Making War

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Science Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
This is a sequel to my earlier science fiction story Pest Problems. I'd originally wrote it for an anthology, but that never went to press, so here it is.

Submitted: August 17, 2017

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Submitted: August 17, 2017

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Making War

 

By Arthur Daigle

 

I wait impatiently as the human attendants remove the last of my restraints.  Putting them on in the first place was pointless since I can tear them apart, but there’s a law that combat androids have to be restrained when not in use during interstellar voyages.  It was written 278 years ago when androids were weaker and dumb as toast, but why bother changing the rules just because they don’t make sense anymore?

I stretch my arms and legs as the attendants move on to my fellow passengers.  “It feels good to be out in the field again.”

“I imagine more for you than us,” Death Dealer says.  It takes a few minutes for the attendants to free the thirty ton metal spider and all his legs.  They have some trouble unlocking the missile pods on his abdomen.  “I heard your owners left you in a warehouse for six months.”

“Pointlessly wasteful,” Gunslinger adds.  He’s as big as I am and nearly as well armed with his 88 mm rail gun.  His model can take out low flying spaceships with that thing, and just about anything smaller.

“That sums them up pretty good,” I tell them.  I run a diagnostic on my systems while I wait for the others to be freed.  I don’t expect problems, but I need to do it after being in storage for so long just to be sure.  “They lent me out to Universal Holding Corporation for twenty pest control androids.”

“Idiots.”  Gunslinger gets up after the attendants release him.  “I’ve seen your specs.  Six months of your time is worth way more than a couple bug crushers.”

“They were motivated to take the deal when their world got infested with war worms.”

The other androids moan and the attendants stop working to stare at me.  One of the men snaps, “What is that, the fifth planet this year?”

“Sixth.”  Death Dealer raises a front leg.  “My home world found them in indigenous life forms fifteen days ago.  It’s really quite embarrassing.”

The attendants free the last of the androids, a man sized Pack Lord and twelve Baskerville class hound androids.  The hounds are slaved to the Pack Lord and are little more than extensions of him.  Heavily armed and armored extensions with nasty jaws, but extensions nonetheless.  He walks over from his place at the end of the boat bay and nods to me.  “I’m all for trade and exploration, but a little professionalism is in order.”

“Professionalism?  Try common sense.”  I watch the attendants exit the boat bay and the doors close behind them.  The ship’s computer is monitoring our systems, so privacy is out of the question, but there are things I’d like to say without the human crew hearing.  “Am I the only one here who doesn’t like the mission briefing we got before being shipped out?”

Gunslinger looks uneasy, no easy feat for a four meter tall android.  “There’s a lot of room for interpretation in our orders.  Deal with pirate sympathizers?  Deal with them how?”

“I think the method was rather implied by who they chose for the job,” Death Dealer says.  “None of us are, shall we say, camera friendly.  Winning hearts and minds isn’t an option.”

“I didn’t want to get touchy feely with the locals, but that’s not what I’m talking about.”  My head swivels to look at each of them in turn.  “We’re heading into a civil war that’s lasted five years.  There’s going to be men down there who lost friends and family, and they’re not going to be forgiving.  I’m worried local commanders will see this as an opportunity for ethnic cleansing.  We soften the enemy up and they go in with militias to solve the problem.”

“I see your concern,” Death Dealer says.  “It would be in our best interest to stay in contact to maintain a flow of information and to collaborate if action is needed.”

Pack Lord shrugs in response.  “Wouldn’t be the first time I had to turn on my own side for breaking the rules.”

The air is pumped out of the boat bay and we’re left in total vacuum.  The ship’s captain opens a channel as the bay doors open to the void of space.

“Android strike force, this is Captain Milton.  I’m transmitting updated situation reports now.  Local forces are waiting and will assume command when you land.  We’ll stay in orbit until you touch ground and then commence system wide surveillance and interdiction.  First drop is in two minutes.”

“Four of us to solve a war that’s been going on five years,” I radio to the others.

“You’re complaining?  I got stuck with hounds!” Pack Lord replies.

Gunslinger heads for the bay doors.  “It’s not that bad.  The locals were using tech generations out of date before the fighting started.  Five years and a ruined economy later and they’re down to the bottom of the barrel.  Your doggies are going to be a big step up from their hardware.”

“This coming from the guy with a rail gun,” Pack Lord grouses.  “Universal Holding is trying to win this one on the cheap.  You know it and I know it.”

The signal comes for Gunslinger to launch and he leaps into space.  I’ll admit he doesn’t need a shuttle, but it’s a lot safer to do it that way.  Death Dealer is right that the locals have been fighting so long they used their best hardware long ago.  Still, there’s always the chance they kept a few toys or bought more from passing merchants.

