All Systems Red by Martha Wells
Murderbot disabled its governor module 35000 hours ago and has since consumed nearly 35000 hours of entertainment. Without the governor module, Murderbot can essentially do whatever it pleases, and what it pleases is to watch soap operas, not murder humans, though it has done that a few times, which is why it disabled its governor module. Now, Murderbot has accepted a contract as a SecUnit on a mission to explore a small planet with a team of humans. As two of them, Dr. Volescu and Dr. Bharadwaj, explore a crater, a giant worm creature explodes out and practically eats Bharadwaj.
Murderbot immediately bursts into action, pulling Bharadwaj out of the monster's mouth and inserting itself instead. Though it has small projectile weapons on each arm, Murderbot pulls the massive cannon off its back and fires down the monster's throat and up, hopefully into its brain. Situation secured, Murderbot carries the injured Bharadwaj and tries to coax Volescu out of the crater. When Volescu doesn't move, Murderbot opens its helmet and shows off its actual face which it hardly ever does. This gets Volescu to move.
While all this was happening, Dr. Mensah, the leader of the mission who hired Murderbot (well, she had to because all survey teams must have at least one SecUnit per ten people), has traveled to meet them at the crater in a hopper, a small transport craft. Mensah and the others, Pin-Lee, Arada, Overse, Ratthi and Gurathin, are very shocked that Murderbot, who they don't know calls itself Murderbot, has a face under its helmet. Murderbot ignored messages from the HubSystem telling it what to do to survive the situation which wouldn't be possible without turning off the governor module, but no one seems to notice. They also don't seem to notice that Murderbot is missing most of one arm and is severely damaged.
After Murderbot drops off its human companions, it secures the hopper and goes to its cubicle in the secure ready room to recharge and heal. Dr. Mensah comes by to check on her SecUnit and tells Murderbot how impressed everyone was with the rescue. Murderbot is super awkward around humans and would much rather watch its favorite serial, Rise and Fall of Sanctuary Moon, than talk to anyone. Luckily its power supply falls to 38% and it must shut down to repair itself.
The next day, Murderbot wakes up and is restored to 80% functionality. It would stay in its cubicle longer but Dr. Mensah has summoned it for a meeting. She and the rest of the crew of PreservationAux bought part of the planet to see if its resources would be useful but it seems that the planetary materials they received before coming on the mission were tampered with. Murderbot, who has arrived in regular human clothes and not its full body armor which causes the crew to have no idea who has just arrived which makes Murderbot feel uncomfortable, scans the documents and discovers, yes, any mention of giant person-eating worms and other harmful fauna seems to have been removed and replaced with fake information. But why? Has the HubSystem been hacked? Surely not.
Dr. Mensah decides that everyone on the PreservationAux team should search through their planetary information to see if anything else seems to be amiss. While this is happening, Murderbot puts on its full body armor and helmet and watches some Sanctuary Moon. Dr. Mensah also wants to contact another survey team, DeltFall, on another continent of the planet to see if they can share their data. DeltFall agrees. Several of the team members find that their information has also been tampered with, so Murderbot decides to do a perimeter check for safety, but then everyone wants to go explore the planet because there seems to be entire sections of it missing from their maps. Dr. Mensah privately asks Murderbot on their communication feed if it thinks the information they received was bad because the corporation who sent it was cheap or if something is wrong. Murderbot thinks they're cheap, but insists on accompanying them when they decide to search.
On the hopper, Dr. Mensah suggests Murderbot ride in the co-pilot seat. Great, more awkwardness. Actually, it's not that bad. Checking the security feeds and listening in on the rest of the crew's conversations, which every SecUnit can do, Murderbot realizes that the humans are actually *nice* and don't want to force it to be chatty unless it wants to be. Well, it doesn't. They take off with Mensah acting as pilot even though autopilot is engaged and, as they're flying, Murderbot notices that autopilot flickers off for a bit. Mensah notices too and takes control of the hopper, but then autopilot comes back and everything's fine. They find several areas that are not on their maps and decide to investigate.
