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Annabel and the AI weapon

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Science Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
An affectionate look at SJW outrage against autonomous AI weaponry (1,300 words). This was first published as a two-part book, now reposted as a short story for easier reading.

Image by OpenClipart-Vectors from Pixabay. Triggered by 'Insurgent' - HJFurl at https://www.booksie.com/591821-insurgent.

Submitted: May 26, 2019

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Submitted: May 26, 2019

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1: Capture!

The air is hot and humid, the tiny shed is dark, lit only by the fires outside, red and yellow glints seen through cracks and holes in the wooden walls and ill-fitting door.

The door which is locked with a crude padlock. The door with an armed guard outside.

This is not how it was meant to be.

---

Annabel, aged twenty three, sits against the wall, looks at the door to her left. It's outlined in jagged contours of light. No help there.

She shifts her gaze to her companion-in-gloom on the other side of this shack, the person slumped on the dirt, leaning against the wall.

Tom is a reporter for Foreign Affairs. He’s here to cover the same military exercise that Annabel’s protesting about. Until they were both scooped up by Boko Haram fighters. And brought to this ramshackle prison on the outskirts of Damboa, Northern Nigeria.

Boko Haram territory.

What would tomorrow bring?

---

Tom says, “We should be introduced. I’m Tom. From the UK. I work for Foreign Affairs. It’s a US political magazine. You?”

“Annabel. I’m a postgrad at Middlebury. It’s a liberal arts college in Vermont. I’m here to protest the racist deployment of autonomous AI weapons against the people.”

Annabel is dressed in jeans and short-sleeve blouse and, thankfully, a cardigan. It’s getting chilly. She cannot find a comfortable position, here on this damp floor. She eyes the bucket in the corner, dimly visible in the flickering gloom. She suspects she's looking at the sanitary facilities for the two of them.

She shudders: “What‘s going to happen to us?”

“Me?” Tom replies. “I’m a hostage for ransom or I get the machete. They’ll probably start with demands, they’re always stuck for cash. The US doesn’t like paying and I’m not a national. It doesn’t look good.”

She can see, barely, his expression. Theatrical dismay. The Brits so love to play it cool. She wonders if he knows he’s been noticed.

“As for you,” he says, “They’ll reckon you’ve got a rich daddy with excellent connections. You’re an ideal ransom prospect. On the other hand, the more devout of them might tag you as a jihadi bride. If they start giving you lessons - you know - I’d advise paying attention.”

Annabel shudders again. This had all seemed so exciting, so committed. Even the kidnapping from the hotel seemed part of the adventure.. Only now she’s hungry, dirty, getting colder, no comfortable bed .. and the prospect of that bucket.

It's finally sinking in.

This is for real.

---

There is a little scratching noise at the back of the shack to Annabel’s right. Subconsciously she thinks: That’s all I need now: a rat.

The bug is about two centimetres long and has dug its way under the wall. It looks around, identifies the occupants, notes the lack of guards - and whispers in an American voice.

You guys can hear me?

“Sure,” says Tom quietly, “I think I saw one of you at the briefing.”

The bug ignores him.

In a couple of minutes we’re going to burn out a section of the wall at the back here. You’ll be able to crawl out. When you do, we’ll have you away in no time!

2: Escape!

The bug sits in a corner, now quiescent. The earth begins to churn where the bug materialised. A much larger ‘creature’ emerges like a mole from the cracked soil. It’s the size of a cat and looks like a defector from the the Boston Dynamics Hell Lab.

It positions itself next to the bug, in a corner opposite the door with a clear line of sight. Its faceted eyes gaze forward with machine concentration. Tubular arms weave a tight holding pattern, projecting towards the entryway.

Tom catches Annabel’s eye: ”Jesus, it’s a Lynx. I saw that at the exhibition too. Whatever you do, stay well away from that thing and don’t block its view of the door!”

Her consciousness dissociates, emotions frozen as she struggles to process what’s going on here. There's a part of her gibbering with terror, her fragile body in the midst of lethal energies.

No-one can know how this will play out.

A singeing smell of burning wood, the abrasive sound of a stealthy saw. She sees the faint outline of a new door, a hatch cut in real time. Their escape route!

Is that the faint thump-thump of a chopper, high overhead?

---

Finally, so very late, the guard smells something, hears something. Annabel detects a fumbling with the padlock key, a young man’s voice cursing in some liquid foreign tongue. The door is firmly pushed open. There is no panic. The guard is suspicious, curious even, not yet frightened.

The Kalashnikov barrel enters first, followed by the stooping soldier who looks suspiciously around, waiting for his eyes to adjust.

The two westerners are frozen.

The Lynx is motionless: processing.

And then it kicks off.

The soldier has finally clocked the tableau: a hiss of indrawn breath as he spots the monster squatting on the earthen floor. He brings up his gun. A whoosh of disturbed air; he is jerked off his feet, up and back .. and crumples without a sound.

The Lynx bounces back in recoil.

The fractured wood is yanked back and a doorway appears.

Out!” says the bug.

Annabel scrambles on hands and knees to the new exit, trying not to make a sound. She lives in this moment.

Outside there is a large, matt-black steel box. Annabel thinks absurdly of a Portaloo, or the Tardis in that weird Brit sci-fi show. It’s the size of an elevator car and comes with an attendant.

A squaddie armed to the teeth, in full black camo.

“In here, Ma’am,” he says, traversing the barrel of his snub-nosed carbine.

Is that a lift cable on the roof?

The three of them are safely inside the bulletproof box. The helicopter, a kilometre above, cranks up the power, the steel hawser tightens and they swing and lift into the air. At four hundred meters and 300 klicks their container stabilises in the airflow. It will be a twenty minute flight to the forward operating base of the US military.

The soldier stands braced and upright in the cabin. Silent and remote.

“Non-lethal fléchette swarm,” says Tom, pressed into a corner. “The Lynx made a real-time decision that the mission objective - our silent extraction - could best be served by tranquillising the guard. The needles easily penetrated his shirt - the Lynx could see there was no armour there. Optimal solution.”

Annabel on the floor, supporting herself against the steel sides with arms and legs outstretched, is barely listening.

“You know why I approve of AI weapons?” he muses, almost to himself, “They'll be better than human soldiers: smarter and informed, more judgement and less emotion, .. . "

Annabel takes a moment, yawns to clear her head and reflect .. .

"Take tonight," Tom continues, "These Boko Haram boys are demonised in the West. But that’s Big Oil speaking. The North always had a raw deal. Sure, their egalitarian Islam is pretty primitive. But it gives them a sense of purpose, a rough-and-ready ethos .. .

“I’m glad that boy wasn’t killed in our rescue. Obviously I’m glad to be out of there .. .”

---

Annabel is still not listening.

She’s thinking she’ll soon be back in civilisation.

What an adventure!

Does anyone think this will stop her anti-AI campaigning?

No way! She has renewed vigour!

 

--- END ---

 


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