Author: Moriah Geer-Hardwick
“Henry?” Bringdown raises an eyebrow. “Really?”
“You don’t think he looks like a Henry?” Allgood turns the skitter over in his hand and snaps the activation tab forward with his thumb. Its little legs snap outward and immediately begin hacking at the air.
“I think it,” snorts Bringdown. “Looks like every other mass-produced piece of garbage they issue us. Why the hell give it a name?”
Allgood gently sets the device upright on the ground beside him. Once in contact with a solid surface, it clicks around in a little circle to get its bearings and then stands there, bobbing up and down, contentedly.
“Don’t listen to him, Henry,” soothes Allgood, softly running a gloved finger down the skitter’s dorsal plate. It hesitates, anxiously waiting for a command. “Humans are biologically compelled to let collective behaviors dictate their personal identity, but recognizing the significance of the individual self is the pathway to empowerment.”
“What kind of existential bullshi…”
Bringdown’s response is abruptly cut short by the sharp crack of gunfire. Instinctively, both men flatten themselves against the concrete barrier. They can feel the incoming rounds gnaw viciously into the opposite side of their cover. The skitter angles its single optical port towards Allgood, expectantly. Allgood gently pats above the lens housing, in a reassuring manner. Snarling obscenities, Bringdown fumbles for the centrifuge cannon. While he’s positioning it between his knees, the gunfire pauses.
“I don’t think individuality should be simply an indulgence of society,” muses Allgood. “The success of a group is directly proportional to the value it places on its members. A hierarchy that delegates the whole as greater than its parts ultimately risks undermining the foundations that support its very existence.”
The gunfire starts up again. One round comes in high, catching the top edge of the concrete barrier and showering them with debris.
“I think,” says Bringdown, brushing bits of rubble from his sleeve. “You’re anthropomorphizing things because you’re struggling with your own insecurities. You still got that peeper?”
Allgood digs around in his shoulder pouch and produces a marble-sized metallic sphere. He tosses it to Bringdown.
“You want to name it first?” asks Bringdown, as he chambers it into the centrifuge cannon.
Allgood shakes his head. “Simple cause and effect functions lack the complexity needed to establish distinctive behavior,” he explains. “Peepers don’t choose when or where to be fired, or what to do once they’ve been launched. They take in light and return data, with no ability to do otherwise.”
Bringdown swipes his helmet’s display module into place, angles the cannon straight up, and thumbs the firing button. With a quick whiz-thump, the peeper shoots skyward.
“So you’re saying,” he says, waiting patiently for the imagery to compile. “If it doesn’t have free will, it’s not a person.”
“No, I’m saying simple binary existence fails to provide compelling…”
“Hold up.” Bringdown raises a hand, staring intently into the display module. “I got our shooter.”
“In the open?”
“Nope. Holed up under that wrecked transport, fifty meters out.”
“So, no angle with the cannon?”
Bringdown shakes his head. They both look down at the skitter. The skitter stiffens in anticipation. Allgood sighs.
“Alright, Henry. You’re up.”
With a single motion, he scoops up the little device and hurls it over the concrete barrier.
“FRAG OUT!” chirps the skitter, in a decidedly feminine voice, as it flies through the air. It lands with a delicate clink, and then tinkles away on its tiny legs, scurrying towards the source of the gunfire. A few moments later they hear the sound of an explosion.