Thursday, December 6, 2012


Note: The following is a short story I wrote while thinking about our government's investment in armed cybernetics.  Be afraid.

"Ultimately, restraints upon war are more a matter of politics than of technology. If you are concerned about American aggression, it is not the drones you should fear, but the politicians who order them into battle."  David Brin, The New Republic

[them]"The odds of this issue occurring again are practically nonexistant."[/them]

[him]"This job," Christian thought, "sucks."
He thought back to his college advisor, who had talked him, ever so carefully, out of a double anthropology and sociology and in to a bachelor's in Comp Sci.  "In this climate," he'd said, "you need to think very carefully about the market value of your degree."
He had thought about it, one drunken night out with a few friends.  It had been Tim, the tall young Nordic god of the group, who'd belched loudly over one shoulder, and without allowing the act to diminish his sincerity even slightly, said, "You were good in math, right?  Computers, man, easy."
Somehow that seed of an idea had ground deep down in the dark damp soil of Christian's mind, and flowered and blossomed slowly and painfully into the cheap swivel chair that was currently holding Christian's white boy butt above the floor of a modern American sweatshop.
Oh, it didn't look like a sweatshop, granted.  There were no industrial sized fans slowly turning in the soft yellow haze of a steamy factory floor, nor any sweaty people standing in the long line of a conveyor belt, and as the great god Cable TV had taught us, that's what sweat shops look like, right?
Well, thought Christian, no.  They have glass fronts, and tastefully appointed lobbies staffed by unattainably hot office temps who seemed to always find a way into a promotion to Marketing, and thus allow for a constant stream of faces.  They have executive floors filled with the deep, rich browns of expensive leather and stained mahogany, and the lush green of growing things and money.
And then they have floors like the one Christian sat in.  The cube farms.
The cube walls and floors were covered with a tough gray canvas like material that had precisely the same color as fresh cement.  This gray was mirrored in the layer of gray plastic covering every visible desk surface.  Well, almost; every cube came complete with cuts and scratches in that soft gray, marks that the current occupant had never made, marks that reminded the occupant that someone had been here before him, and would be here after, someone who would examine the marks that he in turn left, like the tally marks of the old cons in stir, marking time.
And there was the clatter.
Sooner or later, every man child in the cube farm invested in a very good set of earphones or ear buds, and found some mechanism for delivering sounds that he could enjoy, or at least ignore, through those cans and into his head.  He did it because of that sound.. the sound of typing, coming from a dozen, hundred, thousand fingers all around him would find it's way into his subconscious.  He'd find himself driving home, thinking of the ocean, or of the white noise from old analog televisions, if he was old enough to remember such a thing, and wonder why.  He'd never make the connection to the clatter, still in his head, still following him like a bad smell.
Christian had been trying audiobooks the week before.  He had pirated some really awful ones, books on things that he could care less about, like on classical music or wine tasting, or old bad fantasy novels, since there'd been no shortage of those.  While that helped, he found that he had started incorporating them into his variable names.  During a code peer review, he'd been asked to explain why the increment value in a particular control structure had been "fjoderPinot", and another inside the loop called "ribStitch".  He'd changed them, and resolved to ditch the audiobooks.
Today he had some Suomisaundi trance piped through his Sennheisers, and it was doing it had been doing it's job quite well, when all of a sudden the track he'd been listening to had switched to the sound of someone yelling, very loudly, "Hai!", and then stopped.  Dead air...
And for that one brief moment of silence, he'd felt a certain kind of transcendence. He'd left himself, stood outside himself for one fraction of a second, and had taken in the drab cloth walls surrounding him to which he'd pinned absolutely nothing, the sliding file drawer beside him to which he had no key, and the bookshelf above and to his left, which contained a takeout menu and a book on some strange, archaic macro language of which he'd never heard, and in that sudden flash of understanding, had come to hate it all.  He hated this idiotic job, writing software to drive some kind of mechanical something which he'd never see, working in compartmentalization so granular that he wasn't even certain what the thing did, and doing it for just enough money to make his student loan payments, and enough to either eat lunch or take the bus, but not both.
He switched from the text editor that had been one of the only three apps he'd ever used on this machine and started his web browser.  The company's internal content management system spewed forth some statement about having received some new accolade from some organization of which he'd never heard, posted right above a statement about poor third quarter earnings (and the subsequent perks that would be abolished to handle the shortfall).  He placed a cursor in the URL field and quickly summoned the name of some head hunting webapp or another, and then stopped...
Wouldn't they see that?  Wouldn't the network filters immediately catch traffic outbound for such a site, and wouldn't that monitoring software start some big red light flashing, an air horn sirening?  Would it perhaps save time for all involved and open a trapdoor beneath his battered chair and drop him down into some deep abyss from which heat, light, not careers could escape?
No, he thought.  No, I'll wait till I get home.  I'll do it from there.  I have skills; I'm better than this.  I know some people who might be able to scout openings with their gigs, right?  Sure.  Sure I can. [/him]

