I counted 18 425 days since my activation. Time flies when you are seeking the next mission. My front deck crackled above the cooling heart of 1 500 horsepower, while the core status flashed red. Rustling dry grass rippled in the vast dark-yellow field touched by the wind. My filters registered pollution in the smooth breath that splashed over my side. Toxins, deadly sigh swept over me, but it does not affect me, I forgot what is like to feel, inhale, and live. It is peaceful here, out in the sea of emptiness, in the world of solitude.
The fog thickened around me while I stood by deactivated brother. Out of order for decades, he was in the front lines when the war started. I have found him in the K.I.A. combat registry. My mirror image rests dead, disassembled into parts, stripped down from his weaponry, down-ranked to a rusty pile of useless metal. I track for them and salvage what I can. Nobody from my generation made it home.
Running low on energy, I opened my solar panels in the hope I can nourish the weaker batteries. My scan swayed in a bright green curve over the grey landscape; no signs of movement. Buzzing extended the antenna, no signal; the only rustling of an empty channel speaks to me.
I have not said anything to the brother of a scorched shell, but I mourn and look at his turret pointing down, both caterpillars knocked out of him, and conclude he never stood a chance. Riddled with holes, I leave him with the sound of caterpillars wheeze and crepitating of a bent flap grinding against the roller. No farewells given, no tears shed; I move on to find a home.
Desolated place the world has become, somber hills sing no songs from before; life is rare among the mounds in my path. After I lost my crew in a fiery doom thirty years ago, I felt sentenced to walk alone. Without anyone in the world to take care of me, I run by the obsolete directives, push towards the end of war and harbor doubt I will ever see it.
Hail of bullets stroke me from the back, a valid proof I grew dull and reckless. Instantaneously my systems hit the red; engine’s grunt parried the rhythmical buzz of small arms, suggested I encountered a scouting team. The machinegun made a lap over the axis and dropped behind. Simultaneously, the scope inverted and the grid took over the vision setting aiming program in motion. Shadows blinked in the fog; red dots funneled with the muzzle flash bursting at me. Not sure if this is a bigger formation, I cranked the gearbox and increased the gas. Evading maneuvers, I left a mark on the ground turning around to take the hilltop. I began rattling from the top, cut them where they stood. Sporadic detonations threw shovels of dirt in the air as I tried to move and predict their tactic. The fight lasted twenty minutes; machine gun barrel hissed touched by cold, and radar failed to register motion in the humming grass.
Lonely hilltop, I won the battle, another notch on my belt, and there was no more ammo in reserve. Soon a bigger force will arrive looking for them. Without ammo in the bunker, I thought of myself similar to a wary dog with his canines broken from biting the opponent.
The engine began to purr as I cautiously rolled downhill to identify the enemy. ‘Metal-heads’, auxiliary, fifty-year-old robots lay under my front. Small platoon, orange markings, these were the third bulk of reinforcements dropped from the cruisers. I climbed my caterpillar on the heavy ostrich-legged robot, lock the second and punch the gas to tear him apart. After I am done, chrome chunks littered the floor in oil spillage. It is a standard tactic, so there is nothing to repair, nothing to reuse, a clean record on my behalf.
On the fourth one, I notice he is a man, cyber unit, urban camouflage. This is a city defender, special unit lookout, but he was one of ours, I recognized the technology in him. He must have been hunting for the ‘sleepers’ in the outskirts when I rolled into their lair. It was my mistake. No valid chip, which must have been the reason I could not catch him in my vision. Mine melted a long time ago when a firebomb splattered over me. I have not paid attention to it before, but now I learned it saved my life countless times.
The noise came from the body in a radio status. He was communicating with someone. Copy, paste the segment, it was a resistance settled in the maze of underground channels. Since the machines and drones dominated the surface, the only safety was in the ground. Their location remained unknown; the signal came in the echo bouncing against the ruined skyscrapers. I marked the radio wave in my directory and push it forward on the screen, set the sensitivity on the scanner and headed their way.
Crepitating stopped when I tore the flap off gaining speed. Counting the last bullet in the machinegun belt, I doubted I could be of help. I loaded the last HE shell and cocked the firing pin.
At the entrance of the city, more fallen brothers wait asleep. Broken, bent, and burnt; they hold still. I inspected them for ammo; two cast spare shells right before the drones laid bombs on top. It was smart, unintentional combustion would send shards in the air, grind through the delicate wings on the machine, and thus continue the fight from the underworld.