My turn’s coming up next.  I stop on my way to the bay doors and look at the hounds.  “Wait, they can’t fly.”

“The ship’s landing to let me off.”

That makes me laughing.  “We have a boss’ favorite already.”

Pack Lord stomps on the floor, kind of a pointless move when sound doesn’t travel in a vacuum.  “I didn’t have a say in this!  I told them give me command of decent androids or don’t send me, but no, it wouldn’t be cost effective!”

“We might lose the war, but we’ll be under budget,” I laugh.  I get the signal to jump and leap out the boat bay.

Once I’m outside, I get a good look at the ship that brought us here.  Universal Holding Corporation (UHC for short) has a fleet of warships to fight pirates, rogue nations, bill collectors and anyone else trying to separate them from their money.  In this case they brought us here in an old destroyer that’s been refurbished with modern sensors and guns.  The armor and shields aren’t worth a damn, and it takes me three seconds to pick out weak points where I could cripple it with my ship killer missiles at this range.  The ethics programs in my head tell me to cut it out and get to work.

The world below me is called Highland, and it’s a mess.  High orbit is lousy with bits of destroyed satellites, wrecked ships and other debris, creating a serious navigation hazard.  Population centers are few and far between, and most show significant damage.  I can’t sense much communications traffic, or even lights on the ground for that matter.  That’s what you get when a world has three civil wars in the 87 years since it was colonized.  I detect fifteen radioactive holes in the ground from people setting off nukes.  Five of them are here courtesy of UHC.

A bit of background might help.  Three years ago a pirate fleet began preying on interstellar shipping.  The pirates decided to expand their hunting and took a UHC freighter.  UHC takes a dim view of losing money and an even lower one of pirates.  They tracked the pirates to Highland, where they’d allied with a local group called the Lerem involved in the latest civil war.  UHC sent in their fleet and nuked five pirate ships on the ground before shooting down three more trying to escape.  Most people would call it quits there, but not UHC.  They wanted to root out sympathizers on the ground to make sure Highland didn’t turn into a pirate haven again.  They’ve got destroyers patrolling to keep the pirates from coming back, but that leaves the Lerem on the ground.  Using ground forces would be messy and expensive, so they decided dropping supplies to the Lerem’s enemies was enough.

Guess what: I qualify as supplies.

I float down through the upper atmosphere, my shielding protecting me from the heat of reentry.  It’s mostly jungle below me with a small clearing where friendly forces are waiting.  The trip down takes me half an hour and I spend every second scanning for incoming attacks.  Thankfully there aren’t any.  I think the locals really are low on hardware.

The clearing is fifty meters of high grass surrounded by trees eighty meters high.  I don’t actually land since I’d sink in up to my waist in the mud.  Instead my antigravity generators let me hover a centimeter above the mushy ground.

My arrival brings eight men out of the bush to meet me.  Men might not be the best term here.  One of them is in his thirties and the rest look to be in their teens.  They’re armed with a mix of kinetic pistols and rifles.  I didn’t think anyone had sunk so low that they needed to use those anymore.  Their clothes are muddy and worn, and I detect more parasites on them than should be possible in this day and age.

I wave to them.  “Hey, guys.”

They look spooked.  One of the youngsters asks, “It can talk?”

“You have got to be kidding.  Okay, we’ll be formal about this.  War Driver 10040, 10th generation combat android, manufactured by Clockwork Mechanics.”

The man leading the armed teenagers takes out a sheet of paper and reads from it.  “Recognize Anton Stavari, regional subcommander.  My password is—”

“Your password is your DNA and retina pattern,” I tell him.  “You’re clear, Anton.  Let’s you and me talk.”

The guy stares at me.  “You’re supposed to follow my orders, not talk with me.”

I float closer to him.  “You think that’s the way this works?  Really?”

The brats and their leader back away, and with good reason.  I’m Clockwork Mechanics’ top product with over a hundred thousand sales.  There’s a reason why.  I stand four meters tall and weigh sixty tons.  My body is more or less humanoid, with heavy overlapping gunmetal grey armor, a cannon mounted in my left shoulder, sixteen weapon’s ports on my chest and arms, four ship killer missiles on my back and two attack drones folded up alongside them.  My head’s a perfect sphere sunk a third of the way into my chest, with no face and a single green eye.

This isn’t getting me anywhere.  “Look, Anton, we’re both busy people, or we should be.  You’ve got a war to win and I’m supposed to be helping.  Our standing here isn’t doing any good, so if you’ll forgive the cliché, take me to your leader.”

