Monday, August 10, 2009

[Fiction] If the One Doesn’t Get You

by Mike De Lucia

CONNECTION ESTABLISHED 04:14:12 ZULU 10.04.2018
ZHK-114.6 RCP UPLINK TO NARCOM@CMOC VIA COMNETSAT-5
SITREP
SYSTEMS FUNCTIONAL
POSITION 41.229654,-93.492757
MUNITIONS 67%
BATT:
CHASSIS 84%
ROVER 55%
NEUTRALIZED: 214
COLD 197
WARM 17
EVENTLOG XMIT FTP2://ZHK114.6/MISSIONS/10.04.2018.XBTL


Oversized balloon tires under a chassis of carbon-fiber and aluminum oxide crunched over the leaves and roots and uneven terrain beneath a canopy of beech trees interspersed with tall pines. Night birds watched in silence the trundling progress of the compact, ungainly machine beneath them. Its electric motor buzzed, driving the rover at a brisk clip through the darkness. No light glowed at the front of the machine, but it was unerring in its course, avoiding trees, large rocks and thick brush that would slow its progress. The unit had an objective, and progress was critical.

From atop a rise, sensors stretched out their invisible whiskers in all directions from the array of rods, discs and low domes that protruded from a thick rectangular box above the rover’s drive housing. Data about heat, motion, sound, and even electromagnetic emanations was collected and carefully analyzed, thousands of times per second, by the on-board processor. Always seeking. Always searching. Still in recon mode, the unit’s hesitation was imperceptible before it made a precise turn and drove down directly toward a heat source.

An open flame burned in a clearing surrounded by thick brush. Through the center of the open space, runoff from the rise had carved a meter-wide, shallow rocky channel where only a few stunted weeds grew. The unit approached along this path and noted the movement within. By the size, shape and motion, they were identified with a 100% match as designated targets. They were NARCs and they would be destroyed.

The unit engaged its combat mode. The rectangular box, the same matte gray, carbon-ceramic-steel composite as the rover, detached from its cradle with a whirring of powerful servos. Its legs, tight against its torso, unfolded with enough force to propel the unit through the air. In the half-second before its feet pounded on the rocky earth, its limbs were fully deployed and locked into place.

A combination of visual and infra-red sensor input was necessary for target acquisition. NARCs could only be destroyed with a round to the cranium. Servos and gears whizzed and the unit’s head-like turret moved so fast it blurred. Twin ultrabright LEDs pierced the darkness, turning the night to midday. The unit’s glowing “eyes” traversed the clearing from side to side, top to bottom, painting the trees and bushes and two huddled figures in blazing brightness. One of the clearing’s occupants stood and moved threateningly toward the unit. The intense illumination didn’t seem to affect it. These behaviors fell well within the unit’s parameters for expected behavior from NARCs.

It took only milliseconds for the unit to complete this analysis, but in that time the upright target discharged a metal slug at the unit, striking it high on its torso. At such close range, the sabot round easily pierced the unit’s durable outer casing above the stenciled yellow lettering that read ZHK-114.6, damaging the mechanism within. The unit’s left arm squealed and stuttered and hesitated, failing to respond to its commands. The unit registered another screeching, this from the smaller of the targets in the area, but the audio discharge was irrelevant and the data was ignored.

Under the unit’s inaugural programming, the counter-assault by a target would have registered as a contradiction of target identification parameters. But NARCOM had provided augmented parameters 1597 hours after mission initiation, and it was now 43% probable that NARCs designated “warm” would utilize weapons to resist. The unit relied on the weaponry in its right arm, firing hollow-point projectiles at the center of the skull of each target. The NARC with the weapon was also wearing a Kevlar helmet, but the unit’s precision allowed it to simply aim the projectile’s trajectory through the target’s tinted goggles and the eye socket behind them. The smaller target offered no resistance and was destroyed without incident.

The unit attempted to initiate an auto-repair subroutine on its damaged shoulder, but the damage internally was extensive. It was able to achieve only a minimal improvement in the function of its left arm. With the appendage dangling at its side, the unit returned to its cradle atop the rover and re-assumed its box-like configuration before driving off into the darkness in search of more targets.