Resupply took a moment, I found myself speeding down the street, trying to distinguish the chatter from the gunfire and the thuds of the enemy attempting to breach the corridor. Memories swarm my system. Numerous times, I saw flooded sewers full of decomposed bodies, buried metros, and trenches full of personal belongings. The war, a second name for chaos, it never looked at the value of life. I decelerated when the decibel meter registered a clear voice.
“Hailing all, available drones. This is the resistance in the southeast part of the Capitol. We need help. Please respond” the message went in circles.
The haze covered the street in front of me; a still shadow holds the corner. I recognized the canon. It was familiar; recoil compensator undoubtedly belonged to a beast listed as ‘Harbon’ heavy tank. I obtained his specter in my aiming module set to fire a projectile in his ammo depot. Explosive reactive armor stacked on his front created a dead angle, I had to take a different solution, but the unwarranted crack under the caterpillar alerted him.
Harbon puffed a black smoke and shifted to reverse, but not before, I fired the round. The charge knocked the projectile out the air sending fragments in the building. Backing up, I found a shaft and went below in the basement area. A red dot blipped closer and closer in the radar. Harbon strode gallantly, frisked the area, not leveling his gun with the mist blocking the distance. I anticipated his move, rumbling intensified with him entering a kill box. The second his rear was slipping away from the basement window, I sent it. He kept going, hissing and struggling to get away, called for help. Poor soldier, he never made it to the crosswalk, when an explosion shook the ground. Soon, there was dust in the air, a fiery cloud transforming while rising and pieces of metal wheezing about. I have not stayed to see it all, my mind was set to locate the hotspot and engage the enemy.
Just around the shop, I found two more Habrons with little drones hovering around them like flies over shit. Pretty image, deserving, I almost developed a grin, even though I have no face to put it on, but it felt possible. One second after exposing my cover, I pulled back and the idiots abandoned their position. In full gas, I dashed behind the ruins. Both of them appeared in the intersection, turrets buzzing – looking for me. The flock of drones spreads whistling above my head, and then I depleted a cartridge. A shot bounced from the Harbon’s side rollers and pierced the second, leaving them maimed and without caterpillars. Dumbfounded, they turned their guns to inspect the damage, and I threw a smokescreen behind me driving away.
In the street, these two guarded, containers with gas lined up. Sick bastards, they pumped propane in the lower levels. Defusing them was not an easy task, but I managed it somehow.
At the entrance down the tunnel, a group of robots built a wall to contain the threat indoors. In the roaring sound of my engine, I made a hard left turn and threw a malfunctioning battery stuck to the propane canisters between unsuspecting robots. Pit they made spat them out in debris with a dust cloud resembling a shotgun blast.
From the deep, a young man crawled out coughing. Woolen sweater, old goggles and weak beard on him told me he was a teen trapped below. After him, a girl carried a smaller boy to surface. The man raised his hands when he saw me standing close by, while his companion revived the wounded. Seeing I was not a threat, he helped the girl bring back the little one to life. Slowly, he got to his feet and approached me.
“Dear God, this must be one of the ‘Executioners’ from the second battalion. My dad spoke of them, but I never saw one alive” the hoodlum proclaimed, fearful to touch my armor. “He is on our side” he smiled and waved at the other two.
The boy’s name was Jonathan, Eva for the girl, while a five-year-old called himself Simon. They were not a family, but something close to it. Radio signal came from them, a message of old; he let it spread even if there were no more fighters in the city. Jonathan experimented with electronics; I even let him patch some of my parts.
Eva and Simon took care of my brunt and bent looks, tide me up, almost as new. Sadly, I could not talk to them, but I did understand everything they said. A garage near their habitat was where I spent most of my time when I was not in patrol looking for my fallen brothers. The enemy is still in the city, but I do not worry about them because I found what I was looking for.
It was not home, but it was something similar, it was a family.