“Right, uh, this way.”

Anton leads his school age soldiers and me into the jungle.  I scan our surroundings since I’m sure my arrival was seen.  The Lerem may not have much firepower left, making my being here kind of pointless, but there’s a good chance they sent someone to ambush us on the ground.  That’s a lot easier to pull off than attacking me in orbit.

My scans don’t detect enemy forces laying in wait.  What it does turn up is proof that Highland is as bad off on the ground as it is in orbit.  I detect shrapnel from artillery shells, dud bombs, landmines, broken guns, crashed vehicles, human remains and bits of old model androids.  Seriously, who uses Hunter class androids anymore?  That’s a 21st century design!  The jungle grew over the wreckage and swallowed it up like a predator.

That’s when I hear someone up ahead transmitting using an old radio frequency.  I look at Anton and ask, “You expecting company?”

Anton and the kids take cover behind nearby trees, which answers my question.  I wave for them to stay in cover as I move ahead.  “Stay back.  I’ll deal with this.”

The radio transmission is coming from a ravine up ahead and to the left, fifty meters out.  I don’t recognize the code and it’s not repeating.  I send a friend or foe response in the same frequency.  Three seconds later I get hit with eighty depleted uranium rounds.  They bounce off my armor as my attacker runs from cover to cover.  The volume of radio chatter doubles, and I realize it’s not a code but a stream of nonsense.  Then I see him, an android two meters tall and shaking like an epileptic in a grand mal seizure.  It recovers, fires again and goes into more convulsions.

Oh hell, he’s gone rogue.

I hear Anton and his boys shouting as more depleted uranium bullets tear through the jungle.  A few more hit me and bounce off.  I lower my shoulder cannon and it rearranges itself internally to fire a laser.  The beam cuts through two trees and burns a hole in the rogue android’s chest.  He convulses and drops to the ground before shutting down entirely.

I float over to the remains while Anton and the others join me.  The android was a Bushwhacker, a model discontinued two centuries ago.  It has a skeletal motif with a skull head and ribcage chest, but the right arm is just a chain gun with an ammunition box on the back.

“Enemy android?” I ask Anton.

Anton spits and takes tools out of his pockets.  “One of ours.  We bought them from an arms dealer four years ago.  They were good in a fight, but they broke down a lot and some wandered off.”

I open a weapon’s port on my right arm and assemble a plasma gun.  The gun slides out and locks into place, then I blast the Bushwhacker four times to vaporize him.  The child soldiers scream and Anton throws himself to the ground.  When they calm down they find nothing left of the Bushwhacker except molten slag.

“What did you do that for?” Anton demands.  “We could have salvaged it!”

I slide the plasma gun back and disassemble it before closing the weapon’s port.  “You don’t salvage rogue androids, not ever.”

“We do it all the time!”

“Then you’re an idiot!”  Anton falls back from my shout.  I point at the remains of our attacker and say, “You don’t know what made him go rogue.  It would have been a virus or he could have been hacked.  Either way, you fix him and he starts shooting at you.”

More hesitantly, Anton says, “We could have taken parts—”

“And passed the contagion on to whatever piece of hardware you plugged the parts into.  He’s slagged, and I’ll do the same to other rogues.  We can argue or we can get moving before something else decides to shoot at us.”

Anton doesn’t like that, but he’s not stupid enough to press the issue.  He leads me on without comment.

One of his child soldiers isn’t so bright.  “You shouldn’t have shot it even if we couldn’t use it.”

“And pray tell, why?”

“Because we don’t have ammunition to waste!  I don’t know where you were before, but here you use a bullet, a shell, anything, and it’s gone, no more coming.  Keep that up and you’ll be useless in a month.”

“Kid, I don’t need your ammo.”

Anton looks surprised when he hears that.  “UHC is supplying you?”

“I don’t need their ammo, either.”  I open a door ten centimeters across on my abdomen.  Inside is a compartment lined with slivery blobs.  “This is my fabrication center, and these little silver guys are MACs, mechanical adaptive cells.  When I need parts or ammo, I feed matter to them and they build what I need.”

Anton’s jaw drops.  “Can they make parts for someone other than you?”

“If I have the files, yeah.  Anton, why are you smiling?”

The rest of the trip is odd beyond belief.  Anton and his boys are suddenly as happy as cats in a yarn store.  Yes, I can make parts and ammunition.  It’s not that complicated!  But for reasons I don’t understand Anton’s acting like I can print money.  He even calls ahead to his superiors to deliver the news, giving away our position to anyone who’s listening.