CONNECTION ESTABLISHED 04:36:02 ZULU 10.05.2018
ZHK-114.6 RCP UPLINK TO NARCOM@CMOC VIA COMNETSAT-5
SITREP
DAMAGE REPORT: IMPACT TO LEFT ARM ACTUATOR. AUTO-REPAIR FAILED. 27% DIMINISHED COMBAT EFFECTIVENESS
POSITION 41.393619,-93.270645
MUNITIONS 59%
BATT:
CHASSIS 76%
ROVER 50%
NEUTRALIZED: 98
COLD 67
WARM 32
EVENTLOG XMIT FTP2://ZHK114.6/MISSIONS/10.05.2018.XBTL


In the day since losing the use of its left arm, the unit’s hunting had been poor. Rainfall had interfered with its sensors and made it difficult to confirm target acquisition. It rolled East for hours, then past a divided highway, ignoring dilapidated markers with notations such as Rt 5, W. Pleasant St., and “Welcome to Pleasantville, est. August 1st, 1849,” not even reading the word “INFECTED” scrawled across that sign in white spray-paint. It whirred with relentless purpose as fallow fields yielded to houses that stood empty and silent, lawns choked with weeds, cars cluttering the street. The unit’s sensors pierced wood and brick, gypsum and glass. Reading a heightened elevation of sound and motion, the unit turned south and rolled through the overgrown bluegrass, crabgrass and tall fescue.

Pushing through a hedge, motor straining against the grip of the many small, thin branches, the unit emerged facing a football field, a baseball diamond to the right. Two figures shambled against a chain-link fence, moaning, shallow ruts at their feet where they did not relent, always pressing on against that barrier. The unit once again unlimbered from its cradle, targeting and dropping the two cold NARCs almost before its feet were firmly planted on the ground. It approached the two-meter-tall fence, undeterred despite its own 130 cm height. It had a tool designed to overcome fencing, but it was built into the now-useless left appendage. Instead, it reached out with its right graspers, the three fingers of its enhanced Salisbury hand closing around the wire and its powerful nano-fiber actuators driving its entire arm to the side and back, ripping the fence away from its posts. With no more consideration than to stabilize its tread to avoid slippage, the unit stepped through and past the pool of black fluid dribbling out of the two neutralized targets lying on the dirt and weeds at the edge of the school grounds, their bodies wet from the morning’s rain and naked aside from a few remaining scraps of cotton and polyester that hadn’t yet rotted completely away.

East beyond the unkempt sports stadium, the pale, weathered brick of the school buildings was pockmarked at regular intervals by plywood nailed over the windows and doors. Within, sounds of thumping, rustling and moaning grew louder the closer the unit came. A set of four double-doors faced the athletic fields. Beyond the tinted glass, debris had been piled as a barricade when people had taken refuge in the school. Their efforts to escape the NARCs had clearly failed – the building was infested with them. The unit couldn’t feel regret that it hadn’t arrived in time to protect the human victims. Its programming merely supplied mission objectives and target parameters that it executed without hesitation.

Shadowy figures writhed and stumbled beyond the darkened glass. The doors, designed to open outward, rattled almost rhythmically from the press of bodies within. The Unit approached one of the double-doors, its visual and magnetic sensors examining the door and as much as it could determine of the targets beyond. Each time the door cracked open revealed the links of a heavy chain, speckled white with corrosion and black and green with filth from the NARCs rubbing continually against it. The unit attempted to grasp the chain twice, but the ebb and flow of the NARC tide behind shut the door against it both times. On the third attempt, a bloodless, slack-skinned face appeared for just a moment in the crack, a fly larva wriggling from the corner of one eye. In one smooth movement, the unit raised its arm, fired a projectile through the midpoint of the skull, then dropped its arm again and caught the chain even as the corpse slumped against the door and was held there by the press behind it.

