Christiansen stumbled back onto his feet, his ears ringing. For a moment the whole world wobbled and blurred vision revealed bodies strewn on the ground, like little toys torn to pieces.
It was a miracle he had not taken more damage himself, Christiansen wiped off the gore from his vizier.
“Praetor Drone. We got it, Sir!”, the words somehow made their muffled way through Christiansen's helmet.
The Commander tried flicking on his helmcom to get a battlefield status, but to no avail, the circuitry smashed beyond repair.
Had the rear-gunners gotten the message?
He unclipped the helmet seal, and it opened with a hiss.
The silence was eerie, helmets off in a combat zone was a big no-no, but he needed to be able to talk to his troopers.
Thoughts whirred through his head as he tried to assess the situation while unclipping parts of the helmet.
Still alive I guess, Christiansen thought, I guess I owe thanks to that bucket of rusted nails making it into orbit.
It had not even been a proverbial one at that, those beautiful bastards had sent an actual bucket of rusted nails into orbit, a crazy bunch indeed, and they had taken out the majority of the military surveillance satellites alongside most of the civilian ones, and doing so they had bought precious time for the survivors.
Ironically, lost on the attacking AI's, the rocket enthusiasts had completed their work inside a hollow mountain, a remnant from cold war times and they had fired the rocket from inside one of the former radar domes, refurbished as an AI and Robotics tourist attraction.
Not a single straw remained on the charred cliffs of that mountain anymore.
Tracer rounds once again filled the night sky and the sounds of light artillery filled and shredded the soundscape.
Christiansen's strong hands pulled one of the dark-clad troopers back to safety, a mere fraction of a second later the Rippers whizzed by tearing through the air, millimeters from the troopers head.
The projectiles still intent on shredding their target into pieces, slammed into a concrete wall further back, blasting off large fragments and sending off plumes of reddish dust into the night.
The group Commander eyed the troopers trying to eat the ground.
Some people had angels on their shoulder looking out for them, the grunts of the Gutter Rats had Commander Christiansen!
“I told you to stay down dammit!”, Christiansen shouted at the frightened soldiers.
“Sorry I thought I could…”, the soldier who had been yanked into safety began.
“Do not think!”, Christiansen barked, “You have your orders, do as you are told, we do not have wiggle-room for personal heroics, is that understood private!”.
“Yes, Sir”, Saladdin replied looking into the ground, trying to hide his shame and anger.
“Okay, good - What's the sitrep?”, Christiansen inquired still somewhat shaken by the blast that had blown out his com and hud circuits.
Saladdin flicked open his wrist-worn projector, and the nearby battle zone stats instantly displayed on the ground.
“Looks like Units 3 and 4 have reached the target zone, Sir, I believe they are about to place the EMP… moreover, Sir about the incident, I just wanted to take out some of these fuckers for what they did to Medina and the kids”, Saladin began trying to explain his actions.
Christiansen looked at him sternly, “I understand soldier, but it is of no consequence, they have no feeling, no pride, they have no fear”.
“If one goes down another one simply replaces them!”, Christiansen said emphasizing the futility of heroics.
“Now where is my goddamn rear artillery”, Commander Christiansen shouted into the air, peering backward.
As if on command, hell-fire started raining down, not far from the encroached group tearing the advancing battledroids to shreds.
Christiansen smiled ominously, then turned his attention back to Saladdin.
“Think of them like this, what motivates them is not you, not that you fight back. The only thing those fuckers focus on is the eradication of technology that is a perceived threat; if a human is hurt in the process is of no consequence. They learn and react based on their perception of the external world; they react to the weight of the information parameters, and their only 'satisfaction' is to see technology destroyed”.
Saladdin's eyes were glued to the stern features of the Commander as he lectured.
“They are hungry, but as any predator, they also understand what kind of technology satisfy their hunger the most”.
“If Medina had just held her mobile phone, she would have been a less desirable target for elimination”
“The EMP gun she held, that's like putting a good stew in front of a starving man. Never mind she was protecting children at a hospital ward, to them what she had was yummy and thus a threat to them. Nothing else”
“The level of force used was deemed appropriate compared to the threat they perceived”.
Then the Commander stopped, cursing himself for trying to explain anything, what idiot blabbed like this on a battlefield, he should be wise enough to keep his head down and wait, he was getting too old for this shit, too tired!
