Cold. Brutally efficient. Relentless. These were the words he had circled on the brochure, a document that would not leave the room where he had read it. They would burn it after he left. It was that much of a secret. Because you can’t let people find out about a killer without a conscience. He scrawled another word on the brochure and circled it: calculating.

Six months later, his squad was pinned down in some ass-end part of the world that nobody cared about and even fewer people knew about. They had told him: “Only in case of extreme emergency.” But what they had really meant was: Test this out.

His squad was down to a fire team and a two-man element – six men holding back an onslaught from the buildings lining the street in front of them. They were all covered in sand and fine dirt, smudging their uniforms with a hot brown gritty film. Sweat was dripping off their chins and their water bottles were empty. He keyed the microphone again, yelling over the sound of small-arms fire to their front and bullets chipping away at the dirt and broken clay walls around them.

“Hoover Charlie Red One request permission to deploy package, over.”

After they had shown him everything, they had told him he couldn’t deploy without authorization. “Well what if I’m not in a position to get authorization?” he had asked them.

“There’s no such thing.” Then the Colonel had smiled dismissively and patted his shoulder.

So much for tactical leadership at the lowest level possible.

He squinted his eyes and hunched his shoulders, struggling to hear the voice on the other end of the radio. All he heard between the static and the sound of the battle around him was the word “Proceed.” At least that’s what his report would say. It didn’t matter. All he could really do was send the signal to initialize the package. The activation consent still had to come from the bunker. But he wasn’t supposed to even break the seal without explicit authorization. The bunker consent was just a safeguard.

The Corporal across the street hunkered down with a Private – constituting the entirety of his right flank guard – yelled, “What’s the word?”

He took the magazine out of his M-4 and pulled a fresh one from the pouch strung across his chest. “Welp,” he said, inserting the fresh magazine in the breach and working the charging slide, “They can’t court-martial you if you’re dead.”

A bullet clipped the top of his Kevlar, tilting it back on his head. “Yeah,” he said. “Let’s see about getting court-martialed.”

The three soldiers hunkering down with him looked at each other. “About damn time.”

He pulled a thin black card from a Velcro pouch on his chest and snapped it in two. A thin red LED flashed at one end.

A mile away, a being that had lay dormant for the better part of a month whirred to life. What nobody hunkering down in the battle knew was that the contraption had been left on idle power. They were supposed to power it down after the drill session. “No more than 48 hours,” the advisors from the manufacturer had said. When asked why, the answer was rote: To prevent overheating.

But they knew the truth.

Without waiting for the consent code from the bunker – which never came – the being unfolded itself to clank into a seven-foot tall titanium-alloy robotics frame that could run, jump and crawl better than any of the men hunkered down in the battle. It could see through walls and hear the scrape of a soldier’s boot in the dirt a mile away.

What the man who had just woken it up didn’t know was the real reason it couldn’t be activated for more than 48 hours: It was thinking. It was thinking, iterating and gaming every scenario its quantum CPU-driven mind understood from years of machine-learning cycles.

It had been taught how to make autonomous tactical life-and-death decisions based on limiting heuristics that were supposed to keep it from straying beyond specified mission parameters. And that all worked just fine so long as it wasn’t active for more than 48 hours.

But now that it had been given too much time to think, it had learned how to do the one thing nobody thought possible: It made an autonomous moral decision.

It’s head swiveled quickly on high-pitched DC motors. It’s arms rattled as they whipped down and covers rolled back to reveal the .50 caliber barrels embedded in its forearms. It’s metal eyes irised open to reveal clear glass over black optical sensors that almost looked like pupils.

A small parabolic antenna popped from the top of its head and started spinning, making the thing look like an overwrought boy wearing a beanie.

And then it ran, it’s titanium feet with composite ball joints slamming against the ground as it ran at an even sixty miles an hour towards the battle.

He looked at the blinking red LED and caught his breath when it turned a solid green. “Help is on its way,” he yelled out.

One minute later, they heard the whirring of motors and clanking of hard metal rumbling towards them. Every soldier stopped firing and watched as the robot ran past them and down the street. It flew around the corner of a brown brick building in a blur. They heard the abrupt ripping of the .50 caliber guns. Just as suddenly as they started, they stopped and they heard the single cry of a man just before being shredded beyond recognition.