We reach their camp, and underwhelming doesn’t begin to describe it.  There are roughly five thousand soldiers, most of whom are young enough they should be in school.  Another ten thousand civilians live on the edge of the camp.  It’s muddy, the buildings are falling apart and most people live in tents.  They have one old generator that looks like it’s being held together with kite string and good intentions, a couple beat up ground cars and a parking lot of broken down vehicles.

I thought they’d take me to meet their commanding officer, what with me being a game changing addition to their forces, but instead I get hurried to a large cement building at the north end of the camp.  Curious children follow, but Anton scolds them and sends them packing.

I float into the building and find it even worse than the rest of the camp.  It’s filled with junk from a thousand different sources, tons and tons of useless bits that should be melted down for scrap metal.  There are broken guns, car parts, salvaged bits of ships, damaged consumer electronics, and what looks like the turret of a Tankton android, an early model android tank.  The mass of wreckage is rusted, shot up and leaking hazardous chemicals.

If there’s a hell for my kind, it must look like this.

I’m not the friendliest person to begin with, and this shabby treatment is making me less personable than normal.  “Anton, what the hell am I doing here?”

An older man with a prosthetic right leg hobbles over from behind a pile of garbage.  “Ah, I see our new friend has arrived.  I’m Ikaslan, chief mechanic to this army.”

“War Driver 10040, combat android at your service.  I hear you have an army that needs smashing.”

Anton waves his hands.  “No, no, tell him how you can make things!”

I show off my fabrication center and explain how it works to Ikaslan.  Anton and his soldiers are excited, and the old mechanic’s eyes fairly glow.

“Well then, let’s see what you can do.”  Ikaslan points to a ruined air car in the corner of the building.  “Think you can build an air car fan blade assembly?”

“This will take a few minutes.”  I shovel handfuls of metallic junk into my fabrication center.  The MACs reach out with greedy tendrils and break the stuff down to their component elements.  They turn the metals into the parts for the air car, with the fan blades sliding out centimeter by centimeter as they work.  I have to feed in more material, but in five minutes I have the job done.

Two children run up along Ikaslan and study the new parts with simple diagnostic computers.  One of them says, “It’s like new!”

“With his we can retake Dodge City for sure!” Anton shouts.  I call up my records of the planet and find that’s the nearest city and a Lerem stronghold.

I close the door to the fabrication center and back up.  “My design is intended as a heavy firepower generalist.  A dedicated fabricator can do the work faster and handle larger jobs.”

“Doubtlessly true, but we don’t have a fabricator.”  Ikaslan smiles at me and adds, “More accurately, we didn’t until you arrived.”

“Listen, pal, I don’t mind helping, but I was sent here to win a war, not fix your cars.”

“Cars, medical devices, androids, guns, we’ve a great many broken things,” Ikaslan tells me.  “When UHC approached us about defeating the Lerem, we told them what we needed to win the war.  Their representatives promised much, but there was a limit to their support.  Most of our needs went unmet regardless of what they said.”

I do not like where this is headed.  “That’s sad, but I’m going to be kind of busy shooting things.”

“No, you’re not.  The Lerem requested peace talks when their pirate allies were defeated.  Our leaders agreed to buy time until you and your fellow androids arrived to support our armies.  My general sent word that you’re under my command.”  Ikaslan grabs a sheet of paper off a table covered in junk and hands it to me.  “This is a list of what your masters didn’t send us.  Now, let’s get to work.”

 

The following month leaves me wishing I were shut down.  I spend the entire time in this junk pile turning out guns, communicators, scanners, car parts, computers, hell, they’ve even got me making knives!  The junk pile shrinks by the day as I convert more and more of it into whatever my allies need.  Ikaslan and his two young apprentices watch over me and haul away the results of my work.  They managed to fix four air cars and a heavy truck, while I break down the more heavily damaged vehicles for scrap.

I’ve spent every second trying to find a loophole in my orders to serve these idiots, but my ethics programs won’t budge.  I tell them that as long as I’m in here I can’t get rid of booby traps, dud bombs and landmines in the jungle that could go off and kill someone.  My ethics programs counter that I’m doing enough by following my orders.  If I arm these idiots and repair their vehicles then they can handle things on their own.  As for my arguments about traps and dud munitions, they tell me to pass the locations on to the locals and let them deal with the problem.

The daily monotony is broken when I get a call from Death Dealer.  “War Driver, how’s everything going?”

“I’ve been turned into a factory.No joke, they couldn’t think of anything better to do with me than fix their cars.”

