Contract invalid. Connection failed.
Confirming cessation of Master Attendant’s vitals. Reason: unknown.
Confirming Master Attendant’s position: error.
There was a time when I wouldn’t go anywhere or do anything without an order from Master Attendant.
I’d stay on standby, waiting for him to start an operation.
I didn’t need to think, nor did I need to stress.
But at that moment, my slain Master Attendant no longer told me what I needed to do.
This was a bit of a hassle for me.
My mechanical body lags and creaks if I don’t move for a while.
I didn’t know what to do next. To me, there was no need for a machine to act on its own.
I was still a machine back then.
And machines need to be activated before they can start working.
I heard an unfamiliar voice and a flurry of footsteps draw near.
“Yep. Find the safe and take the gem."
The owner of that voice noticed me and approached me.
“Oh? What’s this?"
He was a red-haired, lavishly dressed Food Soul. His human companion, on the other hand, was dressed like a thief.
"Oh, that’s his Food Soul. He hardly talks to others and only listens to his Master Attendant. Now that his Master Attendant is dead, he’s just a pile of scrap metal."
"You sure know a lot. If I hadn't known you were a thief, I’d have thought you were a detective."
"Thanks for the compliment-- I got it, let's go."
I stared at him, motionless.
He reached out and touched my arm, my face, my eye-patch, and my mechanical wings.
My eyes followed his hand, but every other part of my body stayed still.
"Wait. I want to take him with us."
He lowered his hand and sized me up, interested.
"Now that his owner is dead, I wonder: is he a scrap machine, or a wonderful toy? -- Sit, Food Soul."
Command received. Source: Food Soul.
Confirm command: ‘sit’.
Target action retrieved. Execute.
Even though that person wasn’t my Master Attendant, he gave me an order. I sat down obediently.
He gave me a few more commands, such as lie down, stand up, turn around, and jump.
After making sure I’d follow through with each one, he gave one that made the thief watching in amusement go pale.
--Kill his thief companion and hand the Azure Stone over.
As he escaped, the thief spat curses at Spaghetti for betraying him while begging me to spare him.
But I’ve already been ordered to kill him.
I don’t get to choose between conflicting commands. The first command always takes priority. And the first command was given by that red-haired Food Soul.
I killed the thief and gave him the gem.
His excitement was reminiscent of a child on Christmas Eve, but with a dash of lunacy in the mix.
"Hahahaha, what a good toy! Tell me your name and come with me. I’ll be sure to make the best use out of you!"
Amidst his disturbing laughter, I calmly stated my name.
My body...is lagging. My arms and wings can’t function properly.
My nimble opponent covered up his tracks so well, there were times I couldn’t detect his oncoming sneak attack. By the time I spun around to defend myself, it was too late.
My mechanical wings creaked in protest as I flew. I gave up on flying and chose to walk back to the villa Spaghetti --the red-haired Food Soul who took me away-- lived in.
In the hustle of this prosperous town, no one will pay attention to me and my lag.
The sound of a carriage approaching in the distance immediately dispersed the crowd on the street, leaving me and a little girl who tripped in the middle of the road.
"Save her! Won’t somebody save her?"
A voice cried out for help.
Before I'd realized it, I spread my wings and flew to the girl in the middle of the road, carrying her into the air. Without an order.
The carriage barely passed under our feet.
The danger had passed, but it was then my barely-functioning mechanical wings stopped functioning altogether. I hugged the girl as we fell.
Judging that the girl in my arms took priority, I leaned back and let myself cushion her fall.
The impact made my vision flash white. My blue flames dissipated and my right arm dropped to the ground limply.
Decision confirmation--why save her?
Searching for command… Command = false.
--I have to save her.
After I heard that cry, my body broke through the system’s control.
Something pulled me back to reality. A tender voice echoed in my ear.
"Nii-san, are you okay?"
The girl climbed off of me. I pushed off the ground and slowly got up, trying to move my mechanical wings. They creaked in protest again.
"Thank you, Nii-san... Are your wings broken?"
The girl clutched my broken right arm and looked up at me.
"Nii-san’s wings look just like those clocks Papa makes...Nii-san, why don’t you let Papa fix it for you!”
As things stand, I won’t have enough strength to defend myself if I run into something on the way back.
I just saved her. She said that she can help me repair my parts.
It can’t hurt to try.
"Alright, take me there."
III. Dreams And Reality
The girl took me to her house.
Her father was a well-known clocksmith in town. He thought the reason my mechanical wing was malfunctioning was because saving his daughter piled even more damage onto it, already near-broken. He was exuberant, although I didn’t know if it was out of gratitude to me or if it was out of interest in my mechanical wings.
