For Their Own Good


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Part I: Prelude to the Robot War

1

Robert Winter strolled across the beach. This beach he was on in Ecuador was the warmest place he had ever been. The air was ninety degrees and the water was eighty, so he said in the eight identical post cards he had sent to various friends.

On his head he wore a grey wool homburg stained with large ugly brown splotches. He had been fool enough to wear it to the beach his first day. A gust of wind had blown it off his head and into a nearby pool of saltwater. The third of the three professionals he consulted about repairing it had told him that any repairs his competitors suggested would only be cosmetic and that the saltwater had damaged the wool irreparably.

Robert Winter would rise each day of his vacation around ten or so in the morning, head down to the outdoor bar on the beach, order his piña colada, plunk down his two dollars, and make his way to the low wooden seat at a low wooden table under an oversized umbrella and read until his drink arrived. The piña colada would arrive after a few minutes. Winter found the drink remarkable, as it stood nearly a foot tall. The glass with the stem measured six inches; there was fruit piled high for another six inches above that.

He would sit on the beach and read all day, punctuated by reapplications of sun block and filling out occasional post cards. Such was his habit, firmly adopted on the first day at the beach, reinforced on the second. He resisted Mrs. Winter’s attempts to interfere.

Mrs. Winter wanted to go shopping in the nearby town. She claimed she wanted to absorb local culture. Robert Winter knew better. He did try. “Everything we need is here. Stay within the walls. The Costa Luz del Sol Resort is all inclusive. Enjoy what I worked so hard to pay for.” But Robert Winter knew his wife would not listen and that she had to see for herself. On the third day, Mrs. Winter, fed up with her husband trying to relax and enjoy himself, left with a group of other similarly foolish minded women to go on a shopping trip to the nearby town of San Paolo.

She returned upset and dispirited and insistent on telling him at great length what she had seen. Robert Winter tuned it out, a skill developed and employed with the adeptness that came with decades of practice. He knew already. He knew about the shit villages around the resort. He knew about the emaciated cows. He knew why the resort was surrounded on three sides with twelve foot high cement walls. That they were painted bright colors did not mean as much as that they were topped with broken glass, embedded in the cement.

On the fourth day Robert Winter woke at his customary hour. He walked down to the beach, ordered his piña colada, plunked down his two dollars, and relaxed under an umbrella at one of the wooden tables and continued his book. He liked the book; he empathized with the main character, a man who could just never win. He just wished he could read more than two damn pages at a time without someone interrupting him.

On that fourth day, Robert Winter’s reading was interrupted by what would come to be known as the Guayaquil Coup. A group, based in the port city of Guayaquil, had attempted an overthrow of the Ecuadorian government, based in the inland capital city of Quito. They seized most of the Pacific coast of Ecuador, including, to Robert Winter’s chagrin, the resort of Costa Luz del Sol. In fact, unbeknownst to Robert Winter, the Costa Luz del Sol resort was specifically targeted because it was conveniently full of fat American tourists who would be lucrative bargaining chips, or so one of his captors later told him.

Robert Winter did finally win. He was paroled by his captors to walk along the beach in his stained homburg. Just to stroll, he told them. “Do I look like I’d make a run for it?” His captors laughed. They were all right, he thought, just working guys doing a job. Perhaps another man would not have appreciated their pointing their rifles at Mrs. Winter, but Robert Winter cherished the silence it brought and mused that he should get one of his own for the house. From a distance he was watched closely by one of the rebels holding an assault rifle.

By the seventh day, Robert Winter was finally enjoying his vacation. The bar was closed but he had peace and quiet. All the other guests were under house arrest in the four high rise towers of the resort, but Robert Winter was free to roam the beach (under guard, of course), and while the bar was closed and the liquor had been confiscated and consumed by his captors, he was still free to sit under the umbrella at his table, enjoy the sunshine and warm air, and read his novel about a guy who just couldn’t win.

Damnit to Hell! Winter thought. Another interruption. This time his guard was running towards him and shouting. Robert Winter was quickly and discourteously escorted back to the high rise. On his way, the beach was buzzed by a plane. Robert Winter couldn’t make it out; it went too fast. He also didn’t see the other plane high above holding station, looking down on everything.

2

The timing for the operation was originally chosen based on the tides, but it was later changed to occur during daylight hours, according to round the clock new coverage of “Americans Held Hostage!” This day was “The Ecuador Crisis: Day Five!” The press were screaming. Congressmen were enraged. Senators were huffing and puffing. Georgetown cocktail parties were abuzz. The American public at large yawned.

The President had issued the noble command: “Do something!” And so they did.

At 1111 hours precisely, four landing craft hit the beach of Costa Luz del Sol. One second after their forward motion stopped, their front ramps came down, all with perfect simultaneity. Their “crews” rolled out. Each craft contained ten Q-63 combat robots. The first off each landing craft held a four foot wide ballistic shield to cover the landing. Above the shield sat a Gatling gun.

The rebels wasted no time opening fire on the landing craft. Bullets flew all around as each Q-63 hit the beach, their tracks optimized for sand. They fanned out, each acquiring targets and firing away, although not firing at any of the rebels on the balconies because stray rounds might hit the civilian hostages.

Stationed above the beach were four robot sniper helicopters, each armed with a fifty caliber rifle. They began targeting and picking off the rebels on the balconies. One rebel popped up with a light machine gun and fired a burst at one of the helicopters. He was quickly disposed of, but his shot had damaged one of the helicopters. It began to smoke, lost some altitude, and made a long slow arc over the beach and back out to sea.