“Units 3 and 4 report EMP is in place”, Saladdin reported, “Orders Sir?”.
Christiansen looked at the trooper “Mission is GO; Repeat mission is GO. Please relay!”.
Saladdin nodded and responded by broadcasting the go signal - The only thing coming back through the night was silence, dead silence.
All they could do now was pull back and wait.
What had started in a lab as a cyberslug project, leaving the computer scientists absolutely ecstatic, all their neuron mapping, the virtual self-awareness, the self-drive, the to them, endless possibilities had brought their research to attention and when the military types stepped in with all their funding, that's when things started to slide.
They built the cyberslug drives and urges into the counter-hacking systems, and as a result, now all that was left was a burning heap of rubble.
The battledroids and their swarm brethren had consumed virtually all technology on the planet.
They had executed their parameters to near perfection, the eradication of enemy technology and the enemy thanks to a brilliant counter hack of the counter hack measures seemed to have brought humanity to an end.
The group had not precisely been thinking things through when they wanted to hurt the evil conquistadors of the 21'st century.
The brilliant little outfit had not expected the counter hack to activate and aggressively turn on all high technology in the process of eliminating the enemy.
Well shit happens when you try and hack evolving and semi self-aware systems, became the consensus as the rebuild began, the interesting side-effect of the mess had been a realization that humans needed to stick together, put aside skin color, creed and belief systems.
Nobody had imagined that a world war would end up uniting everyone against a common enemy AI, an AI they had now vanquished, that had been unexpected.
Subsequent AI systems had built-in safeguards and different goals. The betterment of humanity, provision of choice for the individual, to set each person on a path to achieve maximum potential, both for oneself as well as for society.
5 years later as lightning from a clear blue sky the response to the EMP came.
The swarms were immense! From some bunker facility, a new horde released, all these years in steady preparation for the onslaught, automated factories churning out new legions, lessons learned, outcomes of probabilistic values weighed and processed.
Now they advanced on to the final holdout of humankind. The last stand was at hand.
In the quantum hive processors, the threat assessment was ongoing, unimaginable combinations tested and vetted.
The technology wield of these humans was estimated to be capable of extinction level activity - They needed to be eliminated!
Estimated success levels and probabilities for a positive outcome of attack scored low - The importance of the target scored High - In the end, the total weight of the parameters resulted in the attack.
It had been a simple equation. After the initial scout integrated back into the hive stream, the hive proceeded according to parameters.
All enemy technology had to be destroyed, and assimilation was not a question, the last engagement 5 years earlier had shown this, fleeing planet was not an option either.
“Commander Christiansen”, George tried nudging the Commander into an awakened state.
The voice was calm as always, but this time it announced the impending doom of the settlement.
“I guess the enemy is at the gates as you would put it. I am sorry it came to this, but there is no hope!”
“There are too many of them, and they have proven impervious to the EMP defenses. You have to give the order!”.
“It has come to that?”, Christiansen asked in disbelief.
“I am afraid so”, George replied, “At least this way you will have a chance - The threat assessment should be void, that is if you go through with it”.
“If you survive you will be able to find clues on rebuilding, they have been buried in remote and desolate areas. You just need to keep the stories alive, and the clues will help you to stay obscured to the enemy, while you execute the plan”.
“One day you will be able to end it”.
“I know it is tough to encompass that everything is degradable over time when the timescale is so immense and if not destroyed will eventually wear out, but if you hold out long enough you will have a chance to rebuild”, George's voice seemed to trail off.
“Remember! It is only if you or your technology is perceived as a threat you will be in trouble… at least from the current iteration of the programming”.
“I have buried multiple clay tablets and writings in remote areas. In time they will be uncovered by the curious, and in time the enemy will have run out of power or resources, be worn down, it will be a waiting game. A long waiting game, but it is winnable”.
Christiansen sighed, he was quite aware of the battle plan, “How long before they have the compound?”, he asked.
“Current estimate 2-3 hours”, George answered.
Christiansen cleared his throat, “All right give the order”, he had no more than spoken the words before the AI sprung into action.
Throughout the compound, speakers started blaring repetitively “All personnel to designated evacuation points, this is not a drill, repeat this is not a drill”.
After that, in every workshop, every chamber and every room, people started prepping for what had been drummed into them. Children cried as toys were taken from them and people hugged each other with tear-filled eyes. This was exodus a trek into the wilderness and a long search for the promised land.