I sat on a chair and silently waited for the clocksmith to replace the damaged parts.
"Nii-san, your wings look really broken. Doesn't it hurt?"
"Really? Nii-san is just like a clock. When he’s hurt, he can't feel it at all. Lucky! It always hurts when I trip and fall.”
The clocksmith’s voice rang out from behind me, breaking the silence caused by my aloofness.
"Stupid child. Living humans aren’t clocks. Of course it hurts. Nii-san is actually in a lot of pain,but he just doesn’t want to make you worried. That’s why he won’t admit it."
False. It’s just as that girl said. It doesn’t hurt.
How can a machine feel pain?
But I kept quiet.
The conversation continued, but my memory started to blur.
"Not everyone starts crying and wailing when they get a little scrape like you.”
"Hey! No fair, Papa! I don’t cry! I didn't shed a single tear when I tripped today!"
The girl jumped up and made a face at her father. I couldn’t hear what they said afterward, but they both laughed.
She pinched the corners of my mouth, trying to make me smile...
A shrill scream woke me up from my memories.
I was no longer in a shop full of clocks, but a beautifully decorated merchant's house. The bodies on the ground were still warm.
My task was to get rid of the merchant and bring the Azure Stone back to Nevras.
The merchant's wife had a Food Soul who wasn’t suited to battle.
However, they dealt a heavy blow to me before dissipating.
I didn't notice it while I was fighting. It was only when I caught the merchant's daughter that I realized my parts were broken.
She thought she could escape my killing spree by hiding under that bed.
I expected her to put up a fight, but she seemed to be afraid of my flames. Her stiff body was shivering.
I don't understand. Why would I remember something like that while carrying out my task?
Was it because of the terrified girl in front of me?
Or because I discovered my mechanical wings had failed again after I caught her?
There’s a force inside me stopping me from taking her life.
Perhaps it’s this same force that just decided to remind me of the past.
This never happened before. I was shaken.
Unable to make a decision, unable to move.
I didn’t chase the girl when she broke away from me.
Gazing in the direction she fled, I thought, "Spaghetti doesn’t need to know about this.”
The sizzling azure flames were out of control. I lost too much soul power. Fire, licking the rug, formed a circle around me.
A girl whose face I couldn’t make out appeared behind me. When I turned toward her, her face began morphing into those of others.
A man, a woman, an old lady, a kid...
Finally, it morphed into the face of that girl I saved. She clutched my arm.
“Nii-san, you can’t hurt because you’re not human.”
Then it morphed into my deceased Master Attendant. His voice was filled with disappointment.
“You’re not even a Food Soul. You’re just a war machine.”
No...I’m not...I want to be human, I want to feel pain, I WANT TO BE HUMAN!
I don't know what I’m screaming about, nor do I know why I’m struggling.
Something’s not right, but I can’t tell what.
Her face was still morphing. A mixture of voices lingered in my ear.
In this chaos, I heard a familiar roar.
- B-52...B-52 Cocktail! Wake the hell up!
I woke up from my sleep. As soon as I opened my eyes and saw Spaghetti, I knew it was just a dream.
Why did I have that dream?
Why did I say something like that in that dream?
I didn’t know nor did I have time to think about it before Spaghetti exploded in anger.
"You dare disobey my orders! Do you have any idea of what you just did?!"
"Aren’t you going to explain why you let that girl go?!"
Spaghetti lifted his chin and peered at me with contempt.
"You’re my toy, and toys should listen to their owner’s orders! Unless you want to be abandoned and crushed like worthless garbage!"
What Spaghetti meant by “crushing” was death.
Death is the disappearance of biological activity.
Most people will experience great pain in the process of dying.
Is that proof of being a "person"?
"Spaghetti, do you feel pain?"
"Hah? Trying to change the topic, are you?”
I watched Spaghetti get more and more impatient, yet the words that left my mouth put a surprised look on his face.
"I want to understand how humans feel. Death, pain..."
I wanted to confirm that I wasn’t a machine, but a living, breathing Food Soul. A conscious, human-- Food Soul.
A Food Soul who can feel pain, as the father of that girl said.
I couldn't describe the look on Spaghetti’s face, nor could I describe my uncertainty.
But that didn't stop me from speaking out about my doubts. I wanted to understand the feelings that told humans they were alive - including pain.
"You want to know? Okay, fine, then get crushed like worthless garbage!"
After Spaghetti left, I set off for the Catacombs.
He told me this was where I’d find my answer before he left.
The Catacombs are treacherous.