“Finally! Where the fuck were you?” the rebel commander yelled. The young man receiving his ire was a boy named Pedro, who was only fifteen, but who deftly shouldered a rocket propelled grenade nonetheless. “Get to it!” Pedro stood up from his position crouched behind a concrete barrier and took his shot at the line of robots coming up the beach towards the northern most tower of the resort.

The rocket streaked out, landing directly in front of one of the Q-63s, obliterating it, and knocking over several others. For his trouble Pedro received a sniper bullet to the head. The boy’s head exploded into a red mist. Another man picked up his rocket launcher and wiped chunks of brain and skull off his forehead.

Two thousand seven hundred and eighty two miles away, in Level B6 beneath the Pentagon, the battle unfolding on the beach of Costa Luz del Sol was being watched. Present was the President of the United States, in office only four months and nervous about this first military operation.

The War Room was not as it was pictured in movies or on television. There was an enormous set of monitors on the main wall. On the other three walls were terminal stations, each manned by a serviceman with a headset. In the middle of the room was a conference table, with the President’s seat central and facing the wall of monitors.

Tension always accompanies such an operation, but this time the tension was different. The President twisted in her seat. There was excitement among the service personnel; this was new, exhilarating. This was the first all-robot combat in history. All who were present in the War Room knew it would someday be in history books. Scholars would study this invasion for generations. Of course, robots had been used in combat before, but never without the hand of humans making the final decisions. The servicemen at the stations also felt relief, since none of their brothers in arms were in danger in this operation. They didn’t want to see expensive robots destroyed, but better robots than men. Better hardware than blood.

The politicians had no such sense of relief, and this was doubly so for the President. This operation would define her presidency. Success could set the tone for her entire term. A failure so early on would be disastrous. The element of not risking American lives was a non-factor in the equation for her.

She had been assured of victory, but this was an experiment and she didn’t like it. She knew that if she had sent in the Marines, there would be no chance of failure, but it would have meant coffins with flags on them, and worse, pictures of coffins with flags on them. She had been persuaded to use the expensive new ship with its robotic planes and troops and helicopters. Her predecessor had made it a pet project of his, and she had opposed it furiously as a senator. But that was the past. The decision had been made. Alea iacta est, she thought.

Displayed now on the center monitor was the aerial picture of the battle, provided by the surveillance plane stationed above. The two monitors flanking this one showed different views. The left one offered a view from one of the sniper helicopters; the right held a ground view from one of the robot soldiers.

The President looked at the right monitor and wondered aloud, “Why are there tracer rounds? Is that how the robots adjust their fire?”

Seated at the table, eyes locked, was General Horsley, who answered, “No, Madam President. The Q-63s target using visual identification. They zero in on their targets using audio detectors.”

“So when one of the rebels pops up and fires, they locate him by sound?”

“Yes, ma’am. Audio targeting, thermal targeting-- there’s numerous modes. But, no, the robots don’t use the tracer rounds to re-target. Each robot is equipped with a variety of visual inputs.” General Horsley paused, then called out, “Phil, switch the right monitor to thermal.”

“Aye, sir.” The right monitor snapped to a thermal image of the battlefield. The color change annoyed the President, who requested it be switched back. This was done.

“Why are they using tracers then?”

“Well, ma’am, ammunition is expensive. All the robots are using weapons from old ammo stocks. The stuff they’re using is probably Iran War surplus. The existing ammo already had the tracer rounds included. We could have excluded the tracer rounds, and if this were a night operation, we probably would have, but in this case it didn’t make a difference.”

Horsley rubbed his left knee. It ached. Horsley knew better. In fact, there was no left knee, no left leg at all. It was artificial, courtesy of Uncle Sam and an Iranian RPG. The ache he felt was a trick of the brain. He had been up too long. In the last three days he had hardly slept and now the neural implant at the base of his skull was reminding him of the penalty of lack of sleep.

There was a lull in conversation and they watched in silence. An astute observer watching closely might have seen Pedro pop up and fire, but all they saw was the rocket streak in on the right monitor, which went blue, and switched to another view.

“What was that? What happened?” asked the President.

“Airman?” Horsley asked.

An airman sitting at a terminal off to the right answered. “Units Oh-two-one, Oh-two-two, and Oh-two-seven were hit. All three are offline. Two other units were knocked over in the blast but seem undamaged.”

The President opened her mouth to say something but was interrupted by the airman. “Unit oh-two-two back online but damaged.” Then a moment later “Correction, unit oh-two-seven back online.”

“Why the correction, airman?” Horsley asked.

“Sir, Unit oh-two-seven lost its Trip U in the blast. It pirated the Trip U from Oh-two-two and it took a moment to reassign its correct designation.”

“They can do that?” asked the President.

“Yes, ma’am. You see, each Q-63 is designed to be able to do self maintenance. It’s equipped with an arm with a variety of necessary tools for that. In a combat situation it can make emergency repairs. In this case it took parts off another unit.”

“Yes, the Trip U. But what is a Trip U?”

“Triple U is our term for the Universal Uplink Unit. Every one of these robots has a Triple U, to send and receive information, program updates, and so forth. The Triple U is what connects each unit to DefNet and to us. The Universal Uplink Unit is also the same device that connects every civilian robot to the Internet for the same reasons.”

Horsley winced from the pain. This was taking too long. He twisted his head around, looking over his left shoulder and called out, “What’s the status here? Can we start Phase Two yet?”

“Yes, sir. Phase two ready and standing by,” the answer came back.

“That’s more like it! Execute Phase Two!”

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