Author : Jae Miles, Staff Writer

“What’s the range?”

“One hundred metres, sir. Awaiting go code.”

The screen showed multiple long-range views in stunning detail: the sunset illuminating a long balcony on which an old man sat sipping a drink and having a smoke. On the ground around his home, a pack of wolves could be seen settling down for the evening.

“Will the wolves cause us any trouble?”

“The Manson Four will not even be slowed down by them. But are we sure about the UN failsafe, sir?”

The man in the black uniform grinned contemptuously: “We’ve been killing humans since drones got the ability to behave like eagles with range weapons. The United Nations sop to the bleeding-hearts is about as effective as blu-ray region coding.”

The operator nodded: “Okay, sir. Nine minutes remain on strike window. Your decision please?”

Major-General Carsen looked at the feeds of his oldest friend turned worst opponent. A genius who personally designed, or had a hand in the designing, the core systems of every robotic warfare device in the world. Without his work, the stuff wouldn’t be half as good; if it functioned at all.

“Sir?”

“What is it?”

“I thought I’d run an advanced detection pass. Two of those wolves are Black Dog Twenties.”

Carsen smiled. Those were Geraint’s hole cards.

“Pass the targeting for them to the drone on overwatch. When I give the go, I want them in pieces before our unit clears the treeline. Good work.”

“Yessir.” The operator grinned.

“This is a go.”

The operator nodded and sent the confirmation and co-ordinates.

“Sir! Both Black Dogs have bolted into the hardened shelter under the house.”

Carsen looked down at the operator: “No matter. From there they won’t be able to interdict. Overwatch from ready to standby. Sitrep?”

“Unit has stopped at the treeline, sir. Telemetry indicates a dynamic firmware flash in progress.”

Carsen threw his coffee across the room: “How many times have I told them that operational units are not for remote update?”

The operator’s fingers flew: “It’s not remote, sir. Seems to be loading from a ROM module in the chassis.”

Carsen’s hand froze in mid-wave.

“A module installed during the build?”

“Yes sir. It would have to be.”

Carsen checked the screens. The figure on the balcony flicked his cigarette to arc directly toward the unit, supposedly unseen in the trees.

“Unit has departed the zone at assault speed, sir. Course two-twenty.”

“I want to see the instruction set it is obeying. Machine speak will do.”

“Sir!”

They waited until a monitor off to one side scrolled a single line.

RTB:KILLANY INTERDICT RTB:KILLALL ALLELSE:VOID

Carsen stared. Then, in a whisper: “Operator, action a full defensive alert. Pass the specs on the Manson Four’s stealth capabilities to all personnel. Emphasise that someone better be brilliant, or get lucky; I don’t care. Otherwise we’re all dead.”

“Sir?”

He pointed at the screen: “That man never bought insurance. He said that you should always prepare for the worst. I suspect that every piece of combat robotics on this planet is hardloaded to return to base and kill everything, but only if it is sent to attack Geraint Darby.”

On the screen, the figure looked up into the lens over three miles above and raised his glass in ironic salute.

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