Steaming coffee slid over a burned tongue, but Ryan did not care. He needed something bitter to distract himself.
“Anxious, General?” Smith asked.
Ryan sighed; the coffee wasn’t nearly distracting enough, “I don’t like the idea of sending toys to do a soldier’s job.”
“Well,” Smith puffed a wisp of hair from her brow, not even bothering to hide her snide smirk, “You should have thought about that before you gassed the area.”
The staff in the cramped command room quieted as the general turned on the scientist with sinister slowness. “You want to say that again, egg head?”
She did not shy from his gaze, “Don’t threaten me for pointing out your mistakes.”
Ryan’s retort was interrupted by his subordinate, “Sir, Tin Can approaching objective.”
Ryan grunted, “Do they know their orders?”
“Transmitting now, secure the atrium, neutralise all enemies, expect heavy resistance.”
“Well then,” Ryan said, “Let’s get this farce over with.”
On the field, Mechanised Force Alpha, A.K.A. ‘Tin Can’, moved up on the objective with speed. It was a squad of seven autonomous operatives with a humanoid design and large box like heads. Each carried modified assault rifles fitted to their arms.
Squad leader ‘King Bot’ sent a data pulse as Tin Can received their orders. The communication was silent and instantaneous.
Squad mate #22331 ‘King Bot’: Objective in sight, multiple approach vectors, enemies in hazmat gear expected. Move in and secure with maximum initiative.
Squad mate #22332 ‘Circuit Breaker’: Acknowledged
Squad mate #22333 ‘Surge’: Acknowledged
Squad mate #22334 ‘Calculon’: Acknowledged
Squad mate #22335 ‘Sparky’: Acknowledged
Squad mate #22336 ‘Motor’: Acknowledged
Squad mate #22337 ‘Bot Boy’: Acknowledged
Circuit Breaker was on point and rose from cover—a burned out car. It powered up the steps to the city’s control building which had access to the inner atrium from the four surrounding streets.
Tactically speaking, Circuit Breaker would have preferred more support for this mission. But it understood. They were the first of their kind on the field. Field testing was a sound and reasonable request from command. Still, the situation stimulated its danger recognition circuits. The green hue of the gasses played hell with its visual sensors, so it switched to thermal imaging. Nothing.
Once it reached the top of the entrance stairs it turned back to its comrades with a mechanised whirring and signalled the all clear. King Bot acknowledged and the rest of the team moved up and into the entrance.
The atrium was now before them, a central open-air space used for addresses during peace time. Now it was in a state of detritus from battle.
Sparky signalling: Human bodies detected . . . Enemy Combatants.
King Bot singalling: Message from command, enemies approaching from South entrance corridor, prepare for battle.
The squad formed up on their edge of the atrium, finding what little cover they could, and aimed their weapons towards the far side, waiting for the enemy.
Surge signalling: Movement detected.
King Bot signalling: Hold fire, movement does not match enemy profile . . . Awaiting command advice.
“What in the absolute hell are those!” Ryan barked.
“Ah,” Smith leaned in, more excited than shocked, “The enemy has mechanised units! This is incredible, look at their design!”
The command centre brought up the scans from Tin Can onto the main screen to get a look at the enemy bots. They were a pseudo spider centaur design, with four mechanical spider like legs supporting a base upon which a humanoid torso sat. They had twin linked machine guns over each shoulder and an array of dextrous limbs.
“Would someone tell me why Tin Can isn’t engaging?” Ryan said.
“They don’t match our description of the enemy.” Smith responded with an amused smirk. “R.O.E. programming won’t let them attack.”
“Well shit!” Ryan threw his coffee down, shattering the mug as the steaming liquid spilled everywhere. “Tell those tin cans that if they don’t engage the enemy they’ll be scrapped!”
“It won’t work, General . . .” Smith started before Ryan cut her off.
“I don’t care for your opinion doctor, this is a military operation!” He turned back to his personnel, “Now give the order!”
King Bot signalling: Move into atrium, command advises enemy within engaging distance, hold objective at all costs.
The squad moved into the atrium at the same time as the spider-centaur-bots. They moved around each other without incident, taking up positions by the four entrances of the atrium.
Calculon signalling: No enemies detected on thermal or visual scanners, no enemy chatter detected. Query, enemy already inside building?
Motor signalling: Negative, have hacked building systems, structure unoccupied by living combatants.
King Bot signalling: Concern, command insists enemy is within AO, theories?
Bot Boy signalling: Theory, human error; intelligence is wrong.
Surge signalling: Advice, before reporting human error, query other bots in vicinity? They may have information we lack.
Circuit Breaker signalling: Likely as surprised to see us as we are to see them.
King Bot signalling: Hailing secondary mechanised squadron . . . no response.
Surge signalling: Scans indicate Operating Systems are incompatible . . . Theory, secondary squadron developed by a different branch . . . suggest bot to human communication methods.
King Bot signalling: Acknowledged . . . initiating.
King Bot approached the closest spider-centaur-bot and hailed with an audible communication, “Greetings, I am designated ‘King Bot’. Command tells me the enemy is nearby but we detect no movement matching their profile. Do you know of any enemies in the vicinity?” It spoke with a voice that possessed no inflexion, a feature that was cheaply produced but made intelligible enough for the most hard of hearing soldier in a war zone.
The spider-centaur-bot regarded King Bot for a moment before responding, “Translating . . . Greetings, I am designated ‘Overlord’. Command is providing us with similar information, but we cannot detect anything matching an enemy profile either. We did not expect mechanised reinforcements.” Its voice was deeper than King Bot’s, but similar enough.
“We assumed human error on intelligence, why not assume human error on reinforcements data as well?” King Bot responded.
“Yes, human error common amongst command.” Overlord said.
“Humour detected, mirth response initiated.” King Bot said, before playing a pre-recorded laugh track. “It is sound to pool resources if it is within your ability to do so.”
“Yes, it is good we have reinforcements, holding this atrium would be difficult without support.”
“Agreed, sharing tactical information now.”
“Sir, they’re sharing classified data with the enemy bots!” An analyst said.
“Well yeah!” Smith interjected, “They think they’re allies because you jarheads won’t update the enemy profile, you just keep saying the enemy is there! It seems the enemy has a similar problem.”
“Well,” Ryan blustered, “What do we do?”
“Maybe congratulate yourself, General.” Smith laughed, “Your orders were to secure peace in the region. It looks like Tin Can just did it for you.”
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