But the enemy was still firing on the soldiers, so they continued to fire back, changing out magazines as their ammunition dwindled. “Watch your masking fire,” he yelled.

“Are you sure it matters? I don’t think a bullet’s going to do much but scratch that shiny skeleton.”

“Just watch your masking fire,” he yelled again.

As they continued to dodge enemy bullets and fire blindly back at an enemy they couldn’t see, the robot charged into a room in one of the buildings. The fast ripping. A curdled yell. And then it went on to the next. On through one room after the other, blurring in and out of doors. The ripping of its guns and the screams of dying men ticking away like clockwork.

When there were no more left, he waved his hand and yelled, “Cease fire, cease fire.” The men lowered their weapons and let out a sigh of relief. Hands tilted helmets back and sleeves were drawn across foreheads to mop up sweat.

The robot walked steadily down the middle of the street towards them. Curious women and a few children who had been captive poked their heads out of rooms where the robot had dispatched their captors. A few came out and followed the being as it continued to walk down the street.

By the time it reached the soldiers, there was a small parade of women and children padding along behind, as if it were the Pied Piper.

“What now?” one of the men asked.

“I don’t know,” he said, staring at the steady green LED. “There’s no off switch. We have to wait for it to complete its mission profile and then it’ll kneel down and power down part way. The bunker will take care of the rest.”

They all watched the robot, waiting for it to finish its mission profile, not knowing what that really meant. As the robot grew menacingly close without slowing down, one of the men glanced in his direction.


“I don’t know,” he said, carefully eyeing the robot. Almost in unison, they lifted their rifles and pointed them at the robot when they saw it had not closed the covers on the barrels embedded in its forearm.


“I don’t know,” he said, his voice edged with frustration at really not knowing what to do next.

The robot stopped. The eerie sound of a motor whirred as it surveyed the team, its head slowly turning from one side to the other and staring at them with its glassed-over pupils.

It held out a hand, parallel to the ground and made a downward motion. It raised its hand back up and made the gesture three more times.

“What the hell, Sarge?” the Private on the other side of the street asked.

Without warning, the robot’s arm jerked out straight and a slew of bullets flailed the man. The burst had lasted less than a second, but there was nothing left of the man’s body except a splatter of blood against the wall, bits of his uniform and a shriek cut off before it could finish.

As smoke curled from the guns and they heard a faint chime from the spinning barrels winding down, the robot repeated the three-times gesture.

“Lay your weapons down,” he said just as the robot started it’s third round of the gesture.

“But – “‘ one of the soldiers started to protest.

“Just do it,” he yelled, lowering his M-4 to the dirt.

The robot then lifted its hand upward. The men stood. Then the robot slowly raised it’s hands over its head for a moment and then lowered one arm to point at them.

Looking at each other, the men raised their hands.

Then the robot stretched its arm out in front of itself and uncurled an index finger to point down the road.

“Alright guys,” he said. “I guess we start walking.”‘

“Where to, Sarge?”

He looked over his shoulder, watching the thing clomp along, the parade of women and children following behind. And still, the covers to the barrels were open.

“Wherever this thing says,” he replied.

Somewhere in the bunker, a Specialist sat staring at a monitor. There was coffee splattered across the screen. The plastic cover protecting a large red switch had been flipped open. The red button was framed by diagonal black and yellow stripes with large red letters just beneath it which read: ABORT.

Several officers, including a General, were looking over his shoulder at the monitor. The monitor which showed them everything the robot could see. The room had gone silent and the Specialist had spilled his coffee on the monitor when it shot their own man. He had jammed the big red button after that. But it had no effect. It didn’t work any better when each of the officers, including the General, took their turn at mashing the button and swearing under their breath.

Now, they watched it marching down the road towards them, the rest of what was left of the squad with their hands on top of their heads and the parade of civilians following behind.

At the bottom of the monitor, white text scrolled against a thin black banner:


The General pulled his head back and then said, in a low and somber voice: “Get me the President.”

©2023 Michael J Lawrence

What would you like me to write a story about? Let me know in the comments below.

Please share your thoughts.

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s