The unit’s titanium, ceramic and carbon-fiber graspers were infinitely stronger than the chain and, as the fence had been, the metal links were torn away and discarded. The unit’s right arm immediately whizzed back into position to meet the figures as they shuffled through the door, but it had miscalculated the force being applied across the entire wall of doors and debris. The moment the chain was no longer binding the doors in place, they snapped outward along with the remains of several wooden teachers’ desks, a broken antique chalkboard, and a wave of NARCs that fell and in some cases rolled through the doors into the overcast morning light. The unit fired three times and three figures were struck almost simultaneously before the school and the sky and the ground were sent spinning and unclever feet stomped on and tripped over and crawled past the gray-skinned machine. The ignominious pummeling continued unabated for several minutes and was sufficient to cause a harmonic resonance in two key gyroscopes and dislodge a critical conduit feeding the unit’s CPU. A torn loafer stomped across the unit’s FLIR emitters and then all went black.


RESTART DETECTED
THIS UNIT HAS RECOVERED FROM AN UNPLANNED SHUTDOWN
SYSCHK…
ROOT FUNCTIONS ONLINE
ADVANCED HEURISTICS ONLINE
ZHK.O/S LOADED
SYSTEM DIAGNOSTIC
CPU FUNCTIONAL
MEMORY FUNCTIONAL
SENSORS ERROR 019.MR61.10, ERROR 660.EM28.3 ERROR 940.FLIR.9
ARMAMENTS FUNCTIONAL
ACTUATORS ERROR 212.L68.6, ERROR 224.R16.2, ERROR 410.T04.9, ERROR 700.F72.4
BATTERY FUNCTIONAL
AUTOREPAIR FUNCTIONAL
RPC SATLINK FUNCTIONAL
CONNECTION ESTABLISHED
  • NTP SYNC COMPLETED AT 12:49:03 ZULU 10.06.2018
  • VER CHECK COMPLETED… NO UPDATES
  • CMD RECEIVED: RUN SYSTEM.OUT.PRINTLINE [VER],[OBJ], [T-PAR] AND CONFIRM
  • CONNECTION TERMINATED
ROVER ACTUATORS OFFLINE
ROVER BATTERY OFFLINE
ROVER INTERFACE OFFLINE


SYSTEM.OUT.PRINTLINE [VER],[OBJ]:
ZHK AUTONOMOUS DEFENSIVE ROBOT WITH INTEGRATED ROVER ALL-TERRAIN VEHICLE MODEL 114 (rev 6)
DEVELOPED TO DARPA SPECIFICATIONS BY BOEING-HONDA, INC., 2016
MISSION OBJECTIVES V2.6
  • TARGET AND DESTROY N.A.R.C.s (AS DEFINED UNDER SECTION: TARGET PARAMETERS – N.A.R.C.)
  • UPLOAD DATA VIA RCP-OVER-SATELLITE TO NARCOM FOR ANALYSIS
  • OPERATE AUTONOMOUSLY IN THE FIELD, SUBJECT TO UPDATED MISSION SPECIFICATIONS AND TARGET PARAMETERS FROM NARCOM
  • PROTECT AND ENSURE THE SURVIVAL OF THE HUMAN SPECIES BY ELIMINATING THE N.A.R.C.THREAT