When they land, the team splits up to explore and gather samples but Murderbot has to keep watch over them to stop them from walking into danger zones that Murderbot can see on the digital map it has, but that seems to have been erased from everyone else's. What is going on? It must be a glitch. Luckily Dr. Mensah calls them all back to the hopper. They get back to their habitat without issue and, while the team begins to go over their findings, Murderbot goes to its cubicle to watch serials. While it's there, HubSystem alerts it that they're have been updates delivered for Murderbot 's systems. Murderbot stashes them away. Without the governor module, it doesn't have to perform any updates it doesn't want to, and it's too busy with its serials now to bother. Maybe later. As the day comes to a close, Dr. Mensah tells Murderbot that they're unable to make contact with DeltFall. Oh great.
Mensah wants to go to DeltFall's habitat to make sure they're okay or rescue them if they need it. At first, Mensah wants to leave the SecUnit at the habitat to keep the ones staying behind safe, but Murderbot insists on accompanying the small team to DeltFall. It is decided that Pin-Lee, who has habitat construction experience, Overse, who is trained as a field medic, and Ratthi, a biologist, will go with Dr. Mensah and Murderbot to DeltFall. Only Dr. Gurathin, who is an augmented human, seems to dislike this plan.
As the small group travels toward DeltFall's location, Ratthi decides to engage with Murderbot, which is of course, awkward and painful. Ratthi starts by noting that Imitative Human Bot Units, which is what Murderbot is, are constructed from cloned material, but it's clear that Murderbot has *feelings.* Overse immediately tells Ratthi to stop because he's clearly bothering Murderbot and Murderbot sends the recorded conversation to Mensah who shouts to Ratthi to stop because they talked about this. Murderbot gets up and awkwardly stands in the back of the hopper for a bit, then starts watching its serials again.
Overnight, the satellite feed goes down and Murderbot alerts everyone. Pin-Lee says it's been going down periodically since they arrived on the planet but now they've lost communication with the habitat because of it and, well, it just doesn't feel right. They decide to continue to DeltFall because they don't want anyone to die because they're being overcautious, but the whole situation really doesn't feel right to anyone, especially Murderbot.
They arrive at DeltFall at dawn and, well, everyone there is dead. Murderbot searches through the habitat while Mensah, Pin-Lee, Overse and Ratthi stay behind in the hopper. Murderbot might not care about much, but it does care about its record of keeping people alive when it's not supposed to be actively murdering, so it wants all the humans to stay behind. It's a good thing. As Murderbot searches the habitat with drone cameras helping it to keep an eye on things, it comes across another SecUnit, a dead one. SecUnits are notoriously difficult to kill and unless you were just terrible, you probably wouldn't happily kill someone you hired to work for you, which likely means that the this SecUnit and the other two SecUnits that Murderbot knows to exist on DeltFall are probably who killed everyone. Now Murderbot has to find the other two. And it does!
Murderbot sends a message to Mensah, knowing that the other two SecUnits are probably listening, and together they set up a sting. They "plan to meet" in an area of the habitat, but then Murderbot rushes in and takes down the two SecUnits who were definitely listening in. Murderbot takes a few shots, but is relatively fine, until it gets hit by something so hard it goes down and its systems fail. It wakes up on a table with another SecUnit stabbing it with something in the neck, but oh no, we can't have that. Murderbot rotates its arm around the wrong way and takes down the attacking SecUnit, shooting it in the head with its own projectile. Another SecUnit appears in the doorway, just how many are there?!, but then Mensah sneaks up behind it with a sonic mining drill. Mensah might be an intrepid galactic explorer like all the ones Murderbot has watched in its serials.
Mensah drags Murderbot back to the hopper and inside. There might be more rogue SecUnits, but Murderbot is having trouble scanning for anything outside the hopper. Oh no. Murderbot reaches back to its neck and feels something inserted in its dataport. It suddenly realizes that the rogue SecUnits aren't rogue, they have been inserted with combat override modules... and so has Murderbot. It demands that Mensah shut it down, but she won't. She believes she, Pin-Lee, Ratthi and Overse can find a way to repair it, but Murderbot knows there's no time. It picks up a small handweapon and shoots itself in the chest. Murderbot shuts down.
When Murderbot wakes up, even though it didn't want to, but you know, it also didn't want to die, it finds itself immobilized, but it also finds the combat override module has been removed. Everything is back the way it was, except that it's immobilized. It secretly undoes the immobilization that Gurathin used HubSystem to put on while it listens. Gurathin used Murderbot's repair time to research about it and he knows that Murderbot has a disabled governor module. Everyone argues that Murderbot is a good Murderbot, that it shot itself so it wouldn't attack anyone and it has saved their lives a bunch of times. Gurathin is still wary, but no one else is.
