbroken brown and black of the world below indicated that whatever terraforming the expedition intended failed long ago. The amount of carbon dioxide in the air confirmed that thought, once I looked at the atmospheric survey.

When the craft landed, I searched for any signs of life. There were some signs of radio activity, but I could not tell if they were atmospheric disturbances or deliberate activity. Given the condition of the spaceship, I could not rule out the possibility I was the only sapient entity left. Given my memories were a combination of innate programming, uploaded human connectomes, and hardwired directives, I would nevertheless be compelled to search. Even if all were dead, it was my duty to broadcast the fate of this expedition to the motherworld. Given how long we'd been gone, even I knew expecting a rescue was illogical. Fortunately, I was programmed to build anything from spare parts to interstellar communications beacons, and the ruined starship would be an ample supply source.

When I finally landed, I waited for a standard day before stepping outside. During this time, I collected atmospheric and climatological data, and I compared it with our mission briefing. Its orbital period was slightly longer than a standard year, and its days were slightly shorter than a standard one. The atmosphere was a blend of carbon dioxide and other gases. There was a relatively strong magnetosphere, but not as strong as home. The temperature could vary widely in a single day, during which water vapor could partially exist above freezing. There were no signs of native life, although back-contamination from our own microbes was probable. In short, not a bad place to crash.

I stepped outside the capsule and deployed a solar collector. The device would gather atmospheric carbon dioxide to produce fuel and feedstock, as well as charging spare batteries. I could function for a week before recharging, but that was not my main concern. I was most interested in surveying the still smoldering wreckage on the horizon, where the main hull of the spacecraft came down. I trekked over that blasted soil, but I found I was not alone in such curiosity.

They ambushed me from beneath the sands, blending in perfectly to the dunes. There were clad in brown environmental suits, crude enough to be hand-made from salvage. They held crude firearms in hand, carbines tipped with a bayonet of scrap metal. They fired a volley at me, and it tickled. My body was designed to withstand direct impacts of space debris, and the best they could offer were muzzle-loading rifles. They never got a chance for a second salvo, since I nonchalantly strode up to the leader, and I sliced his crude weapon in half. They dropped to their knees around me, as though I was an idol instead of a perfect servant.

They were obviously human beneath the suits, and they escorted me back to their base. It was a subterranean dwelling, an inflatable habitat with hand-sewn patches along the walls. Within each of the chambers were breathing masks, likely in the event of an emergency rupture. Given the number of patches in the walls, that was likely a fairly frequent event.

The underground dwellers gathered around me as I descended further into their habitat. My biometric scanners could not identify any specific individuals, as they were all unknown to me. I spotted several tools in the background, a blend of rusted machines from the expedition and crude hand-tools of more recent manufacture. The people bowed before me, save for one woman at the end of the largest chamber. Her clothing was that of a technician, and my biometric sensors immediately recognized her as a crewmember. She started to speak, and the other humans immediately stepped away.

She introduced herself as Sam Fong, a life support specialist from the advance party. Early in the expedition, she explained, a reactor accident killed the commanding officers and irradiated the ship. The remaining colonists fought amongst themselves for a time, inadvertently sabotaging their equipment in the process. The original colony and terraforming equipment was devastated in the conflict, leaving only scattered handfuls of survivors to eke out an existence like hers. Other strongholds had failed one by one, leaving only a few left. She survived the centuries since then due to her nanotech implants, and the other inhabitants were the descendants of the original crew. She was oddly hopeful, though.

Now that the remainder of the starship had crashed nearby, there was an ample supply of spare parts and raw material. Even better, she said, there was now an entity able to help rebuild. With my input, we'd be able to move out of the failing habitats, and back into proper housing. The other tribes, of course, would be invited to participate. With myself by their side, they were in a natural position for leadership. As my own programming prohibited me from disobeying a legitimate order, I had no choice in the matter. To be fair, I would not have turned it down, had it been an offer. That was how I became the world's robot warlord.