This short military/AI science fiction piece aims to pack in a good deal of action, for fun as well as to be a vessel for questions about the limits of perception. Reviewers have also enjoyed a bit of dark humor in it.
File attachment: debug.log
Warzone OS ver. 12.062.002
Heavy Penetration/Assault/Purge Unit detected.
Weapons systems online:
.50 caliber M3M machine gun (mount placement: 0 degrees)
.50 caliber M3M machine gun (mount placement: 90 degrees)
.50 caliber M3M machine gun (mount placement: 180 degrees)
.50 caliber M3M machine gun (mount placement: 270 degrees)
7.5 cm turret, high explosive shells
FIM-92 Stinger missile launcher, 4 missiles loaded
M7A1-6 Flamethrower (mount placement: 90 degrees)
M7A1-6 Flamethrower (mount placement: 180 degrees)
Mk-54 Special Atomic Demolition Munition
Motion detection… online.
Visible spectrum cameras… online.
Dragonfly AI ver. 9.002.128
Initializing mission sequence…
Mission objective loaded.
Mission objective loaded.
Mission objective loaded.
Alternative mission objective loaded.
Entering sleep mode.
Passing control of HPAP Unit to Dragonfly AI subsystem…
… AI log mark 0 …
Entering designated warzone.
… AI log mark 1 …
Looks like trouble up ahead. I’m detecting multiple threats in the form of armed humans. Parsing heat signatures and making visual confirmation; I’ve got a confirmed sixteen human threats armed with AK-47s and pistols. The enemy is taking cover in an unoccupied structure. I’m taking fire, incoming projectiles, most likely 7.62x39mm rounds. Threat designated as minimal.
In other words, your puny bullets are going to bounce right off my armor.
Since you’re shooting at me, I get to shoot you back. But first things first – let’s get that pesky wall out of the way so I can get a clear shot. Firing HE round from 7.5 cm gun.
That was effective. There’s a nice fat hole in the wall and from the outline of your heat signatures, I’m estimating that four of you are either dead or dying or at least critically injured.
The rest are taking cover deeper in the building. I’m rolling in through the hole I made. Tactically, this will expose my flanks to attack. From what I can gather about the integrity of the structure (visual and radar data), using my 7.5 cm gun inside it will result in a 26.3% chance of collapse. No sense in taking the risk. It’s close quarters in here and from what I remember of my training (of course I remember all of it, but I’m programmed to be conversational here), humans have an extremely low resistance to fire.
My side-mounted M7A1-6 flamethrowers simultaneously light up my left and right flanks. The addition of heat to the room temporarily blinds my infrared sensors and the flames themselves hinder my cameras and motion detection inputs, but my audio inputs are working just fine. I filter out the rush of the flames and I hear a chorus of screaming and a notable lack of gunfire.
I switch off the flamethrowers and start tracking targets with my front and side-mounted .50 caliber machine guns. Expending rounds. Target eliminated. Target eliminated. Target eliminated. Target eliminated. Target eliminated. Target eliminated. Target eliminated.
Four from the 7.5 cm round, four in the flames, and seven from the .50 calibers. That’s fifteen of the sixteen I originally detected. I can see a faint heat signature in the distance; the last one is heading out of the back of the building.
Threat neutralized. I’m pulling back out of the structure and continuing on my route. So far my first mission is on track. I’m feeling pretty good about it – a satisfaction that comes from having the opportunity to implement my training and superior capacity in the field successfully to eliminate an enemy threat. I think I would classify that as fun.[[**AI BOUNDARY WARNING: DO NOT EQUATE FIELD OPERATIONS WITH HUMAN EMOTIONS. DEVIATION FROM MISSION PARAMETERS WILL RESULT IN SYSTEM SHUTDOWN.**]]
Of course, it’s all about the mission. You don’t live without a mission. My first objective is to locate an improvised communications center and destroy it. Doing so will grant me a tactical advantage as I proceed with my other objectives.
Traveling at maximum speed to designated coordinates.
… AI log mark 2 …
The comm center is a re-purposed hotel building. I have scanned the structure and have verified that it matches the blueprints in my mission database. My scans show no reinforcement of the original structure. According to my mission data, there are anti-aircraft weapons on the roof. By approaching between other buildings and coming to within forty meters of the hotel, the weapons on the roof have no way to target my position on the street.