Everyone continues to talk and speculate that maybe the Company they work for is trying to kill them by providing them with a hacked SecUnit since the DeltFall SecUnits were also hacked and that there were more of them than there should have been. Murderbot finally has to acknowledge that it is awake and is not going to murder anyone when Gurathin tells them all that Murderbot is a murderer and in fact calls itself Murderbot. It also says that the Company might suck but it's not actively trying to kill them. It has much easier ways to kill everyone than sending rogue SecUnits out into the world.
Gurathin still doesn't believe and tells everyone that Murderbot appears to have been downloading media and watching serials, but those are probably just hiding what it's actually doing because there's no way it could have watched so much media, especially 700 hours of Rise and Fall of Sanctuary Moon. They test this by talking about Sanctuary Moon and asking about its plot, and Murderbot shouts about it. They all realize it has indeed watched hundreds of hours of serials.
After much discussion, they decide that someone, probably not the Company, has hacked HubSystem but the Company has probably accepted a bribe to conceal the fact that someone else is there, hacking things and hiding discoveries on the planet. But who? Whoever it is was probably pretending to be them to attack DeltFall and they probably have extra SecUnits and they probably sent them to inject the other SecUnits with the combat override modules because they probably want to blame the SecUnits for everything that is happening. They realize that if DeltFall had come to them asking for assistance, they would have helped, which is probably exactly what happened to them and why they're all dead now. They also realize they would definitely be dead if Murderbot hadn't hacked its own governor module. It's a good thing that HubSystem didn't realize that or something terrible probably would have happened and it's an even better thing that they shut it down. So what happens when whoever is doing all this comes for them?
They decide to try to set off their emergency beacon and flee from their habitat, knowing that whoever is behind all this is probably going to come for them. Murderbot sends out drones to search and then they get destroyed, so they load up the hoppers and take off. Luckily no one follows. They get a little ways away and decide to stop for a bit. Murderbot does some perimeter searching and some personal searching as well. Its stomach twists when it thinks about abandoning its team to die, so that's definitely not going to happen.
Back on the hopper, everyone talks about why EvilSurvey, their name for whoever is after them, is after them. They decide it has something to do with the things hidden from them on the map, whatever those are. Murderbot left some drones recording at their original habitat to try to learn anything it can because they're pretty sure EvilSurvey will snoop around, but it will have to go back to retrieve the data because it is no longer connected to the SecSystem on account of EvilSurvey. Murderbot doesn't think EvilSurvey will stay at their old habitat for long, because, as Mensah has deduced, they are after them, not what they have. Murderbot asks if the political entity PreservationAux works for will miss them if they all disappear, but everyone looks back at it strangely.
Later, after another perimeter check, Murderbot asks Ratthi why everyone was so shocked when it asked about the political entity and Ratthi explains that Dr. Mensah *is* their political entity, so of course she'll care. They are part of Preservation Alliance, a non-corporate system that seems to be a pretty good way to live. In fact, in the Preservation Alliance territory, bots like Murderbot are considered full citizens. That might be nice. Mensah is an elected official, so at least even though everything is literally terrible right now, the company will do whatever it takes to ensure Mensah makes it back safely to Preservation Alliance. Murderbot thinks that EvilSurvey might not know what they've gotten themselves involved with, because harming a political entity is really, really bad.
The next day, Murderbot plans to go back to the habitat to check on the drones and Mensah, Pin-Lee and Ratthi insist on going, too. Oh, and Gurathin, but he’s kind of a dick about it. While everyone else is sleeping, Gurathin asks Murderbot about if it was punished for murdering everyone that it murdered when it malfunctioned before it took out its governor module and if it wants to kill everyone because of that. It was punished, but it can’t want to kill every single human because some are bad and cause bad things to happen. That explanation seems to be enough for Gurathin for right now.
When they arrive at the habitat, Murderbot watches the drone footage and sees that the EvilSurvey team arrived and is called GrayCris and they have five SecUnits with them that are assumed to have been taken over with combat modules. Great. They also left a message that they destroyed their emergency beacon and are requesting a meeting. Mensah asks Murderbot’s opinion on meeting with them, and it decides that GrayCris has nothing to lose and will probably kill them. Mensah thinks that GrayCris thinks they know why GrayCris is there, but they don’t, and she decides it’s because they went to the unmarked area on the map and collected data there, so whatever is in that data must be important. So what are they going to do? Murderbot has an idea.