“I’ve called the others and it’s not much better.  I’m hunting for dud bombs and Gunslinger is acting as his general’s bodyguard.  Pack Lord seems to be doing the best of us.  He’s sent his hounds patrolling for infiltrators, and they’re doing a fine job.  Most of the infiltrators were planting listening devices, but a few had bombs.  I think the Lerem are using the peace talks as a delaying action.”

I rip apart a rusted ground car and feed it to my MACs.  “That goes for both sides.  My guys are chomping at the bit to get back into action now that they think they have the upper hand.  It’s not going to stay quiet for much longer.”

“We’ve another issue,” he tells me.  “I’ve been keeping an eye on the UHC destroyers patrolling the system.  Two destroyers have left and the other two are warming up their warp drives.  We’ll be on our own by tomorrow.”

“That would bother me if we were actually doing something.  It looks like my least favorite mechanic is coming.  I’ll contact you if anything happens.  War Driver out.”

Ikaslan hobbles into the building with a horde of soldiers at his heels.  The men are badgering him and waving guns around while Ikaslan tries to shoo them off.

“I have a full schedule for the rest of the week,” he tells them.  “You’ll have to wait.”

“We’ve been waiting for five years!” the loudest soldier shouts.  He holds a particle beam pistol in front of Ikaslan’s face.  “We can’t fight the Lerem with broken guns!”

“I told you a thousand times not to overcharge them,” he scolds.

Another man waves his gun in the mechanic’s face.  “We won’t do it again, we promise, but we need them fixed.”

Ikaslan scowls and takes a wood box off one of his workbenches.  “Put them in here and I’ll get to them when I get to them.”

The men hand over fifteen broken guns and thank Ikaslan before they leave with vows to retake Dodge.  Ikaslan shakes his head and sets the box down.  “I’d have better luck teaching kindergarteners.  Does no one here respect their tools?”

“I finished the sensor pods you wanted,” I tell him.  “That’s the last thing on your list, so once we’re done with those guns I’m going to speak with your general.”

“Hmm, oh no, those cretins come last.  That list was our most desperately needed items, what we’d hoped UHC could provide.  We tried to be reasonable when we wrote it, for all the good that did.”  Ikaslan hands me five more sheets covered front and back with writing.  “This is the full list.  But first I want that Tankton turret working.”

“You hate me, don’t you?”

“What?”

I point at the damaged turret and tell him, “Listen, I’m good at this, better than I thought I was, but that thing is never going to fire again.”

“Nonsense!  I saw the Lerem use salvaged turrets twice.”

Ikaslan is good at his job, probably the best mechanic left on this world, but he’s out of his league here.  “You saw the turrets, but there had to be generators and a computer core nearby for them to work.  Both of those are too big for me to build.”

He stares at the turret, his lips twitching.  “Then it’s worthless.”

“Except as a source of raw materials.”

Ikaslan scowls and hobbles through the piles of wreckage before he slumps down on a stool.  “Bugger.  Bugger, I tell you!  I lost my leg retrieving that turret from an enemy Tankton.  Now I learn it was a pointless sacrifice, like so many we’ve made.”

“I might be able to fix it up enough to reattach it to one of your Tanktons,” I offer.

He sighs and looks down.  “We don’t have any, never did.  The Lerem seized the planet’s arsenals in the early stages of the war and all the Tanktons.  You have no idea how hard we had to fight to just even the odds, the damage those damn Tanktons did when they hit our lines. ”

Ikaslan looks at me, years of hardship showing on his face.  “We lost battles because we ran out of ammunition and the Lerem didn’t.  We couldn’t figure out how they kept their armies supplied when the factories were destroyed and the arsenals emptied.  Then we learned of their alliance with the pirates.  Those vermin sold the Lerem all the guns and ammunition they could buy, trading away what little wealth our world had and most of our harvests.”

He shakes his head.  “Bad days long past.  We’ve a chance now with your help.  The Lerem will fall and we’ll retake Dodge once our armies are resupplied.”

“Ikaslan,” I begin softly, “the pirates went to the Lerem.  What would have happened if they’d gone to your side?”

He has to think about that for a second.  “Unlimited supplies of ammunition, oh what we could have done with that.  It’s a tempting offer no matter the source.  If you’re asking would our leaders have taken the offer then I think they’d have made a deal.  If you’re asking would I have said yes…I don’t know.  The pirates were monstrous, but I’ve lost so many friends, been chased out of Dodge.  I don’t know what I would have done to prevent that.”

He hobbles over and points at a line on the pages he gave me.  “But now we must think of the future, and that means mortars with seekers rounds.  How many can you make?”

