Author : Bob Newbell
General Vlank walked along the corridor toward the Research and Development Lab, his motors whirring quietly with each step. Quietly, but perhaps not as quietly as they once did. He’d been neglecting routine maintenance. A lot of the High Command had as the war dragged on. Sometimes, standing in his recharge alcove at night, he wondered if the conflict would ever end. Day after day, the damage and deactivation lists kept growing. It seemed like the whole world was becoming an enormous junkyard.
Finally, Vlank reached the lab and entered. “Lieutenant,” he said, “make it fast. I have a very important meeting to–” Vlank ceased talking the moment he saw…it. The thing was roughly shaped like a person: it had arms and legs, a torso, and a head. But its housing was some strange, pale, elastic material. White glistening globules were where visual sensors would normally reside. Twin cavities on the undersurface of a protrusion on the thing’s face dilated and contracted slightly; this bizarre movement appeared to correspond to a rhythmic expansion and contraction of the thoracic region. And under the protrusion where one would expect a vocalizer was a horizontal linear gash in whatever it was that covered the surreal being.
“What,” Vlank asked, “is that?”
“That, General,” said Lieutenant Nelk, “is what’s going to bring this war to an end.”
“It’s a machine of some sort?”
“Yes, General. But it’s like no other machine that’s ever existed. Look at these schematics.”
Nelk showed Vlank images of the thing’s internal structure and video records of how it worked. Vlank looked on in amazement at the depiction of a weird soft pump in the device’s thorax pushing fluid through tiny flexible pipes throughout the body of the creature.
“What are those bag-like structures in the thorax?” asked Vlank.
“Those respiration units deliver atmospheric oxygen to the nutritive fluid to help power the drone.”
“Drone, General. That’s what it is. We’ve built this experimental prototype from the molecular level up.”
Vlank poked the thing with an extended finger. The surface was firm but yielding, somewhat like rubber.
“It seems rather flimsy.”
“Oh, yes, General. It’s made of organic compounds. It’s less sturdy than a person. And it would be utterly vulnerable to projectile weapons. But it has no electronic components. Even its processor” — Nelk gestured at the thing’s head — “employs an organic cellular network and a purely electrochemical process for cognition.”
Vlank studied the odd creation. “So, it’s not alive?”
“No, of course not, General. ‘Organic life’ would be a contradiction in terms. We 3D printed the drone’s flesh layer upon layer.
“Flesh?” said Vlank quizzically.
“FLexible Electrochemical SHeets. ‘Flesh,’ for short,” explained Nelk. “Surely you see the tactical advantage? Fire from electromag rifles would have no effect on the drone’s organic processor. You could detonate an EMP bomb right next to the thing and the same EM pulse that would kill both of us would do nothing to it!”
Vlank was impressed. “When can I see a demonstration?” he asked.
“Next week, sir,” Nelk responded.
Vlank nodded and walked out of the lab. As he strode to his staff meeting, he imagined squadrons of organic drones storming enemy positions, totally invulnerable to EM field ordnance. Why, he thought, organics could even be equipped with EM pulse generator vests like those the enemy’s suicide bombers have used to spread terror. And the drone would be totally unharmed and could continue to operate.
Somehow, Vlank noted, the world seemed somewhat less grim. After the meeting, I might even stop off for a little maintenance, he thought.