Author: Julian Miles, Staff Writer

It was a lovely evening. We’d seen a band, gone for a meal, had a fine THC vape, and were wandering home, giant mocha lattes in hand.
“Hey, isn’t that a Spot?”
I look where Tam’s pointing. There’s a robodog coming down the sidewalk towards us. Bright yellow carapace, quick stepping, cheery rainbow flag bobbing at the end of its antenna.
It stops. A little turret where the head should be turns our way.
“Tamzyn Coombs?”
A female voice, probably artificial.
Tam raises her eyebrows, then steps forward.
I see her drop, then hear the shot. My first urge is still to spin round while drawing a gun. Instead I feign tripping up on some raised paving and go down hard. I kick a bit, twitch onto my side – so I have some view of the street – before relaxing and going still. Ignore me, robot assassins, I’m unconscious.
After a short wait, robodog deploys a pair of manipulator arms. That isn’t a Spot. It’s a Zeke. Based on the same chassis, but created for urban infiltration. In the silence, I can hear the rotors of a drone come closer. Probably keeping a lookout. The Zeke takes Tam’s bag, then slides or cuts off her jewellery and places them inside.
A bulkier manipulator rises with a gripless pistol mounted on it. The robodog moves round, positioning the weapon carefully, then shoots Tams lifeless body again, this time point blank. Bits splatter. A dum-dum round to conceal the real cause of death. That done, the Zeke trots away, stolen bag swinging. The drone sound fades.
This is a new level of savage. I’ve been stood next to comrades who got shot: she was dead before she hit the ground. On a side street in a city an ocean away from the nearest war!
Without fighting my reaction, I make myself scarce, using every trick available to avoid being followed by anything. Bad times fleeing through foreign cities where every watcher could be hostile come to mind, bringing all the old freight that’s not helping me now. Finding myself down by the railway tracks, I sprint, letting the hard exercise help me process the chaos in my head.
Tam I’ll grieve for later. Something’s changed in the people versus those who rule, and I need to get some place where I can confirm my suspicion: this wasn’t a one-off.
Her social media supports ordinary people, providing links to resources and stuff like that. She never failed to call out corporations, and recently caused a case to be brought against our local Senator for his dealings with certain pharmaceutical lobbies.
Algy runs an all-night cybercafe. He looks up as I slip in through the rear door to the kitchen.
“Whose blood are you wearing, brother?”
“Tam. Killed by a sniper drone after a Zeke got us to stop. I faked a trip and knockout, then legged it soon as.”
He crosses himself.
“Lord above, may she rest in peace. Who targeted her?”
“Some three-letter mob. Get me to a secure browser.”
The nets are alive with reports of a spate of murders linked to muggings and suchlike. Officially unrelated, but in less than six hours we’ve hit a critical shortage of high-profile activists. Nearby drones are a common theme.
I turn to Algy.
“My guess is they’ve got mass production of combat robots up and running. They’ve decided they have the numbers to be immune to mass protests.”
“Are they right?” He snarls.
I scowl.
“No. It’ll take time and martyrs, but we will overcome.”