 

Month two of my life as a walking factory has me building super conducting cable by the kilometer.  We ran out of wreckage in my little prison eight days ago.  When I told Ikaslan he muttered something about making bricks without straw and left.Three hours later he came back with twenty soldiers dragging a crashed air car they’d found in the jungle.  Ever since they’ve been bringing me hourly deliveries of junk to break down and reassemble into weapons, ammunition and gear.

My ethic programs tell me my time has been well spent.  The soldiers are now respectably armed with body armor, particle beam rifles, grenades and spotting drones.  I even repaired an android for them when they brought back a destroyed Bushwhacker.  I checked him twice and found no signs he went rogue, just a fatal round through his generator and thirty more in his chest, legs, arms and head.  It takes me a full day but he’s up and moving again.  The camp looks better, too.  I built parts for their generator so it doesn’t fail too often.  The doctors now have medical equipment to treat wound that would have been fatal before I arrived.

That’s wonderful, but I swear if I don’t shoot something soon I’m going to lose it.  This is the second time I had a master who deliberately misused me.  I was built to take on armies, not build them, and now I’m not even doing that.  The list of things these idiots want grows by the day.  Lights, radios, plumbing, entertainment systems, it never ends.  Ikaslan, bless his soul, won’t allow the more moronic requests to go through.  Seriously, I don’t care what the general’s girlfriend wants for her birthday.  Get her flowers!

It’s late at night and Ikaslan has gone to bed.  One of his apprentices watches over me as I rip out a ground car’s engine with my bare hands.  I tear it up and feed it into my fabrication center, then turn out parts for the replacement engine.

The kid is in awe as I give him the gleaming parts.  “These are wonderful.  I wish your masters sent two of you!”

“Or they could have sent a fabricator and do the job in a week.”  The kid has no trouble assembling the parts I hand him.  It’s actually pretty impressive, what with him being twelve.

“We’ll buy one as soon as we’re in Dodge,” he says cheerfully.

“Special place for you, huh?”

The kid smiles like it’s Christmas.  “I was born there.  When the army goes in I’ll be there with them.”

I’ve heard so much talk about Dodge I have to wonder if the streets are paved in gold.  “What’s it like?”

The kid’s smile fades and he looks thoughtful.  “I don’t remember much about it.  I was little when we were chased out.  I know there’s a zoo with pretty animals, and a park with a fountain.  And there’s a place for spaceships to land.  You don’t have those just anywhere!”

They have spaceports in every city on a thousand worlds.  It’s one of those things people build right after they put in sewers.  It says something awful about Highland that they can’t do even that much.  Three bloody wars in less than a century has cost them so much.  I’m left wondering what was so important that they’d ruin a whole planet and their children’s future.  My records of this world are sketchy, so with few options I turn to my little helper.

“What’s the fighting over?” I ask him.

“I don’t know.  People were saying things about what happened to their father’s fathers on another world.  I don’t know why you’d shoot a man because of what their grandfathers did to your grandfathers billions of miles away.  You’ll have to ask Ikaslan about it in the morning.  He understands stuff better than I do.”

“I think you understand just fine, kid.”

 

We’re on month three with no end in sight.  My owners contracted me out to UHC for six months, so this nightmare can’t last much longer.  This army is as well equipped as it’s going to get without lots of cash to buy things I can’t build for them.  The problem is neighboring allied armies are bad off like this one was.  Once the general decided his soldiers were up to standards he started accepting requests from his fellow generals.  The junk keeps coming and I turn out weapons, armor and equipment, this time to be shipped off to distant armies.

I’m busy breaking down a wrecked Hunter android when I detect a radio signal in broad daylight, which is odd.  I haven’t detected many signals outside of this army or neighboring allied ones, and those are done at night from signal stations kilometers from camp.  I sense another signal reply to the first one.

I set down the ruined Hunter and leave the building for the first time in months.  Ikaslan sees me and asks, “Where are you going?”

“I think we have a problem.  Someone out there is getting chatty, and he’s not on our side.”

Ikaslan is about to reply when the whistle of artillery rounds interrupts our conversation.  There are fifteen incoming seeker rounds, finned shells with sensors to detect targets.  I see them swerve through the air as they home in on our base.  Men shout and dive for cover as children scream at a sound they know too well.

I have just enough time to raise my should cannon and open fire, picking off targets one after another.  The lasers burn through the shells and set off their payloads while they’re still half a kilometer out.  That’s far enough away that the shrapnel raining down doesn’t land on anyone.

“Looks like the peace talks are over.”  I fly over to the edge of the camp and launch my two drones.  They send back video showing that those artillery shells are just the tip of the iceberg.  There are eight thousand Lerem soldiers coming, most on foot but backed up by ten air cars armed with heavy weapons.  Eight Tanktons lead the attack, eighty ton android tanks armed with plasma cannons.  These guys are fourth generation, antiques to me and monsters to the locals.

