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Changing winds

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2B sighed quietly, as her call to Pascal concluded and left her unsettled. More unsettled then she already was, that is. First, the machine network seemed to have evolved into something… worryingly sentient. Then she found out the Aliens have been dead for centuries. Then, to add a cherry to the proverbial cake, 9S was kidnapped. And, of course, as it always was when it came to his suffering, it was completely her fault.

How could she have let him go alone? She should have followed. Damn the stupid ancient machine… She should have known those are almost never as dangerous as they appear. Of course, it was nothing but a distraction.

And now, there was this new situation to evaluate. It was already complicated enough when there was just one village full of peaceful machines, at least she felt reasonably sure that Pascal could be trusted, but if all the machines really needed to abandon the war was to lose their connection with the network…

In her long career, there were many times when she felt trapped in her situation, when following orders was an unbearable burden… but there were also times when she was very grateful that she was not the commander, after all. What would she do, in White’s shoes? She had no idea.

No use standing around, though. White will need all the information she can get, and, in the absence of 9S, 2B was still her best chance to get it, even if her methods were not always as inconspicuous. Or as fruitful.

2B was still only halfway to the factory when her pod alerted her to an incoming call. Having expected 6O’s cheerful voice, a hundred scripted replies already flying through her mind, she was caught completely by surprise when White said “2B? Come in. He did it again.”

She stumbled as if all strength had suddenly left her legs. She stopped dead in her tracks.

“I just got confirmation. 9S went through the main server while doing his data overhaul.”

She couldn’t breathe.

“2B…”

She. Couldn’t. Breathe.

“I made… the executive decision…”

She waited for the axe to fall again.

“…to abolish your standing orders.”

And there it was. The pain of the never-ending cycle of… wait. Wait, what?

“…Commander?” she asked, her voice a pitiful whine.

White was silent for several long seconds.

“With half the machine network destroyed, thanks in no small part to your efforts, there seems to be a reason to believe that the circumstances have changed.”

2B could not believe her own auditory sensors. Was she really hearing what she thought she was?

“We have fought this war for as long as we, YoRHa, have existed. It was hard, and it was unforgiving. Unforgiving situations, however, often lead to… unforgivable decisions. And as difficult it was for me to make these necessary decisions, it was at least just as hard for you to follow them.”

White, whose projected image was now in the holographic display’s window, was frowning.

“And yet, you’ve persevered. I believe I know just how much your loyalty has cost you, 2B. Nonetheless, you have remained one of my most reliable soldiers. You’ve never once let me down.”

2B realized, suddenly, that she was shaking.

“Commander…”

“Maybe…” White bit her lip, in an unprecedented display of vulnerability. “Maybe it is high time for me to stop… letting you down, too.”

2B was speechless. She stared, silent, as White visibly regathered her composure.

“Unit 2E. These are your new orders: continue to protect unit 9S. Even if it means allowing him access to confidential information. Do whatever you think is necessary.”

Slowly, as slowly as if she was swimming in tar, her right hand unclenched from the fist she was making, and rose, trembling, to her chest. She took a long breath. Her eyes were wet under the visor, but the air has never tasted so sweet.

“Understood.”

White smiled.

“And 2B? Take care of yourself, too. We still have a war to bring to an end.”

“Yes, commander!”