Author : Eugene Brennan
The humans stared at the slogan scrawled across the prep room wall. Sergeant Drake kicked some metal scraps out of the way, switched on his quad beam, and scanned the graffiti.
“It’s a quote from the First World War,” said Captain Chang. “From Kaiser Wilhelm II to his troops as they—”
“I don’t care what it is.”
“Of course, General.”
“I want it gone in five minutes.”
“Yes, General Skott.”
Drake’s quad beam cast a red glare from one corner of the room to the other, then he shut down the quad beam and transmitted the results to Military Control. But what difference would it make? One robot was the same as another.
At the top of the steel staircase, General Skott stood in the doorway, gazing down at the lines of grey robots which were ready to be shipped to War Zone D. The robots had been fabricated and assembled in two days, software updating had taken a further three, but ten hours from now they would be on the front line, fighting for the Alliance. And, on the opposite side, the same grey robots with the same software, but for the Federation.
Two small cleaning bots lingered by the door but the General took no notice. He pulled up the collars of his green army overcoat and looked along the rows of cold-faced robots. Robots and babies, they all looked the same to him.
“The CCTV images showed us that the robot is regular infantry. That’s all we can say for sure,” Captain Chang said.
The General didn’t turn towards Chang, just nodded, and stared down at the infantry robots marching, line after line, to the Troopships. They were eight feet tall, dull metallic grey, with dark impassive eyes. Their titanium feet pounded against the concrete floors and they gripped Quork lasers in large claw-like fingers. But one robot had corrupted software. One robot, who would never come home, who would be a mangle of metal and circuits in less than 24 hours, who would never see a falling leaf, had graffitied the wall.
But it only takes one, thought the General, stuffing his hands inside his coat pockets. Then it spreads to two. Three. A hundred. A thousand.
“Has this happened before, General Skott?” asked Captain Chang. “With robots, I mean. If—”
Some men grow tall with war but others, like the General, the more they learn of robot wars, the more they shrink into their overcoats. He remembered the first time he’d seen a regiment of one million robots massing outside the city, the first time he’d seen a one-million-strong metal horde storming the enemy lines. Of course, they couldn’t kill humans, just robot against robot, but—
Through the glass-domed ceiling General Skott watched the Troopships, like thousands of glowing fireflies, flitting away into the sky.
In one month the leaves would be falling from the trees.