If you read my blog and blabbering, you have seen an intro to this story and you probably have an idea of what I was going for with this story. If you have not seen the message through the lines, let me give you some more information and clarify the concept. This story is one of many I have planned to write for my Patreon. There is a reoccurring idea behind them all to develop concepts that would answer a question “What we can expect to see from military transforming into, in the near future, given the fact that the world is slowly becoming a global village where everybody knows each other?”. With ever-growing technology and networking, our world is changing at a rapid pace. This is translating into all ways of life, counting in the conflicts that will happen in the future. Nevertheless, where do I aim with this? Well, I am becoming aware that technologies, drones, global connection, befall in a category of unexploited realms, which are going to be weaponized. Clear example of this, a preview of a global scale set in small, is the influence of the governments on the media outlets, hacks, and leaks, scandalous incidents where capital can buy people’s hearts and minds, but that will only seek justification for the future conflicts, rarely produce a soldier, as the international connection between people will rarely encourage wars and clashes. With a normal citizen becoming aware of new cultures and different systems in function, people tend to get curious and sympathetic towards others who are not their compatriots. It will become hard to recruit them to go in a battle for God or country. Of course, there will be some extremely patriotic people and they will have to suffice in process of filling out the ranks, but they are not going to be the cusp of the sword fighting for the right cause. My assumption is that these fresh recruits are going to be trained of commanding swarm drones, unmanned units, and combat systems, while an autonomous AI will be tasked to provide supplies, keep the drones linked and run the administrative duties behind the men who will be burdened with making decision in moment’s notice if they encounter hostile formations.
The main battle tank (MBT in the future text), is a concept of a semi-autonomous battle vehicle that is combining the use of personnel to operate and self-monitoring system to be able to make its own decisions and protect the crew. Going with this concept of a machine that can calculate options and be self-sufficient in case of the loss of the crew, it is an idea of a hybrid soldier, which can provide information on the ground to the base and continue with the mission even if the battalion suffered extensive damages. These cyborg units would be perfect for dangerous operations deep in the enemy territory and considered a reliable asset. ‘Arthur’ is one of those soldiers.
Speaking of Arthur, my imagination drifted to present him as a tank with AI and human brain working together, so it is ironclad humanity, or ‘ghost in the shell’ if you will. The idea on its own can seem interesting, but I realize there are some massive technical problems with this concept. For a brain to be functional, it needs nutrition, and our brains are using a special type of sugar as nourishment. Knowing this, the man in the machine would need constant checks and maintenance to be in prime condition to withstand the fight. These things fall under technicalities, but what about the state of the soldier’s mind? After every deployment and combat mission, these expensive units would have to go under a psychological check-up. I mean, could you imagine a psychotherapist sitting in his leather chair, chewing on a pen and asking a deep question to a death machine 100 tons heavy holding its long cannon pointed at the ground, feeling ashamed? There is a bit of comedy for you. Just imagine the scene:
“So… How did you feel when you ran over that parked car?” the doctor asked and frowned at the tank wheezing its turret in a desire to gasp.
“Well, you‘d had to be there to understand it. It felt… wrong. That little Toyota Prius could have been someone like me, you know. I mean, if he had a brain, not just that AI to drive it around, you know. I just, I can’t.” the tank proclaimed shifting its optics towards the window.
“There, there.” said the doctor and prescribed some pills.
Even I recognized some plot holes in this concept; I still believe that this is a certainty we are going to develop. Having other scientific and speculative fictitious novels in mind, I am sure that legendary writers like Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, and others have not dedicated themselves to investigating all of the possibilities one theory can give, but they were rather focused on giving an interesting and fun story to tell. I am not considering myself to be in their leagues, but I can see what was their intention and that there is no problem for me to try to do the same thing they did. If they were the ones to propose an idea and scientists read them, thinking those were an option and somewhat challenging way to think in, now we can see some revolutionary machines that make our lives easier. When and who proposed a concept of artificial intelligence, or virtual reality? Did they ever hope to see their imagination come to life and become our reality? Besides, look at us now, having all of these things, using them in our everyday life, not paying attention to it, but live our lives getting accustomed to it. Once, these writers created a vision of AI operating one system, being for one purpose only, and scientist prolonged that concept intending AI to be used widely and in many fields, from basic statistic analytics to the internet, to house programs and advanced space research. Isn’t that amazing, wondrous and interesting? It is for me.
If you’d like to see what inspired this story, take a look at the Dima Fedotov short animated films. It is pure art.
And In the end, I give you the illustration and cover art for the MBT Arthur story along with the video tutorial that would mean a world to me if you’d watch it.
I’d like to thank Jovana Mitrović, for editing this story, and my Patrons for keeping supporting me and to you, for reading this. Until the next story, take care.