July 11th: Technology gone very very wrong
, by Gary Clifton

Meg wasn’t really a “she” anymore than “she” could actually think or recognize her own photograph. She could only know what had been fed her by human hand. Meg was a CAR – Combat Armed Robot – a super, all terrain 24/7 killing monster, complete with a deadly, remote drone, called, rather morbidly, “Eternity”, which obeyed her every “thought” – given that machines can’t really think.

Creegon had been a 20 year CIA employee, resigning after his last tour in Afghanistan. Robust, athletic, and never married at 42, he had tested the real world by throwing in with an international security consulting firm based in Hong Kong. Not surprisingly, his new masters stationed him in northern Virginia, close to the CIA who paid the bills.

He’d only made contact with Meg by osmosis through his golf foursome – he and three current CIA employees, all old friends. The war/invasion suddenly exploded in the summer of 2016 following detonation of several dirty bombs along the Eastern Seaboard. Thousands of troops had been killed with a deadly nerve gas. The Department of Defense had managed to neutralize the gas attacks and beat back the hordes, but manpower was decimated.

The friendly golf foursome, all trained in weapons use, had been pressed into service as an impromptu resistance unit. The other three had never seen a shot fired in anger. Creegon had seen combat and violence in spades. War, he knew, made sense to those at the top. But the guys in the cheap seats, where bullets were real, rarely had any idea what was going down. Creegon and his team, definitely out of the management loop, stumbled forward as conscripted combat grunts had done throughout history.

Headquartered at Langley, Virginia, the four had weathered the early days of unbelievable confusion, destruction, and indecision. They’d completed several seek and kill missions with little comprehension of who or why they were fighting. Missile attacks soon forced them to abandon headquarters.

Johnny Newman, a great golfer, was a respected scientist/researcher in Section 27 Omicron, of which Creegon, in typical CIA compartmental isolation, knew very little. Newman managed to extract a prototype Unit Axis Sega 440, nicknamed “Meg” when they bailed out of headquarters.

The invading hordes, some foreign, some Americans angry at economic and physical disaster, had pushed into Maryland, north of the Potomac, near Frederick. Armed with a hodge-podge of military equipment, including a few old Abrams tanks, they had not managed to cross into Virginia – not yet. The regular army would eventually respond and eliminate the militants. But in the immediate case, disaster was near.

Creegon’s four man team, with several similar units, had been hauled by belching old army trucks and deployed with Meg, boxes of MRE’s, and antiquated M-16 rifles along the south bank of the Potomac. The only teammate with any real combat experience, Creegon was designated leader. Only then did he learn the true killing-horror of the beeping, little contraption called Meg.

Meg, the size of a riding lawnmower was equipped with all terrain tracks plus legs which automatically lowered to boost her through any ground. She could also float.

The drone, Eternity, resembling a TV antenna, rested on her top-bulge which Creegon thought of as a head or turret. Eternity flew via an anti-gravity system, drawing magnetic force-fuel from Meg.

Creegon was amazed when Meg launched Eternity. After it wreaked havoc over the horizon, it settled back gently atop the bulging turret like a falcon to its master. A metal tag on the back of that turret was the genesis of the name “Meg”, the short of Megawatt.
When the satellite High and Mighty passed overhead several times daily, Meg responded with a faint humming inside her turret. Creegon assumed re-charging was involved. As a veteran field officer, he’d fired missiles and drones, but his actual technical knowledge of such weapons was limited. In the recesses of his mind, he couldn’t avoid thinking of Meg as a rolling video game machine – with fangs.

A screen on the front of Meg’s turret displayed the drone Eternity’s movements. Clearance to immolate or spare targets was controlled by flashing lights on that screen. Green was death, red was life. The system was automatic. Creegon thought honestly only God knew how her system functioned.

The system also controlled the small, pencil sized, tube-gun protruding inches from Meg’s chest. On green confirmation, the little pipe could unleash a tremendous blast of force-energy causing devastating damage to the once beautiful north bank of the placid river. A built in fail safe device someway negated Meg’s ability to fire with red blinking on the screen

Meg became confused by mixed signals. If the green flashes showed even a flicker of red, then reverted to green, Meg wouldn’t auto-fire. Many citizens were homeless on the roads and Meg’s red light perception might be warning of innocent, non-combatants. How she knew remained a mystery. Not even Newman, who had helped design her, understood.

Human voice command could override the red, no-fire warnings. Newman had often directed Meg to fire when the ID of the target was flashing between green and red. “Collateral damage beats getting us killed,” he smiled. Occasionally, Newman had to order Meg multiple times to fire on partially red targets. Creegon didn’t like it, but the end of civilization was just across the Potomac
Neither the weapons of the machine, nor the drone, required reloading. They were multi-fire, carbon compacted units, enabling both machine and the drone to fire into infinity, recharged by High and Mighty and carbon-cycle regeneration. They dealt death in a form of off-world ferocity. Newman used a small keyboard beneath Meg’s turret-screen to code in each of the four teammate’s voices so Meg would respond to their audible commands.

When the enemy fired at them with missiles, antiquated by Meg’s standards, she tossed up a force screen or metallic misdirect chaff and the shots missed. In a few days, all the other teams holding the south side of the river had been killed, but Meg had repeatedly saved Creegon’s outfit.

Then, as Creegon worked his way to the river for a bucket of water, a conventional artillery round whizzed in and struck home. Newman and the other two were instant history. Meg was scorched, but unharmed – so it seemed.

“You hurt, Ironhead,” Creegon, dazed, asked Meg, eyeing the gory, burned remains of his three teammates. He’d never spoken directly to her before.

He was dumbfounded when Meg replied hoarsely: “Unit uninjured, checking systems.” Holy Hell, the thing could talk and he didn’t even know how to turn it off and on.

Suddenly: movement across the broad river. Upwards from a hundred men, most in small boats, some in the water holding to the sides, were paddling toward him. The crossing, he estimated, would take thirty minutes. Creegon had enough M16 ammo to selectively pick off most of the crossing enemy.

But mass killing was Meg’s job. “Meg,” he said rather awkwardly. “Enemy in the water…shoot now!” Her screen displayed images of men on the water, the lights flickering between red and green.

“Shoot, dammit…or send the drone. They’ve got enough American equipment to fool you…shoot!”

Meg slowly yawed around, but he didn’t notice. “Friendlies…red, red,” the screen crackled, barely intelligible. Creegon didn’t hear Meg’s telltale humming as High and Mighty passed over. He opened up with his M-16. In the distance a man threw up his hands and went under.

“Red…red!” Meg squawked, her voice now like an excited chicken. “High and Mighty acquisition. Targets are friendlies.”

He never even sensed, let alone felt the beam when Meg vaporized him. Creegon was part of the atmosphere a thousand times faster than his nerve synapses could inform his brain he no longer existed.

“Friendlies…red…red,” Meg said slightly more clearly.

“U.S. Marines, cease firing,” a man’s voice wafted in from mid-river.

“Fail-safe functioning properly, Mr. Creegon. High and Mighty confirms friendlies.” This time her voice was resonant, sexy…like a talking elevator. Creegon, had he still existed would have been stunned to see the red lights on her screen slightly curved upward at the edges. Was it a smile? But a machine that couldn’t think, certainly couldn’t smile.

Clifton, forty years a cop, has been shot at, shot, stabbed, sued, lied to and about, and often misunderstood. He’s retired to a dusty north Texas ranch waiting to see what happens next. He has an M.S. from Abilene Christian University.

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