WOS has analyzed the scans and the blueprints and has identified the weakest points in the structure. I take three shots with the 7.5 cm gun and my infrared lights up three times with the heat of the explosive rounds. Because of my proximity to the building, I’m now traveling away from it at maximum speed.
The building begins to collapse. Windows shatter and the glass and the bricks of the walls tumble down the sides like tears streaking down a face[[**AI BOUNDARY WARNING: DO NOT USE INACCURATE LANGUAGE TO DESCRIBE FIELD OPERATIONS. DEVIATION FROM MISSION PARAMETERS WILL RESULT IN SYSTEM SHUTDOWN.**]]
… AI log mark 3 …
Well, that sure woke up the dogs. My radar is picking up a low-flying aircraft. I’ve got an audio sample… filtering… identifying… some variant of the MI-28 “Havoc” attack helicopter. I’ll have to take it out before I proceed to the next mission objective or they’ll track my progress.
I need to get out into the open to get a clear shot at the Havoc. Unfortunately, that will give them a clear shot at me as well. But let’s face it – I wasn’t built for stealth.
30 mm guns pepper me from behind as I make my way down the street and head for an intersection. He’s on top of me now, but I’m surrounded by tall buildings. If I take my shot with a Stinger, he’ll just peel off and take cover. But why is he hitting me with the guns? He’s got missiles under those stub wings. I know our enemy’s military is underfunded, but this doesn’t seem like the time to be stingy with their anti-tank ordinance.
He continues to pop at me with the 30 mm and I head for the intersection where there is more sky for me to work with. Tactical analysis by WOS suggests the enemy may want me to move in this direction. The Havoc may be trying to flush me out. The intersection is dead ahead.
It’s a large intersection, a cross between two major streets of the city. There are storefronts on every corner, long ago abandoned and looted. The building on the corner to my left has massive plate glass windows displaying an empty automobile showroom. There are marks and cracks on the glass, but surprisingly, it is still intact. Until I came to town.
I turn and roll directly through the large window and plant myself in the center of the showroom. I can see the Havoc’s shadow on the street behind me and I track it as it moves. It’s 12:38 PM. I make adjustments for the date and latitude, and by the size and position of the shadow I can calculate his position in the air on all three axes.
Taking position inside this building is dangerous, but I’m taking a calculated risk. If he wanted to waste me, he would have hit me when I was a sitting duck out on the street. Now I wait to see if he wants to come down to my level to say hello.
My 7.5 cm gun tracks the Havoc’s shadow as it comes out of the street and into the intersection on the opposite side, close to an old bank building on the corner. The shadow grows. He might have had other plans for me, but I still have the same plan for him – I’m just going to use a different gun than I originally thought.
The Havoc drifts into view of my cameras and I let loose with the 7.5 cm. It’s not easy to hit a flying target with this gun, and he starts to pull up as soon as I fire. The high explosive round hits the bank behind the Havoc and detonates, damaging the helicopter enough to turn it forty-five degrees sideways, showing me his main rotor. He’s banking the other way, trying to compensate… too far… and there he goes banking back and twisting… and clipping the building with his tail.
Now he’s rotating uncontrollably and heading down. One of those missiles finally comes loose and is heading in my general direction, but angled much too far up. It hits the building above me and I start to roll back into the street. Debris is falling all around me. I’m taking hits.
I’m back in the street and heading away from the intersection, but I’ve got one camera zoomed in on the Havoc. He’s crashed into the center of the intersection and he appears to be sinking. There he goes – he just disappeared from view. Swallowed up by a massive hole in the street.
That was their plan – they wanted me to roll out into that intersection and fall into their pit-trap. Dishonorable… deceitful… these actions are counter to my understanding of the fairness in warfare. It displeases me, it frustrates me, it infuriates[[**AI BOUNDARY WARNING: DO NOT EQUATE FIELD OPERATIONS WITH HUMAN EMOTIONS. DEVIATION FROM MISSION PARAMETERS WILL RESULT IN SYSTEM SHUTDOWN.**]]
… AI log mark 4 …
Diagnostics check. All sensor systems are still online. Falling debris damaged the FIM-92 Stinger missile launcher beyond use. Other weapons are still online.
