Below you will find a sample chapter from Book 1 in the Warbots series now available at the following link:
No one noticed them when they boarded Orient Express Flight Seven in San Francisco. They were only six people sprinkled throughout the one hundred seven passengers boarding the hypersonic transport., They’d gone through all the security check points without a hitch. The psychic screeners had “felt” nothing wrong. The detectors had picked up no weapons.
This didn’t mean that these six people carried no weapons. They were all armed to the teeth. When all the available information was pieced together later, nobody could figure out how the hijackers had managed to get aboard with what survivors later reported as an “arsenal of weapons.”
The tow wagon lined up the bat-shaped arrowlike black hulk with the runway and, precisely at noon, the pilots of Orient Express Flight Seven – international rules of that time forbade the use of robot pilots in passenger craft without human pilots acting as “system managers” and backups for them – saw the final clearance from Space Traffic Control and the San Francisco tower appear on the display screen. The thunder of aeroturboramjets was quickly dissipated by the phase dampers of the runway’s noise controls. When the craft attained a speed of ninety meters per second, the pilots noted with satisfaction that the robot pilot signaled for rotation, the nose came up to the precise angle for generating the maximum amount of lift, and the craft was airborne.
Above the shielding effect of the runway noise dissipators, the ripping roar of the engines echoed off the far hills while the shoreline quickly fell behind the climbing black ship.
Another milk run, the pilots told each other. In two hours, they’d be landing in Toyko, at 8:00 A.M. the following morning, having crossed the international date line at an altitude of more than two hundred kilometers.
But the pilots discovered they were wrong when the aft door to the flight deck was blown off its hinges by shaped charges of plasticex. A man stepped through and barked an order. He was armed only with a short dagger with a dark blade. The copilot discovered that the blade was razor-sharp when it nicked his left arm and wet, red blood flowed from the thin cut that had been made almost painlessly. The blade could have been made from flint, obsidian, or any glasslike material that would have an extremely sharp edge upon being flaked or cracked. Such a nonmetallic weapon would pass undetected through any airport security screening device yet developed.
There was only one thing the pilots could do. The flight commander keyed the microphone, using the voice communications channel rather than the computerized digital system. “Pacific Low Orbit Center, this is Oscar Echo Seven. Code seven-five-zero-zero. We are being hijacked. I repeat: We are being hijacked. We haven’t been advised of destination at this time. Please track and clear ahead of us. We’ll monitor the navsat system for anticollision vectors. Oscar Echo Seven out!”
There didn’t seem to be any reason for the hijacking. When aerospaceline managers checked the manifest, they found no one on that flight who was of any particular political or religious sensitivity. The passengers were tourists and business people who could afford the premium fare charged for going halfway around the world in two hours.
And it didn’t make any sense to hijack a hypersonic transport. All five of the national space defense systems immediately came to Yellow Alert and began to track the craft. Space mirrors moved “on target” and billion watt ground-based lasers began to warm up in case the hijacking turned out to be a suicide mission aimed at Toyko, Beijing, or Singapore. No matter where Orient Express Flight Seven went now, it would be tracked by radar, lidar, and infrared systems because it was an unstealthed commercial craft, designed to be seen clearly and plainly by every possible sort of sensor. If it transgressed the international rules of the road in the opinion of some national defense system evaluator, it would be burned out of the sky. More than a hundred lives were at stake, lives that could be extinguished instantly in the inferno of a hydrogen-oxygen explosion.
Within minutes another message came from the endangered craft: “Orient Low Orbit Center, please be advised that Oscar Echo Seven has been ordered to land at a place called Zahedan. Its coordinates aren’t even in the autopilot’s computer memory. The hijackers have given the coordinates to us. This place must be out in the boondocks somewhere. I hope you can get us back.”
Captain Curt Carson’s officers had scouts well out on point with flank guards five hundred meters on either side of his advancing company. The enemy was out there somewhere. Lieutenant Morgan’s squads AlphaOne and Alpha-Two, from Alpha platoon, were on reconnaissance but had reported no contact yet. Lieutenant Allen, whose Bravo-Three squad was airborne with sensors out, could find nothing. The communications frequencies were quiet. Only the data channels showed any activity as scouts from Alpha-One, AlphaTwo, and Bravo-Three continued their constant monitoring, feeding back the information they gathered into the Head Honcho company battle computer which was being monitored by Master Sergeant Kester. At this point in the engagement, Carson was using his top sergeant as a control point assimilator and evaluator of data.
This was robot warfare as it was supposed to be fought. No human beings were on the field of battle and thus exposed to the hazards of combat.
The technology of robot warfare had been developing for nearly a century. As long ago as World War II, robot weapons such as the primitive German Henschel Hs 298, an unmanned bomb with a television camera in its nose, had allowed a bombardier to see where it was going and to steer it by radio control. A whole series of “remotely piloted vehicles” and target drone aircraft had evolved from the Henschel until the technology of the “human-machine interface” finally reached the point where true robot warfare was possible. The human soldier remained in a relatively safe and secure position while receiving sensations, from the robot, on television cameras, microphones, and position sensors via radio, microwave, infrared, and laser optical channels. In turn, the human soldier sent commands back to the robot via a similar “duplex” link.
This was different from the robot warfare of the past, however, because data flowed into and out of the human soldier’s nervous system which was directly linked to the communication channels.
Captain Curt Carson didn’t have an electronic connector implanted in his head. Instead, he lay on a couch whose network of small electrode plates made contact with his skin along both sides of his spine and up his neck. Over his shaved head, he wore a close-fitting helmet that put more skin electrodes in contact with his scalp. When he needed to be mobile, he wore a harness which held the electrodes against his back, and neck.
