Author : Julian Miles, Staff Writer

I am the reason for the silence. It is if there is an invisible column of peace centred upon me. Far to starboard, I see an entire flight of Black Dragon assault drones holding station. Upon detecting my regard, the lead drone tilt-salutes in my direction.

It started in Syria, after a British combat paramedic and Iranian surgeon substituted the curve of the Red Crescent for the vertical bar of the Red Cross. Within days, that ‘Red Trident’ became our sign. On a white circle, it’s a civilian aid unit. On a white square, it’s an emergency services unit. On an inverted white triangle, it’s like me: a military mercy flight.

As I hammered across the desert for the first time, using the vectored thrust from my internal rotors to steer while the scramjet pushed me past Mach four, I saw soldiers looking up and making religious gestures. No matter whom I was rushing to help – friend or foe – they wished me well. One day, it could be them.

Entering the hot zone, I shut down the scramjet and hover-coasted while momentum dispersed. Far below, a warrior levelled an RPG at me. I saw his comrade shoot him in the head. No matter that my armour would ignore that sort of light arms fire. My behavioural routines did not understand, but my mission remained viable, so I retrieved the shrapnel-mutilated specialist with my robotic arms, lifting her gently into my primary care pod. With death placed in brief abeyance by activating stasis on the pod, I lifted slowly while orienting myself to point toward the nearest major trauma facility. When I had achieved sufficient altitude for straight-line point-to-point, I put a ‘clearway’ laser pulse along the route, vectored thrust and engaged the scramjet.

It was the day after that I found an article from a war correspondent who had been in the hot zone. I added it verbatim to my behavioural archive, because while I knew it explained the odd behaviour, I also knew that it would take me years to comprehend it:

“Today I encountered a legend in the making. A specialist had stepped on an IED. She could survive, but only with advanced medical care. I heard the word ‘lifespear’ and saw nods. Within minutes, there was a noise like I have never heard before: a banshee scream, underpinned by distant thunder. Just when I thought it would damage my ears, it ceased and the eerie howl of vectored thrust heralded the arrival of a wedge-shaped armoured drone. The only break in its matte-black finish was a Red Trident set in an inverted triangle. Within moments, it had loaded the specialist and levitated into the heavens. A rainbow flash shot westward, searing the desert evening – and my retinas. Then the screaming thunder started and shot off, following the line of the flash, leaving a wake like an accelerating meteor and a resonance echo in my chest.

Calling it a High-Threat Zone Retrieval Unit does not capture the reverence with which these ‘lifespears’ are regarded. They are absolutely inviolate, and that status is enforced by the nearest weapon-bearer capable of intervening, be it friend or foe.

I am reminded of my grandfather telling me how London traffic used to part before ambulances, and my great grandfather talking about his grandfather telling him about the Ghost Cavalry of Mons, who accompanied wounded men as they left the battlefield at night. I wonder if future grandchildren will be told of the Remote Angels, who rode thunder and sundered the heavens with spears of light to save wounded soldiers.”

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