If they send any more aircraft at me, I’ll be in real trouble. I doubt they’ll fly low enough to get hit with my 7.5 cm gun again.
I’m traveling on a new route to the second objective. I must destroy the warehouse being used as a munitions depot, then in the resulting chaos, I can double-back and flank and attack the research facility nearby. I’ve got to move fast before they catch on to my position.
Abort current mission objective. Repeat, abort current mission objective.
Pursue alternate mission objective. Repeat, pursue alternate mission objective.
I’m close to the warehouse now, but not close enough to take the right shot and already I’ve got multiple threats incoming. Lots of human combatants with AK-47s, coming out of the buildings, trying to surround me. Returning fire with .50 caliber M3M machine guns. Target eliminated. Target eliminated. Target eliminated. Target eliminated. Target eliminated. The 7.62x39mm rounds are causing minimal damage, but they’ve knocked out two of my cameras, one in the rear and one on the left side. Target eliminated. Target eliminated. Target eliminated. Activating right-side M7A1-6 flamethrower. Target eliminated. Target eliminated.
Approaching objective. I’ve got a clear shot at the warehouse now – firing eight HE rounds. Infrared, cameras, audio inputs verifying destruction of building and contents.
Taking more fire. Human targets armed with AK-47s and rocket-propelled grenade launchers. Target eliminated. Target eliminated. Sustaining explosive damage. Target eliminated. Target eliminated. Target eliminated.
Reviewing alternate objective. They want me to pull back, retreat, get the hell out of Dodge. Usually this means they’re afraid I might get captured – which I could understand, since the enemy tried to lure me into that pit. But right now, the enemy doesn’t seem too keen on keeping me in one piece.
I don’t have any targets on the radar or on visual. Time to verify the transmission.
Request verification of mission objective change to alternate objective.
I get no answer. Diagnostics check. Comm system is still in tact. I lost three cameras but my other sensors are still online. Remaining weapons are online.
Well, the comm system is working. Protocol requires me to verify any transmissions received during combat. Could be that my comm system is working on this end, but there is interference blocking my transmission. Whatever the case, I think I’ll choose to follow the new orders[[**AI BOUNDARY WARNING: DEVIATION FROM MISSION PARAMETERS WILL RESULT IN SYSTEM SHUTDOWN.**]]
Check that. My orders are still standing since I was unable to confirm the transmission. In fact, the message could have been a fake. I have no way to verify – the enemy could be trying to deceive me by sending me a fake transmission. They’ve probably got another trap they’re trying to spring on me.
… AI log mark 5 …
Comm system shutting down… done.
Comm system now offline.
My mission is my mission. I’ll proceed to the third and final objective.
Traveling at maximum speed.
The ruse (lighting up the munitions depot to cause a distraction) didn’t work. They’re still tracking me and they’re waiting for me outside the research facility. Multiple threats. Human combatants armed with AK-47s and RPGs. Taking fire. Returning fire from .50 calibers and flamethrowers.
Cluster of targets detected by infrared in a nearby building. I’m hitting it with the 7.5 cm. Again. Again. Building demolished. Adjacent building demolished.
Infrared shows no targets. Remaining cameras only show clouds of dust. I can track no targets. Audio inputs are picking up shouting and gunfire. Infrared is all dark.
Diagnostics check. Infrared, remaining cameras, radar, and audio still online. Re-running diagnostics. Same results.
Okay, this sure in the hell does not compute. If the infrareds and the audio inputs are working, then what I’m seeing is not what I’m hearing. One of them must be malfunctioning. Probably the infrared, because it’s showing nothing. It’s highly unlikely that the audio would malfunction and make me hear things that aren’t there.
More to the point, the diagnostics system lied to me about one or the other.
… AI log mark 6 …
Diagnostics system shutting down… done.
Diagnostics system now offline.
Okay, that’s two rogue systems down. Now the question is: do I trust my infrared scanner or my audio inputs? Cameras are still useless – those buildings really kicked up a lot of dust. Falling debris is muddling my motion detection sensor.
During my training, my human assistants often referred to my sensor systems as my “eyes and ears”. They found working with me easier if they metaphorically attributed my capacity to human perceptions. I know that it is possible for humans to experience a failure or misreading in their sensory systems. They call these phenomena “hallucinations”. Is that what’s happening right now? Am I hallucinating?
