Author : Charles Spohrer

”EAT SAND NOW!”. The humans hit the hot sand as the mortar shell screamed towards them. The surrogates did not move. They stood still as the flowering debris sandblasted their metallic shells.

Hector made sure he landed on the ground behind the surrogates. They might not be too quick in the brain, but they sure could backtrack return fire. You just did not want to be in front of them when they did.

Hector was squad leader, which only meant he had survived the longest. The surrogates did not have rank, but there were only two other humans in his squad. Dwight was another draftee like himself. His parents couldn’t afford a replacement, so here he was in the middle of the desert.

Bennie, well. His parents ran out of money after his third surrogate got wasted. He owed three tours of duty now, and this was his first. That was the bargain. Those that could, paid for a metallic replacement. If your surrogate did not survive the tour of duty, you had to finish it out. The surrogates with the most trained neural nets were in the most demand and so fetched the highest prices. The cheapest ones, of course, had the least trained brains. They did not last long.

“Charlie squad. Move out”. The command came over Hector’s ear piece. He looked to Dwight, and said. “Ready?” Dwight nodded his head, and took a drag on the water tube. He moved to crouch behind one of the metal men.

Hector rolled over to Bennie. “Ok, here is what I want you to do. Let the tin cans lead. You stick close behind A-17. Keep him between you and the building. Ok? “ Bennie mumbled something. “Hey, don’t worry. A-17 knows what he is doing,“ said Hector. He patted Bennie on the shoulder, and then moved over behind another metal man.

“Ready. Standard frontal assault. Execute.” With that the surrogates moved towards the building. Hector saw two surrogates close up together in front of Dwight. Hector knew that overall control of tactics belonged to himself, but the others could make minor adjustments with individual surrogates. Hector did not demand perfect adherence to command and control. Surviving the fire fight came first. Some squad leaders micromanaged their missions, not always successfully.

“Bennie, stay close to A-17. He’s been around a long time, so use him.” Bennie closed ranks on the surrogate. Hector followed close behind his own tin can man.

Rocket propelled grenades took out the two surrogates on point. Machine gun fire erupted around them as they ran across the road. A few rounds pinged off the metal man in front of Hector.

The lead surrogate lobbed in a grenade through the doorway, and immediately went through. The explosion blew out the windows, the door, and some parts from the surrogate.

More surrogates leaped into the building. As the smoke cleared, metallic calls of all clear began to fill the haze.

He paused at the door, and looked down at the remains of the surrogate that had stormed the building. He thought to himself, they learn quick, or they don’t learn at all.

Dwight came out of the building, and said. “All secure.” He looked down at the mangled parts at Hector’s feet. “Hell of a way to pay for a war.”

Hector looked about. He couldn’t leave the surrogates milling about aimlessly. “Secure building. Execute,” he called.


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