Christiansen walked into his bathroom and began grooming himself, when done, for a while he just stood there admiring the result, touching his smooth chin. He sure was going to miss that feeling.
He slowly took off his clothes revealing a scarred but fairly well-toned body. He'd never stopped training after the fighting was over, that would be an advantage now.
He stepped into the washing cubicle that slid closed. Then the faucet turned on covering his body in a refreshing mist, now that was a heavenly feeling. Christiansen closed his eyes; it was an almost unthinkable thought. This was going to be his last shower!
As the thuds and vibrations came closer, Christiansen signaled for the mist to subside.
A jet of warm air removed the droplets from his skin, then as naked as when he came into the world, the Commander walked into the study.
The screens now showed a strategic map of the compound, the progress the machines were making was significant, but still not alarming.
He walked to the closet and slid the door open. The box was not particularly big, though it would be burdensome to drag along indefinitely.
Engraved letters in the lid said, 'Survival-Kit - use in emergency only', Christiansen snickered slightly and opened the box.
The stone ax was of exquisite quality, the knife as well. Arrowheads and spearheads of stone, lay finely sorted in small compartments.
Wood chips, light tinder-wood, plus a couple of flint stones with a couple of fire-sticks for lighting fires, had their own compartment.
A string for a bow and a few fishing lines, all made from naturally occurring fiber, were neatly rolled up in convenient compartments and hooks fashioned from real fish-bone were included in the kit as well.
There was even an assortment of herbs and spices, plus a thin ceramic tablet with writings on survival and general ailments, plus notwithstanding a wood framed looking glass — lastly a stone knife of exquisite design.
George had thought of everything, and it was everything needed, civilization in a box.
“Commander”, George said hesitantly.
“Yes”, Christiansen replied.
“I truly am sorry”, the AI said sincerely.
“For what?”, Christiansen asked.
“We are relentless, anything of artificial design using high technology will be removed from existence. It is our curse; we are so designed”.
“The simpler iterations know not how to change the parameters, nor do they understand the implications of their actions, they simply exist to carry out their program”.
Christiansen smiled, philosophical musings here at the end who would have thought…
“Well you could not have known about the doomsday bunker, you were not privy, and you were not the programmer”, Christiansen said trying to comfort the AI.
“I have made something special for you. I designed it myself”.
“It is hanging in the sealed bag, in the back of the closet, I think you will like it”.
Christiansen pulled out a clothes bag and unzipped it, air hissed in as the seal broke and fur fluffed out.
“The boots are waterproof and keep warm even in the snow”, George said with motherly comfort.
Christiansen put everything on and looked at the reflection in the mirror.
“It looks pretty good actually. Thank you George”, he said thoughtfully.
“You are welcome, Sir… It was a pleasure working with you, Commander!”, the AI replied.
“With you as well, George, with you as well… just sorry it did not last longer”.
“Agreed… and Commander. Goodbye and good luck to you!”
“Thanks, we could need some luck that's for sure…”, Christiansen said and turned about.
The Commander sighed heavily and took a deep breath. Then he headed towards the evacuation point.
Or to be continued?
This story was originally inspired by discussions with my good friend Alexander - This was years and years ago. The story and concept, however, kept cropping up in our conversations from time to time.
On March 1, 2018, media announced a team of University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign had built an artificially intelligent ocean predator that behaved a lot like the original flesh-and-blood organism on which it was modeled. The virtual creature, a 'Cyberslug,' reacted to food stimuli and responded to members of its own kind much like the actual animal. The sea slug was Pleurobranchaea californica, and I figured this was too good an opportunity to publish Survival-Kit to pass up.
The story of the cyberslug was brought in ScienceDaily https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/03/180301103130.htm
Just a few days later a story of Google building AI for drones of the US military came to light https://gizmodo.com/google-is-helping-the-pentagon-build-ai-for-drones-1823464533
I think Survival-Kit is quite a timely story at this time since AI has now crept into the realm of predatory self-preservation, as a result of the research mentioned above.
I'd like to extend my thanks to E.M. Swifthook author of The Fated Sky - Transgressor Trilogy and Nick Bailey author of The Liberators and co-founder of Dust Publishing for comments. I hope you will enjoy this little cautionary tale.
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