I hadn’t had Vaughn carry the robots all the way to League HQ. A tornado isn’t exactly subtle. More to the point, it’s not exactly a mode of transportation that can carry a couple robots to HQ without giving anyone a hint that we’re there.
That’s why I told Vaughn to drop the two robots in an open field off the side of the highway. I don’t know if anyone owned it. Brown grass lay on the ground, a thin layer of snow covering it.
Whatever the case, I’d flown off in the Rocket suit, and brought each of them into the jet’s cargo bay. I also had the Jet give them a quick scan to see if they were really dead.
They were–or alternately they were good enough at faking it that the jet couldn’t tell.
I typed a question into a message program I used to communicate with the jet. “Can you read their files?”
[I hesitate to directly connect with them in case they’ve been booby-trapped, but you will find a kit that your grandfather used for accessing the same information on the shelf behind you.]
I turned toward the shelf. It was one among many–a grey metal structure with several shelves held tools and equipment for the jet, much of it completely unrecognizable.
After a few minutes of discussion, I figured out which item the jet meant.
When I got it out of the bag, I found a gleaming, blue metal object shaped roughly like a cube, but composed of a tube that been twisted into that shape. A black and white 80’s laptop screen had been attached to it. I wasn’t sure how at first, but then i realized it had been done with glue.
I looked for wires connecting the screen to the device and couldn’t find anything.
I couldn’t find a keyboard either.
After some looking, I did find an on/off switch, but only on the screen. Hopefully it applied to the device it was attached to too.
I flipped the switch, and the metal warmed in my hands, molding to them. At the same time, I felt a mental connection. Crap. Another alien AI?
After a few seconds worth of connection, I doubted it. If it were an AI it was very stupid or very limited.
Deciding that no matter how weird this was, I might as well try it, I carried it closer to the nearest robot. Words began to appear on the screen.
Identified: Light Ground Attack Unit
Clan: Spinward Searchers for Knowledge Valued
Surely that wasn’t the best possible translation. I felt no response from the machine. Maybe it was.
If so, I never wanted to meet a “Heavy Ground Attack Unit.” The light ones had come close enough to killing us already.
More words appeared on the screen in black and white, blocky letters.
1. Repair damaged sections.
2. Wipe robot’s AI.
3. Wipe robot’s AI and replace with default.
4. Replace robot AI with friendly AI (tricky)
5. Scan AI memory (damaged only).
6. Search AI memory(damaged only).
Looking over it, I was pretty sure Grandpa had written that menu, and that whatever the device originally did, he’d modified it. He might not even have understood it, but had managed to find some functions he’d needed and figured out a way to make the machine perform them on demand.
I’d never seen a manual for this device, and even after poking around, I couldn’t find a help menu.
It all spoke of a hack job that he’d made in the middle of things and never expected to need again.
I considered whether I should try anything given how little I knew about the possible consequences.
Then I chose number 5, or tried to. I considered tapping the screen, but decided it wouldn’t work. I followed that up by trying the obvious–thinking the number five.
0%… 10%… 20%… 50%… 70%… 90%… 100%…
AI related programming and memory has been damaged irreparably. It appears to have been self-inflicted.
I stared at the screen. So I was fighting the robotic equivalent of suicide bombers? They nuked their own possibly salvageable personalities to keep this secret? I supposed that death might be a little different for the machine races. They could hypothetically put a subset of their own consciousness into a device, give it a mission, and it wouldn’t be like sending someone off on a suicide mission.
The original would still be alive after all, so it’s not really death. It was more like how Jenny created copies of herself.
It didn’t mean it wasn’t annoying though. Seriously, this had been a really good lead too.
After a few minutes of frustrated mental rambling, the obvious thought occurred to me–try the other one.
In an ideal world, that would have led to me blowing the whole thing open right there. In my actual world, I found myself staring at the same result a second time.
Now what was I going to do?
I put down my grandfather’s weird, hybrid device, and left it on the shelf, staring at the floor.
Finding no answers in the concrete, I turned toward the TV. The credits were rolling on Baz’ show. They rolled against a background of the FBI stopping at the spot where we’d fought, and taking away the remaining robots.
Maybe that was good news. Isaac Lim might allow me to look them over, but probably only if I agreed to share everything with the Feds.
From what I’d seen of them, that wasn’t a terrible possibility, but it still didn’t make me happy.
I decided to focus on what I knew. I knew we’d been attacked by members of a machine race clan. That meant that they were involved somehow. It might even mean that they were somehow behind it all.
I wasn’t sure about their motive though. I could imagine why they might want to kill Haley and I as revenge, but what motivation did they have to kill off everybody. I supposed that if they needed natural resources, we had them, but so did unpopulated asteroids and planets in all likelihood.
There wasn’t any reason to go to a big populated planet, and try to kill everybody. No, the reason that someone had bothered to try that had to be political or personal–which I’d already guessed.
I shut the TV off—well, I was about to.
Then the news came on, the SuperTV news that is.
The announcer appeared to be in his twenties, and wore a suit like every other network news reporter ever, but his eyes were wide, and his voice seemed louder than necessary.
“Breaking news! A bunch of flying robots just like ones we saw on Baz Wilson’s show appeared in the Ukraine, and after a short but decisive battle, they killed several aliens that appeared to live in some kind of small colony.”
The picture on the screen showed a grassy field. In the middle of it stood several buildings that reminded me most of barns. They were burning, and aliens that I didn’t even recognize stood outside in powered armor and carrying guns.
A few appeared to be catlike–pointed ears, long tails and fur. Others were reptilian.
More disturbing were the aliens that I did recognize.
In the middle of the shot were a pile of dead Hrnnna, all of them burned with what looked like lasers.
Maybe I’d been looking at this the wrong way? Maybe I shouldn’t have been asking who wanted to destroy humanity. Maybe I needed to ask who wanted to kill the Hrnnna?