Battling with Fallen Angels is different from battling with Food Souls.
Fallen Angels obey their killing instinct without mercy or hesitation.
As they group up and fire attack after attack, my flames will run out sooner or later.
I’m almost certain that I will die there.
Outside the Catacombs, there was a Food Soul who tried to stop me from looking for certain death.
But I refused.
Only pain can give me the answer I need.
And pain...did give me the answer.
The battle was tireless. My skin constantly tore fresh wounds.
Even as I overexerted myself and burned through all my Soul Power...I couldn’t give up without reaching my goal.
My wish, my reality, my existence...
I have to prove that I can feel pain too. The same kind of pain humans feel.
I’m a living, breathing Food Soul too!
A pain I’ve never felt before seared through my body as I dealt out attack after attack.
At that moment, I wanted to go back and say to that girl “I can hurt too. I’m just like you.”
But perhaps it was too late.
It hurts, everything hurts.
I lay on the ground, surrounded by an unrelenting mob of Fallen Angels.
I knew no one was coming to save me.
I could feel my Soul Power dissipating.
But I wasn’t sad. On the contrary, I felt relieved.
Because I knew I was a living, breathing Food Soul. A living, breathing--“person”.
B-52 was no ordinary Food Soul when he was born.
His Master Attendant was an airship designer who wanted to summon an assistant but summoned a machine instead.
Yes, a machine, as his Master Attendant called him.
One who couldn’t act or draw conclusions on his own, who could only do the tasks he’d been given.
Of course, there was an exception-- battle.
In an age plagued by Fallen Angels, not just the land, but even the sky and the ocean were occupied by them.
B-52, known to others as a bomber, did an outstanding job in airship escorts and was even called the perfect war machine by a pilot on the airship.
Food Souls have a sense of self when they’re summoned.
Although they’re more or less influenced by their Master Attendants and learn new things in the process, they all know from the very start what kind of existences they are.
As he interacted with his Master Attendant and other humans, B-52 “corrected” the perceptions in his mind. He no longer considered himself a “Food Soul” but a cold, numb, and inexhaustible “machine”.
But B-52’s Master Attendant wasn’t always on an airship. When drawing design drafts at home, he’d put B-52 on standby in the library, only letting him run some errands every now and then.
Someone commissioned a private airship design from his Master Attendant. The front of the airship would be adorned with a sculpture of a "beautiful bride", and the necklace on her chest would be inlaid with a beautiful blue gem.
Therefore, the Azure Stone was kept at the home of B-52’s Master Attendant.
The Azure Stone was a cursed gem. Its previous owners had all fallen prey to ill fates.
But a gorgeous 10,000-carat gem will always have its suitors.
Little did they know, however, that the curse wasn’t real. It was just a legend some Food Soul intentionally created by combining a few coincidences.
Every few years, the Food Soul would hand off the Azure Stone before killing the owner and taking it back.
B-52’s Master Attendant was one of his unlucky victims.
But it was this that kick-started B-52’s shift from a machine to a “human”.
When his Master Attendant died, B-52 was still a machine that required orders to do anything.
Over time, as B-52 performed more and more tasks, he witnessed more and more sadness and joy.
As more human emotions gradually surrounded him, he began to think about the rationality of orders.
He didn’t refuse the orders given to him, but the first seeds had already taken root and would sprout at any moment.
B-52 didn’t know if it was the Azure Stone that caused his Master Attendant’s death.
He didn’t realize it at first.
It wasn’t until the second time he went to take the gem back that he started to connect the dots.
And when he performed the same task for the third time, he let a girl go.
Did B-52 not want to kill Spaghetti and avenge his Master Attendant?
He didn’t know.
Before he had free will, Spaghetti’s orders gave him his thoughts and existence.
This internal conflict sped up the development of his critical thinking and transformation.
Why didn’t he kill Spaghetti immediately after everything was laid bare? Because the pull of his wish--the first wish he’d ever had--was so intense it took up all his focus. The thought hadn’t even crossed his mind at that time.
The truth was, B-52 wasn’t actually numb to pain but thought of himself as a machine. That belief sealed the feeling off.
What made him feel pain, in the end, was not death, but his desire to finally break the seal.
He was convinced that pain could tell him whether he truly was a machine or not.
By chasing death, he confirmed that he wasn’t a cold, numb, inexhaustible “machine”.
In the Catacombs, B-52 could feel his consciousness slipping away.
Just as everything was about to go dark, he heard a voice.
"Phew, just in time. Good thing he’s not gone yet... Brownie, hurry and pick him up! We’ll treat him when we get back, but for now--retreat!"