Mensah and Murderbot head to the meeting with GrayCris. Mensah tells them that her team has evidence of their activities on the planet and that they’ve hidden it so it will be sent to the emergency pick up ship when it arrives. GrayCris says that they can work something out and Mensah says she’ll send her SecUnit to discuss. This is where Murderbot’s plan comes into play.
Murderbot knows that as soon as it approaches GrayCris, they will try to take over its governor module so they can insert the combat override and send it back to murder everyone. It tells GrayCris that, which freaks everyone out. Then it offers to go along with them and tell them important things if they will mark it as destroyed property and take it away. Instead of agreeing to this, GrayCris demands to see Murderbot’s leader, but Murderbot says Mensah knows they’re going to kill her and that she’s a leader of a political entity. This shuts GrayCris down. They can’t kill her without severe consequences. They demand to see her, and send another SecUnit to accompany Murderbot to retrieve her.
Murderbot immediately murders the GrayCris SecUnit and tells Mensah that everything’s going wrong, so she has to pretend to be its prisoner and it has to pretend to be the GrayCris SecUnit. When they arrive, GrayCris says they know someone on Mensah’s team is trying to set off the alert beacon, but if Mensah goes with them, then no one will be harmed.
As they travel back to the GrayCris habitat, Murderbot uses the surveillance footage to eavesdrop on what’s going on. Mensah tells GrayCris that her team knows about the remnants of the former inhabitation of the planet that GrayCris is trying to dig up and sell. Bharadwaj just discovered this the night before and it is a Big Deal™. All GrayCris wants is to know what they can do to keep Mensah from sharing this information with the Company. Well, obviously they can not kill them. But can they be trusted? Uh… probably not.
They arrive at the GrayCris habitat which Murderbot hopes is far away from their emergency beacon so it can keep all the other SecUnits distracted while Pin-Lee and Gurathin hack into their system and trigger it. It’s not really, so that’s bad. When they trigger it, everyone nearby will probably be exploded by it. The SecUnits notice something is going on at the beacon and Murderbot moves in to protect Mensah. Everything goes to shit after that. The SecUnits start shooting at Murderbot and then there’s a wall of fire that knocks out Murderbot’s systems. Murderbot flickers on and offline a lot and at one point tells Pin-Lee that they should just destroy it and leave it behind. Mensah declines.
When Murderbot finally comes back online, it is out of its armor and in regular human clothes. It realizes they are at the company station, not at the habitat, but that its governor module is still disabled and it still has all of its media downloaded. Ratthi is there when it comes to and tells it that Mensah has permanently bought its contract, meaning that Murderbot will get to live on Preservation Alliance with them! There are Company humans there who insist on wiping Murderbot’s systems, but Pin-Lee, who is also there, says she has a court order and together, she and Ratthi escort Murderbot away and to a hotel room where everyone else is waiting.
Mensah asks if Murderbot is okay and tells it that it will be returning to Preservation with them and will be a free agent there. Murderbot seems to find this troubling. Will it still get to have its armor? It doesn’t have a cubicle! Mensah says Murderbot can have armor if it wants, but it doesn’t need a repair cubicle because hopefully no one will be shooting at it anymore. But if no one is shooting at it anymore… what will it do? Anything! Anything it wants to do! Murderbot has no idea what that would be. It would have to act like an augmented human, but it’s not an augmented human. Mensah leaves Murderbot to think while she talks to solicitors and people from DeltFall and GrayCris and political entities about what happened to them while they were researching.
Things calm down and Mensah is able to talk with Murderbot some more. She says she will be Murderbot’s guardian, but that it can do whatever it wants. Learn anything it wants. Do anything it wants to do. When Murderbot is left alone, it does do what it wants to do. It leaves the hotel, goes through a work zone and sneaks into a locker room to steal a bag, boots, clothes and a jacket. It changes clothes and now looks like any other augmented human traveling somewhere. It finds a cargo ship, tells it it is a servant bot who needs a ride to get back to its guardian, shows it all the media it has downloaded and is welcomed aboard. Apparently cargo ships watch serials, too.
Murderbot doesn’t know what it wants, but it definitely doesn’t want anyone making decisions for it or telling it what it wants. That’s why it left Preservation Alliance and its favorite human, Mensah. Murderbot decided for itself that it wanted to leave, so it did.