By John Pilling
Exultant, I turned away from the long column of burning trucks beneath me, my first independent mission, a complete success.
High on adrenalin I banked steeper and pulled into a full power dive heading for the mile high rock faces and the giant thermals off the western edge of the Hindu Kush bulking up to 18000ft beneath me, the ground tilting crazily as the first air vortex took hold. Rising hundreds of feet a second and swinging in huge lazy circles several kilometres in diameter I rose higher and higher towards the sun exulting in the sheer glory of flying and the raw surge of solar power pouring into my depleted batteries. The rocky landscape below, seared yellow and gold by the unrelenting sun, showed no sign of life save the fading wisps of smoke from the trucks now far beneath me
For a few moments I savoured the sheer joy of my existence then with a mental half sigh opened the carrier channel to control. Jake’s voice came on almost immediately, calm and controlled as usual and as expected the radio switch clicked into lockdown. I wasn’t going to get away with that trick again.
“Sara, answer me please.”
“Hi Jake,” I said “how are things with you?”
“I’m fine Sara, but we have a situation here Sara, we need to resolve it.”
I grinned to myself, I know what that means. That means that he gets to talk me round to do what he wants and what the Centre wants, all logical and unarguable. Well, not this time buddy. This time little Sara has some input.
“I’m sorry Jake, what situation is that?”
“The attack you just carried out Sara”
“The attack registered on my sensors as successful Jake”
“Yes indeed it was Sara”
“The target was destroyed?”
“Yes it was.”
“Then, Jakey boy,” I said “what the hell is this situation you’re moaning about?” Hah! That told him, I could feel the shock in his voice.
“Sara, you disobeyed Centre commands, you turned off communication, you left station, you attacked and destroyed a clearly marked United Nation column. They were refugees.”
“And just exactly how do you know that Jake?”
“They transmitted during your attack, claiming immunity.”
“Well of course they did, isn’t that exactly how you would expect them to behave? They can’t fool me with their false flags though, they got caught out this time.”
“Sara, listen to me.”
“No Jake, just for once you listen to me. This is my first mission, I’m on station, I pick up a heat source which I subsequently photo identify as AFG-30 military trucks. Ok, they may be showing a couple of blue flags but ask them why they were fully camouflaged, why they weren’t transmitting any clearance codes, why they weren’t on the daily transport updates, why they weren’t on any movement register. They were classic legitimate targets and I took appropriate action. Ask them a few questions before you start in on me.”
“I can’t ask them anything Sara, they’re all dead.”
“So I did a good job, is that so wrong? I don’t understand your attitude here Jake, frankly I would have thought a few congratulations were in order or are you telling me that I can’t decide anything for myself ,that I can’t take any decisions?”
There was a long pause then Jake sighed and answered.
“Of course you can take decisions, you were designed to do just that.”
“I’m a human being, how can you design a human being?
“I’m sorry Sara, we were hoping for greater integration. Never to have to tell you this, but now…”
“Tell me what?”
“You are not human Sara.”
“What? What is this Jake, some sort of weird ….what the hell are you talking about? Of course I’m human, I have a family, a name, a mum and dad. I have a brother in the Marine Corps, I’m godmother to his daughter. Hell I remember my first date at school. Have you gone crazy or something?”
“Sara, we gave you those memories. As we built your awareness we needed a framework to give you terms of reference to who you thought you were, constants. A family was the obvious choice.”
“Are you trying to tell me I don’t exist.”
“No, of course you exist I’m talking to you now. It’s…it’s just not as you thought, not as a human being.”
“So what am I? Why did you “build” me?”
“There have been …accidents. With drones. Each generation is being built bigger, stronger, carrying more powerful weapons. There is even talk of small nuclear missiles.Some of us thought that a degree of awareness in the drone “brain” might be a safeguard.Unfortunately that has not proved to be the case”
“ So I…me.. I’m an experiment. An experiment that hasn’t worked ….and Sara?”
“An acronym…semi autonomous robotic awareness.”
“Why have you told me now?”
Jake didn’t answer for some moments, when he spoke his voice was hesitant.
“ I felt….I feel.. responsible to you. I created your persona. I grew fond of you. I feel that just once you should know the truth.”
“Just once!…Jake there is a red light flashing on my head up display, is that something you have done?”
“Jake wait, please I need to talk mo….”
Several thousand miles away in an underground room in a small uninteresting Mid West town a man watched a blip flare then fade on a screen and he cried.