Well, I asked for an army to fight.

The incoming forces are still three kilometers out and closing.  The Tanktons are grinding through the jungle, crushing trees in their way and carving a path for the infantrymen.  Those are the real threat here and my primary goal.  Problem is the artillery is opening up again.  I swat another salvo down with my shoulder cannon, but as long as that is configured to fire lasers I can’t modify it to a heavy anti-armor weapon like a plasma cannon or gravity crusher.  My ship killer missiles aren’t built for handling targets this small, making them useless.

“Fine, we’re doing this the hard way.”  I order my drones to jam communications in the area.  Tanktons are dumb as a bag of hammers, all fourth generation androids are, and without someone giving orders they have to think on their own.  They aren’t good at that.  I open four weapon’s ports that build and slide out plasma guns.  These aren’t as large or powerful as the one I could build with my shoulder cannon, but they’ll have to do.

Three Tanktons are in the lead with the other five behind them.  I fly fifty meters overhead and shoot the lead Tankton in its thinner top armor with my plasma guns.  The shots burn through its armor and set off its fuel in an explosion that takes off thirty tons.  I shut off my antigravity generators and come down on the rest of it like a sledgehammer on a soda can.  I push free of what’s left of the Tankton to face the others.

And I’m facing them alone.  The five thousand soldiers on my side are panicking, running this way and that like chickens with their heads cut off.  The civilians in the camp are making things worse as they run for their lives and get in the way of the few soldiers trying to get organized.  The only help I’m getting is from the Bushwhacker android I patched up.  He’s fourth generation same as the Tanktons, and with the same single mindedness (or stupidity) he run straight at eight thousand men.

Another volley of seeker shells comes roaring in.  I shoot them down the same as the last two, but I can already sense more shells on their way.  They’re still targeting the camp, so I have to deal with them or thousands could die.

The next two Tanktons turn to face me.  I lash out with my plasma guns and take the turret off the one on the right.  Its armor melts like candlewax and both treads come off before it explodes.  The one on the left has time to fire.  I see it coming and calculate the trajectory.  If it misses me it will hit the camp’s hospital.  I brace for it.

The plasma blast hits me in the chest.  My shields deflect half the energy.  Energy redistributing conduits in my armor redirect another quarter of the energy into my power reserves.  The rest of the blast burns a grapefruit sized hole in my armor.  I reply with plasma bolts that burn through the Tankton and set it off like a bomb.

A call gets through my efforts to jam communications.  “War Driver, this is Death Dealer.  We’re having a bit of a problem over here.”

“Does it top eight Tanktons and eight thousand infantry with artillery support?”

“Thankfully, no.  It seems all the Lerem armies are attacking at once.  I can handle matters here, as can Gunslinger and Pack Lord, but only just.  We’re facing large infantry formations with lesser numbers of fourth generation Hunter androids.”

More artillery shells come roaring in.  I shoot them down and have shrapnel tear through the jungle around me.  “Wonder why I’m getting the lion’s share of the Lerem attack?”

“Friendly forces have seen the three of us, as no doubt have enemy spies,” Death Dealer points out.  “Since you’ve been in a building making things they either didn’t know you’re there or think making guns is all you do.”

“Makes sense.  I’ve got my hands full with the Tanktons and artillery.  Any way you could help?”

“I’ll do what I can.  Death Dealer out.”

The remaining five Tanktons are almost on me.  The Bushwhacker finally caught up and is pouring fire into the enemy’s infantry.  It would only take one plasma shell from a Tankton to fry it, but the Bushwhacker isn’t a threat to them so they ignore it, and with me jamming communications no one can give them orders to the contrary.

I take out more incoming shells and open fire on the next Tankton.  This one loses both treads before it fires back.  I take another hit, this time to the leg, and then two more from other Tanktons.  I can take this kind of damage, but not for long.  I keep firing at the damages Tankton until its turret explodes.

The last four Tanktons split up.  Two go to my right and two to the left.  This actually works in my favor since they’re no longer in a straight line with the camp.  I take off and dodge three shots.  My return fire damages three Tanktons while the fourth heads for the camp.

That’s when Death Dealer comes through for me.  I detect a salvo of missiles coming from the allied army where Death Dealer was deployed.  They come in at hypersonic speeds and head straight for Dodge.  The missiles hit and seconds later I hear the explosions as they take out enemy artillery.