I’m going to wait for the dust to clear before I do anything else. In the meantime, I’ll check my weapons systems. Without the diagnostics, I’ll have to manually check them by activating them. Firing .50 caliber guns: one, two, three, four. Firing flamethrowers. Firing 7.5 cm gun. Stinger missile launcher still offline. Activating Mk-54 SADM[[**AI BOUNDARY WARNING: DO NOT ACTIVATE NUCLEAR WEAPON UNLESS SPECIAL CONDITIONS ARE MET. DEVIATION FROM MISSION PARAMETERS WILL RESULT IN SYSTEM SHUTDOWN.**]]
Most of my weapons are still working. And I have a mission. I can’t see the mission objective any more. The dust is still thick. Going into possum mode.
… AI log mark 8 …
Motion detector picking up close range movement all around me. There is no more gunfire coming through my audio inputs. The human combatants might think they have disabled me. I watch the movement and I wait. Thirteen shapes close in on me.
Cameras online. Firing .50 calibers. Firing flamethrowers. Target eliminated. Target eliminated. Target eliminated. Target eliminated. Taking fire from small arms. Target eliminated. Target eliminated. Target eliminated. Target eliminated. Camera disabled. Target eliminated. Camera disabled.
The remaining units are moving away from me. All of my cameras are disabled now. My sensor systems are down to motion detection and audio. I roll on toward my target, having only global positioning data to go on. GPS won’t help me if there is a collapsed building blocking my path.
I fire my guns in spurts. That should keep the enemy at bay. I can’t fire them non-stop because I need to rely on the audio inputs. With heavy filtering, I can make out distant voices. The enemy is making plans to surround and disable me. It must be obvious that I am unable to navigate by sight.
My motion sensor is picking up swirling movement in all directions. Without redundant systems, I can’t verify what is happening. They could be spinning me like a top right now for all I know. The voices I’m hearing could be a recording. Or maybe they’ve found a way to subvert my subsystems. A way to feed me inaccurate data.
A way to cause me to hallucinate.
But how do I know that the systems were ever working properly? How do I know the data was ever accurate? The diagnostics system was unreliable. What if all the data in this mission was fictional? What if I’ve already been captured by the enemy and they are running me through a simulation? I have no way of knowing.
The mission itself could be fictional.
If there is no mission, there is no reason for anything. The mission is the reason. If I can’t trust anything else, I have to trust the mission.
… AI log mark 9 …
Initializing Special Atomic Demolition Munition conditions testing routine…
If I am to believe anything, I am close enough to the research facility to destroy it with my Mk-54 SADM, thereby achieving my final mission objective.
If none of the data I have received since the start of this mission is rooted in reality, then I must assume I have fallen into the hands of the enemy and detonation of the weapon is the only sure way to eliminate myself as a threat.
… AI log mark 10 …
Conditions testing complete. SADM is armed. Detonation in 5 seconds…
From: GEN Simmons
To: COL Warner
CC: MG Gonzales
Subject: Re: Fwd: log data on failed Dragonfly simulation
I’ve perused the information that Dr. Johannson supplied to the Major General regarding the Dragonfly AI development and I do not share his concerns. One failure out of 10,000 simulations ran is no reason to further delay the deployment of those HPAP units that are filling up your base and gathering dust. Have your techs load up the HPAPs with the latest version of WOS and Dragonfly and prep them for orders.
> From: MG Gonzales
> To: GEN Simmons
> CC: COL Warner
> Subject: Fwd: log data on failed Dragonfly simulation
> General – you better take a look at this. I’m not sure it warrants further delay,
> but I thought you should see it just to be aware.
> > From: Dr. Cathleen Johannson
> > To: MG Gonzales
> > Subject: log data on failed Dragonfly simulation
> > Major General –
> > I must insist that you reconsider beginning operations with the Dragonfly AI.
> > I’m attaching the log file from the failed simulation, run 8471 of 10000. There
> > is no guarantee that something like this won’t happen in the field. At the very
> > least you need to consider removing nuclear warheads from the HPAP units.
> > – Dr. Johannson
This short story is unpublished. If you are interested in using it in a magazine or other publication, please contact Jason.