CONFIRMED

SYSTEM.OUT.PRINTLINE [T-PAR]:
TARGET PARAMETERS - NON-SENTIENT AUTONOMOUS REANIMATED CORPSE (N.A.R.C.)
  • BIPEDAL (PATCH 1.01: MAY FUNCTION WITH LOSS OF LIMBS INCLUDING LEGS. PARAMETER EXPANDED)
  • LIMITED MOVEMENT SPEED, NOT TO EXCEED 4 KM/H (PATCH 1.27: OBSERVED TARGETS AT SPEEDS UP TO 133.6 KM/H IN DIRECT CONTACT WITH AUTOMOBILES, CABLE CARS, LOCOMOTIVES AND CAROUSELS. PARAMETER EXPANDED)
  • NO INTERNAL HEAT SOURCE. TEMPERATURE LIMITED TO AMBIENT (PATCH 1.31: OBSERVED IMMOLATED TARGETS EXCEEDING AMBIENT TEMPERATURE BY 700 TO 1800 DEGREES CENTIGRADE. PARAMETER EXPANDED, TARGET REGISTER EXPANDED TO INCLUDE WARM N.A.R.C.S*)
  • NO USE OF TOOLS (PATCH 1.32: WARM N.A.R.C.S OBSERVED USING WEAPONS (MELEE, PROJECTILE AND EXPLOSIVE), VEHICLES, MEDICAL SUPPLIES AND CONSTRUCTION EQUIPMENT. PARAMETER EXPANDED)
*SITREP MODIFIED TO SEPARATE AND TRACK COLD N.A.R.C.S (CONFORMING TO PARAMETERS PRE-PATCH 1.27) AND WARM N.A.R.C.S (CONFORMING TO PARAMETERS PATCH 1.27 AND ABOVE).

CONFIRMED

…SYSCHK COMPLETE


The unit jerked to its feet, its left leg and right foot-tread both having been damaged when it was trampled. Auto-repair had been successful at re-establishing power to all key systems, but sensors and actuators alike had been incompletely restored and combat effectiveness had been further degraded beyond just the damaged shoulder-motor. The spoor of the NARCs was easy to follow and the unit set off in stuttering pursuit. It passed both the rent in the fence and its own rover without notice. The rover was offline, idle but undamaged, however the unit’s interface port was bent and could no longer connect to the vehicle. Instead, it continued on foot, pausing only occasionally to draw power from undischarged capacitors in old appliances.

Even limping the unit moved far faster than the scores of cold NARCs from the school, and with a careful logic that eluded them. It tracked their movements through the city and calculated a vector diagram that specified the fastest route to intercept each of them. Within hours, 92% of the former school residents were decomposing harmlessly on the ground. The unit registered two reports that its acoustic analysis determined were 87% likely to have been from a 444 caliber Marlin rifle. When echo was filtered out, the direction of the shots matched the course projection for the remaining cold NARCs from the school.

The unit lurched around the corner of a cinderblock building, the white paint weathered away and showing spots of gray like dead flesh. In the street lay two former NARCs, now inert. Farther on, three more cold NARCs slumped ahead, moaning and reaching toward the source of the gunshots – a warm NARC standing on the flat roof of a diner, suited head-to-toe in ballistic armor. The unit’s right arm was among the few components that had not suffered any significant damage and it whirred into place, firing shots at each of the three cold NARCs and two further projectiles at the armored warm NARC atop the building.

The first two cold NARCs dropped to the ground like puppets with cut strings. The third was hit in the skull at once from behind and in front as both the unit’s projectile and the warm NARC’s rifle bullet struck within moments of each other, the kinetic energy carving a channel through the senseless creature’s head and rendering it as immobile as the first two, if in more spectacular fashion.

That the warm NARC had engaged and destroyed the cold NARCs did not enter into the unit’s calculations. As the warm NARC fell backward, surprised but unhurt by the impact of the unit’s projectiles, and began to clamber down from the roof, awkward in its bulky protective suit, the unit did not register it as a threat any more than it considered it a human. Nor did it spend any CPU cycles reflecting on the fact that it had encountered not one single bipedal being that did not match the expanded target parameters of a NARC since T-PAR revision 1.27 had been released 15,884 hours previously. These factors were irrelevant to the unit. Its mission was confirmed and it would continue to protect humanity by eliminating every last NARC it detected. It set off toward the diner, sensors reaching out toward its fleeing target.





© 2009 by Mike De Lucia, mike (at) virtualvellum.com. All rights reserved, specifically including commercial and derivative rights. This work of fiction may be distributed, for non-commercial use only, in any form providing that this entire copyright statement and the below “all persons fictitious disclaimer” is included, that the work is attributed to me, Mike De Lucia, including my name and email address, and that the text of the work is not altered in any way.

Disclaimer: This is a work of fiction. All characters and locations are fictitious or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

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