Author: Julian Miles, Staff Writer

Sweating people are moving quickly down the High Street, frantically making angular edifices with cardboard boxes and spray paint. I’m working with Heather, rigging cat’s cradles of fishing line between the trees and bushes in the little park off Wendlesham Close. Jethro’s zig-zagging down Keynsham Road, spraying glow-in-the-dark crazy string under the cars and occasionally right across the road.
“Johnny Reed! What’re you doing?”
The towheaded kid stops, arms full of looted chocolate.
“If you go around and give that out, I won’t tell your dad.”
He nods and runs off.
Over on Queen’s Way Estate, they’re charging back and forth across the paths with fence panels and nail guns, changing the layout of back alleys. Up in Victory Gardens, they’re painting out the charge points and putting plastiboard over door and window recesses, which Malcolm’s team are then matching to the walls using plaster sprayers.
Ninety minutes. That’s all we have. Then the sky will fill with drones and the robots will clatter in. I don’t understand why they bother padding the feet: a pack of robots gently collide with each other all the time. Walking quietly is irrelevant.
The drones won’t be a problem. We’ve wires everywhere above the second floor and motion-triggered air mortars shooting weighted plastic netting.
Warfare changed with global access technologies. Troops can prepare for attacks in virtual environments built from real-time data that might only be days old. When they come, they already know the ground.
Naturally, after that level of accurate mapping, you don’t have to use humans. Robots can do the early dirty work, especially in urban warfare.
“They’ve sighted the carriers! Eighteen minutes!” Janine runs past, the training behind her athletics medals coming in handy.
That’s our communications trick: electronics being just about useless – either jammed or eavesdropped. So, we work with runners or junkshop walkie-talkies while we change the way the streets appear.
The synthetic resin in some ornaments appears – to simple scans – just like explosive blocks. Granny’s holiday souvenir from Scotland slung under a car with a handful of loose wires, outline broken by luminous plastic string, which also screws up imaging, is a treat for stalling an advance.
Which is our endgame. We can’t win. Civilians versus modern military? Suicide. However, we can confuse and frustrate their autonomous war machines. Streets the AI ‘knows’ look radically different when you obscure distinguishing features. In extremis, we can simply spray a whole street white or black. Computer imaging is a complex thing that requires substantially more processing power than you’d believe. Fast processors made it viable, to a point. Take it beyond that point and it’s going to be working out why the location doesn’t look like the image it has in memory when the streetlights come on, or the sun goes down, or something else happens to change the ambient lighting, which means the checking has to restart – if it hasn’t already crashed out and left the robot sitting there. Add a few well-placed mirrors to baffle spotlights or flares and an area can become impassable without human assistance.
Time. It’s our friend. The longer it takes them to clear an area, the more likely they are to be caught mid-op by a counterstrike. When our side hit back, we hit hard.
This ‘police action’ is costing them millions. The actual casualties may be few, but the losses being sustained by their backers? Huge. They’re haemorrhaging money.
Which means this war should get called off soon.