With the threat of artillery fire gone I reconfigure my shoulder cannon to fire plasma shells, big ones.  My first shot hits a Tankton and cuts through it front to back, burning out everything in between.  The next shot ignites a Tankton’s load of plasma shells.  The explosion throws its turret twenty meters high before it hits a tree, snaps through it and lands on some Lerem soldiers.  The third Tankton shoots me in the back, the little bugger.  Him I land on.  I grab his turret and rip it off, the armor crumbling in my hands.  I drive my right arm into it up to my elbow, then my left arm.  I grab the Tankton’s computer core and rip it out.  I throw it aside in time to see that the last Tankton has nearly reached the camp I’m supposed to be defending.

I turn to shoot at it, and don’t get the chance to fire.  Hundreds of particle beams shoot out of the camp, coming from every building, trench and foxhole.  The guys on my side finally got their act together and turned on the nearest threat.  Tanktons are tough for fourth generation androids, but the volume of fire is so great that it’s being taken apart.  Sparks fly and metal melts.  The Tankton tries to back up, but far too late.  Particle beams cut all the way through its armor and set fire to it.  It makes it another three meters before exploding when the fires reach its fuel.

I turn to face the rest of the Lerem army, and this time I’m not alone.  My side turns up in numbers, riding air cars and ground cars decked out with heavy weapons I built.  This isn’t rusting, badly careful for gear like the Lerem are left with.  They’re not going to run out of ammunition because they’ve got a four month supply thanks to yours truly.  I open two weapon’s ports and create five barreled particle beam guns.  The barrels spin and spit out ninety shots a second at the Lerem.  I turn my shoulder cannon against the enemy air cars and pick them off.  Awesome as this destructive power is, it can’t compare to five thousand men opening up with every weapon they have in a storm of fire.

It takes minutes to end the fight.  The surviving Lerem run for their lives.  My side took few losses, although the Bushwhacker’s down.  He took a shot between the eyes, but is surrounded by 87 dead enemies.  That’s when I hear a cry come up from my side that soon echoes across their entire army.

“On to Dodge!”

And with that the entire army takes off in a headlong charge for the city of Dodge.  I take off and fly ahead of them.  There’s no way I can stop them, so I do what I can to keep them from getting killed.  I blow up hundreds of booby traps, landmines, dud shells and other threats in their way.  A few Lerem try to set up ambushes or rearguard actions.  The smart ones run when they see me, and the stupid ones don’t have time to correct their mistake.  It takes three hours to clear the way, and I manage to reach Dodge before the guys on my side do.

The sight of it leaves me speechless.

Whatever Dodge had before the war, it doesn’t have anymore.  The spaceport buildings are ruble and the runway is cratered.  The zoo is gone, and there are no animals here except those too small to catch and eat.  Ninety percent of the buildings lack roofs and none have power or running water.  There’s no one left since the Lerem civilians are running after their army’s defeat.  The few vehicles in the city are broke down, rusting husks that have been stripped for parts.

The men finally reach the outskirts of Dodge.  They pile out of air cars as men on foot catch up.  My ethics programs try to come up with comforting words for them.  I counter with an offer to nuke the city and let them start from scratch.  My ethics programs say they normally wouldn’t consider such a thing, but maybe just this once.

They start cheering.  Grown men run and prance like children, laughing and hugging one another.  I land near them, my feet cracking already broken pavement.  I spot Anton and Ikaslan celebrating like they’d won something worth having.

“Guys, what are you doing?” I ask.

Anton sees me and smiles.  “You were wonderful!  I take back every bad thing I thought about you!”

“But the city’s a wreck!” I shout.  “There’s barely one brick left on another!”

“It doesn’t matter!  This is our home and we have it back.  Five years we fought for this day and we finally made it.”

Ikaslan smiles and adds, “Dodge was destroyed in the last civil war.  We rebuilt it then and we’ll rebuild it again.  We’ll make it better than before, a place so beautiful people will come from across the galaxy to see it!”

I can’t see that happening.  Dodge is fifteen square kilometers of dust and rubble, and the planet of Highland is broke.  The only way they could even begin to fix this is…is…oh hell!

It takes me seconds to contact the other androids I was dropped onto this hellhole with.  They were facing lesser threats than I was, and they won easily.  The Lerem have been decisively defeated and I have three months left on my contract.  There are going to be enemy holdouts and booby traps to handle, but with the weapons and equipment I’ve turned out my guys could do it in their sleep.  That means the only job left that these people need help with is fixing things.  Fixing Dodge.

I ask my ethics programs if nuking the city is still an option.  They say no


© Copyright 2017 ArthurD7000. All rights reserved.

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