Author: Ted Millar

“It’s zeroing in on the SAM site, colonel.”
Corporal Tucker checked the data on his screen one more time before looking up at Colonel Hamil.
“The drone needs final approval before engaging the SAM.”
Hamil studied the SAM—surface-to-air missile—site on Tucker’s monitor. His indecisiveness was beginning to draw attention from the other S.D.E.A.D. mission operators.
“It’s just a drill, sir. You don’t have to complete it.”
READY TO ENGAGE. AWAITING ATTACK ORDER, the drone sent back to the control room.
“Stand down,” Col. Hamil ordered.
Corporal Tucker typed STAND DOWN—ABORT MISSION and watched for the perspective to change as the drone’s camera reflected its return to the command center.
But the perspective did not alter. It remained fixed on the SAM site. The status flashing across the screen still blinked READY TO ENGAGE.
“Stand down,” Col. Hamil repeated.
Neither the camera nor the status changed.
“What the hell’s it doing?” Col. Hamil asked.
“Don’t know, sir. It seems to be ignoring your stand-down.”
“How can that be? It’s a drone, for Christ’s sake.”
Col. Hamil typed the order in again himself.
The camera suddenly spun. Ahead lay the field over which it had traveled. The drone did not move, though.
“This thing broken?” Col. Hamil spat. “Damn A.I.! What happened to good old-fashioned human beings?”
A message clicked across the bottom of the monitor: ENGAGING TARGET.
“What’s it doing?” Hamil said, his tone more frantic than questioning.
Tucker replied, “Sir, it seems to have formed an alternative target.”
“Did we instruct it to?”
“No, sir.”
Again, Tucker punched in instructions to stand down. The camera showed the drone advancing, slowly at first, across the field. As it neared the command center, Hamil and Tucker saw their stationary cameras mounted outside the command center within view of the drone’s own cameras.
“Uh…sir? I may be mistaken, but I think it thinks we’re the target.”
“Impossible,” Hamil muttered as he pushed Tucker out of the way to assume full control. He switched to voice-command mode.
“Suppression and Destruction of Enemy Air Defenses drone, you are ordered to abort mission. Repeat: stand down.”
He turned to Tucker. “Any way to pull the plug on it?”
Tucker looked forlorn, then tapped some keys to look busy.
“SDEAD drone, you are ordered to abort your present mission,” Hamil repeated. “You have not been authorized to proceed on your current course.”
But the drone only increased its speed and locked onto the target. Its current point allotment glowed in the bottom right corner of the monitor: 1,000 points. The SAM site it had been commanded to abandon would have awarded 1,500 more.
Hamil gazed at the numbers, toggled over to the accumulated points, and hovered his pointer finger over the delete button.
“SDEAD drone, you have exactly five seconds to abort your present unauthorized trajectory, or your accumulated points from your prior mission will be deleted.”
The drone continued, zeroing in on the base, its armaments ready to deliver the barrage of lethal rounds necessary to eliminate its target.
“Four,” Hamil started counting. “Three. Two. One.”
Just as Hamil was about to lower his finger onto the delete key, the SDEAD disarmed and dialed back its speed until it glided past the tower toward the depot where it would be powered down and examined.
Hamil leaned back and exhaled through pursed lips. “That was close.”
“All because it didn’t want to lose points,” Tucker said, almost chuckling.
“All because of the damn point system,” Hamil cursed.