[her]Her day had been nothing short of awesome!
Today they'd had a show and tell where Miss Stewart had let everyone hold her guinea pig.  She'd moved from back to front, allowing each child to either reach out their hands to hold the animal, or to shake their head.  Anna had her hands out long before Miss Stewart had gotten to her, and she'd immediately loved the sensation of life coming from the little beast.  Miss Stewart had been called to the door of the room before she could take the animal back, and then had gone on to talk through her morning's lecture, seemingly forgetting Anna and her pet entirely.  Anna had sat there for the better part of an hour, gently stroking the guinea pig while Miss Stewart had talked on and on.
Then, towards the afternoon, they'd had a spelling bee.  Not just Miss Stewart's class, either, but the whole fifth grade, and Anna had nearly won!
She wasn't at all disappointed about second place.  Nope, not even a bit.  First place, and you had to go on to compete with other schools, and your parents had to take you, and they'd get all INTERESTED like they had when she'd gone out for Lacrosse.  That had been miserable; they were constantly studying things on the Internet on how to help her; help her self esteem, help her nutritionally, help her playing, help her team, help her blah blah blah blah...  Truth told, they'd begun to worry her.  They were obsessive.  They'd play back the hi-def video they'd taken of her playing frame by frame and ask her to talk about it.
Anna hadn't wanted to talk about it; she'd wanted to //play// it, and they made it no fun with all of their attention, and finally she'd started messing up.  It felt like cheating, and she'd been ashamed of it, but she hadn't felt that she'd had much choice.  She was phoning it in for three games when she'd completed her plan by hinting that the game made her "feel bad about herself", and whammo!  No more Lacrosse.  Not even a hint that she'd ever played; they'd even gone back and excised her sport from their Facebook timelines.
So no, second place was absolutely ok.  They'd given her a blue ribbon and a laser pointer.
The laser pointer was way too much fun.  She'd been keeping it on the sidewalk in front of her, because Miss Stewart had warned her about the dangers in aiming the beam into people's eyes, especially when they were driving, but the closer she got to home, the higher and higher the tiny red dot had gotten.  She was keeping it out of the road, still, but she just couldn't resist making shapes and letters on the buildings and street signs. [/her] 

[it]NCT475 was having problems.
The connection back to Command was sketchy.  The problem could have been anything; a bad signal tower, bad hardware back at Command, although this was unlikely; they had redundants enough to rebuild their systems three times over.  If there was one thing Command believed in, it was redundancy.
So no, it was probably something stupid, like barometric pressure, or sun spots, or a passing convoy of aircraft, or who knows what.
Whatever the reason, the patrol cadre of TM45 Sentries was losing it's encrypted signal back to Command, which monitored and controlled their actions.
This was not a problem, necessarily.  Each Sentry was still able to locate it's position to within three inches thanks to the new generation of GPS, and each still had it's current patrol schedule, standing orders, and contingency orders stored right where it could get at them, yet still, there was the question of command.  TM45's had been built from the ground up to operate under supervision.  Unlike the nearly archaic drone recon systems that the military had been using nearly a decade before, Sentries required nor needed any human oversight, however they did need the intelligence available from their brethren, so in cases where homebound communication failed, the Sentries would relay their current positions to each other through local radio networking, and the unit deemed most central in the cadre would be elected as the local version of Command, responsible for relaying communications, monitoring the threat level and status of each unit, and deciding upon the threat response level.
The escalation of threat response was an extremely serious concept; instead of the normal peacetime responses of requesting identification, levying and handling payment of fines, and physical restraint, increased threat response levels authorized the use of disarming, debilitating, or even lethal force.  The TM45's rather paltry dual .45 caliber automatic weapons were no match for the depleted uranium cannonballs and high explosives available for the TM90 BorderGuardian systems, granted, but then again, out here in the burbs, it wasn't likely that the Sentries would be facing tanks or hostile mechs.  Besides, those .45s were armor piercing, and would pass through a car body with plenty of velocity left over.
The software designed for NCT475 and his brethren rigidly defined the cases in which threat escalation was permitted was one of the most closely supervised (and strongly advertised) pieces of software ever devised by man.  It had, in fact, supplanted Aasimov's Three Laws of Robotics as the mechanized version of the gold standard.
No, NCT475 wasn't having any problems with his added responsibilities.  What he was having a problem with was heat.
Up in his noggin (which he didn't need; however A-people felt safer around a humanoid heavily armed machine than they felt around non humanoid heavily armed machines, a fact which statisticians, deep in their cups, attributed to ED-209 from Robocop, and B-it made a great platform for sensory apparatus), one of the little muffin fans regulating the temperature had a bad bearing.  Had NCT475 auditory sensors up there, and human sensibilities with which to judge the sound, it would have driven him mad in short order.  Since he (or rather, it) didn't, the only real change was the partial powerdown of unneeded systems as an attempt to offset the temp.  This was a trivial grade issue; NCT475 would have to get four or six times hotter before deciding to head back for repair.  So far, so good.[/it]

[him]Christian was thinking about jobs.  He was making a huge mental list of his skillset, and was trying to think of ways to upsell every item on the list.  He tried desperately to recall every nugget he'd ever read about resume building, and cursed himself for not having done a better job of networking.
He had never considered trying to find another job.  He remembered the excitement he'd felt when this one had expressed interest in him.  At the time, he'd been something like 57th in his class.  One too many nights out with Tim, one too few deadlines met.. Well, maybe it had been more that that.  Deep down in the back of his mind, where even he couldn't reach it, lived the certain knowledge that Christian hated programming.  He'd hated it when he'd taken hist first class, but he'd felt a kinship with the nerds surrounding him; he spoke their lingo, he knew their cult classics, even ate their food.  It had seemed only right and natural that he should be in the CS program, even if he tended to glaze over during lectures on algorithms and structures.
But that knowledge was just out of reach, like an itch you can't quite reach.  Christian continued to plan his escape from the corporate cell block he'd landed in, and his mind was everywhere at once.. except here.  His mind was nowhere near his code.[/him]

[her]Anna wasn't far from home when she'd discovered the kitten.
It had been nothing more than a thump from a cardboard box near a set of trashcans.  Anna had moved the spot of her laser pointer into the dark shadow cast by the box's open side, and had nearly jumped when the bright yellow kitten had leaped out of the box to put both front paws, tiny claws extended, under the red dot.
She was delighted by the serious expression on the face of the kitten, and had giggled, which caused her hands to shake just slightly.  The kitten's head shifted like a small negation to follow the dot.  She moved the dot slowly away, and the kitten scooted himself forward, smacking at the dot with an alternate paw with each scoot.
Anna laughed out loud, and started running the dot around in small circles, watching the kitten spin and spin, never tiring.
Anna had already decided that she would keep the kitten.  She would use the laser to coax the kitten home, and would convince her parents to let her keep him.  She had no doubts that she could do this; she'd been quietly controlling them for a few years, now.  She was trying to find a name for him, trying to position the kitten close enough to pick up, when she heard the "thunk, thunk, thunk" of a Sentry.
The kitten saw the Sentry as it turned the corner, and immediately darted away.
Anna was furious!  Her kitty, her sweet, lovely kitty!  With the speed and strength of a child's imagination, she had already lived through years of petting and hugging the kitten, and she keenly felt a sense of loss that, while stemming from imagination, felt no less painful because of it's source.
She was so angry!  Stupid robot, she thought.  If she had a gun, she'd shoot it!  But, she did have one in her hand, or at least, close enough.
Anna lifted the laser pointer and pointed it at the TM45.
"Pyoo pyoo!"  she called as she pushed the button on the pointer.[/her]

[it]The beam of the laser passed into the receiving end of NCT475's laser designator system.
Normally, this flurry of sensory data would be caught and discarded by the system, but a few lines in the driver software for the designator failed to account for the state change.  Perhaps the code was flawed due to a spec design flaw; perhaps it came from simple human oversight.  Or perhaps the code had been written by a man with strange music pounding into his head while his thoughts were a thousand miles away..
At any rate, the input from the designator was pushed into an area of the system's memory which was too small to receive it.  Since the designator's code ran at a higher privileged level of system access, the extra gibberish was written into the next adjacent block of memory.
That block of memory happened to be the area in which NCT475 had stored it's current threat response level.
The garbage data was read as a pointer to a completely different set of instructions than the Sentries had ever been told to use; a set of instructions that defined a pattern of behavior to be used when surrounded by a hostile opfor (opposing force), with maximum firepower to be used in response.
That threat response level was immediately broadcast to every TM45 which had elected NCT475 as it's local control node.  The area patrolled by these units covered twelve city blocks.
NCT475 raised it's arms, the chambers of it's weaponry clacking into a ready state as it targeted Anna...


  1. I love it! Palindromes and guinea pigs! You got literary game, Sir Dyer. Did you know that the portal's name is Jade? How's that for irony?

    1. He does indeed have literary game! Now if we could just get him to fix those two "it's" in the last sentence to the possessive. Sigh. ;-)

    2. That's why I share a blog with my husband. I can correct any small grammatical errors while letting him shine as the writing genius that he is :)

    3. LOL. He corrects mine, too. Not that I make any. Ahem.

  2. Exquisite my Son,... the seeds of Skynet have indeed been sown,.... and our government has no shortage of Bull----, ahem,...fertilizer to spread over them....