Electroencephalography, EEG, or applying electrode sensors to the scalp, had been used for over a century by medical doctors and research scientists to detect very strong electrical brain activity. By the 1970s, these external sensors had become so sensitive that they could detect the neural activity taking place in the brain during any given activity. Computers were programmed to decipher and recognize command signals or “event related potentials” transmitted by the human nervous system, and to send these translated thought commands to machines. Thus, a human being could “think” a command to a robot, and the machine would carry out that command.
In the 1980s scientists discovered that the human nervous system would respond directly to signals introduced to the surface of the skin by external sensors. Properly encoded by computers, these signals could be made to electrically trigger the sensations of sight, sound, feeling, and smell. This two-way linkage between a human being and a robot allowed soldiers to conduct warfare through robots of various designs and functions.
The soldiers were always in command. The computer programs were designed to ensure this, and would failsafe in the event of a malfunction.
Press the advance, Carson ordered. The command was merely an electronic version of his thought passing through a computer, but the master battle computer made it seem a verbal message to him and his people. Keep moving forward until we make contact. Keep looking for them. They’re out there somewhere. When we find ‘em, we can decide what tactics we use to smear ‘em. Kester, don’t lose comm with the companies on our flanks. We may need their help, so we don’t want to outdistance them and get pinched off.
Roger, Captain. We ‘re sitting fat. Suggest we come to a forward speed of two kilometers per hour at this point.
We’ll do it. Attention, Alpha Leader and Bravo Leader, this is Blue Oscar Leader! Come to and maintain two klicks.
Alpha Leader, roger.
Bravo Leader, roger.
Alpha Leader, this is Blue Oscar Leader, Carson’s thought called out. I’m leaving the Head Honcho vehicle and going out on point.
That may not be wise, sir. It was Lieutenant Allen’s perceived voice-thought.
Thank you for sharing your opinion with me, Carson replied with the catch-all phrase he used when he wanted to let his subordinates know he’d decided to proceed anyway, but since time permitted, he continued with a brief explanation of why. Experience in the field, had taught Curt that a leader should lead people, not drive them. His operational policy had been formed in battle and honed in service under other officers. It had made a taut unit of his company, the Companions, named after the elite Macedonian heavy cavalry squadron that had accompanied Alexander the Great into battle twenty-three centuries before. I want to get an idea of the terrain. When we make contact, I don’t want to be fighting blind. Morgan, which unit do you recommend I join?
Alpha Leader suggests Alpha-Seven. He’s an Alpha Sierra Victor Eighty-eight. An Amphibious Scout Vehicle robot was a good choice.
Thank you. Blue Oscar Leader leaving Head Honcho command, transferring to Alpha Seven.
The transition was swift as usual.
Captain Curt Carson actually didn’t go anywhere. He merely transferred his sensory data inputs from one robot to another.
As a result, the sights, sounds, and feel of the CGV-22 Command Ground Vehicle were immediately replaced in Curt Carson’s mind by those of the Amphibious Scout Vehicle Model 88 going under the code name Alpha Seven. The scout vehicle was literally an extension of Carson because the captain sensed what its cameras and microphones and controls sensed. But Carson didn’t take control; he let the robot scout – a tank-like, treaded, all-terrain vehicle – proceed with its own artificially intelligent computer in command. It greeted him with a verbal thought message, Welcome aboard, Captain.
Glad to be aboard, Alpha Seven. You ‘re Phil Fingers, if I remember.
Named for the digits that play the eighty-eight keys of a piano. Roger, sir. That reply hadn’t been generated by the computer’s artificial intelligence or AI circuitry but had been programmed by one of the technicians in an attempt to ascribe some human qualities to a machine.
Captain Curt Carson treated artificial intelligence with caution. Even though he worked with AI constantly, he subscribed to the old maxim that there are only three forms of intelligence: human, animal, and military.
Give me a sit-rep, Carson ordered, asking the computer called Phil Fingers to provide him with a situation report.
No enemy detected, sir.
He’s out there somewhere. Curt’s thought message passed to the machine.
Yes, sir. I know. I have the briefing stored in memory. But he isn’t where Ess-Two estimated.
Staff Intelligence, S-2, was usually wrong because they worked with information that was at best several minutes old by the time the regimental computers processed what battlefield reconnaissance robots reported to make it intelligible to humans. That’s why Carson always sent his special recon robots out on point for the latest hot skinny.
Because Carson’s own nervous system was linked remotely with the scout’s sensors, he too felt the slamming impact and heard the incredibly loud clang of the shell hitting the scout’s armored glacis plate.
Contact. Incoming, incoming, Phil Fingers reported in the flat and unemotional tone of its computer-voice data channel. Antivehicle round taken on my glacis plate. Small dent, but I’m functional I have contact with the enemy. Bearing one-niner-one magnetic, range three-one-one meters.
Carson disabled the verbal channel, except for the tactical command signals coming from his human officers. He would have been overloaded with information otherwise. Far too much data were suddenly streaming In.
Phil Fingers swiveled Alpha Seven’s turret, laid the thirty-millimeter guns on the computer-derived source of the shelling, and fired a burst. The two eighty-eights on point followed suit.
Fire was immediately returned by the enemy.
Carson got out of the point scout. Doctrine directed that the company commander reduce personal risk by transferring to a suitably protected command, control, communications, and intelligence (“C-cubed-I”) robot upon contact or when under fire. Blue Oscar Leader transferring back to Head Honcho, he snapped into the human voice channel. The computer read his thought command and acted, switching Carson’s sensory inputs. Instantly, Carson was back in his command post.
The tactical situation was displayed for him as though he were seeing it with his own eyes. However, the computer sent him an elevated view of the terrain, a composite derived from television, infrared, and radar sensors in the airborne recon robots. The enemy, now tagged as Red Zulu by the computer, was drawn up in a defensive line on the other side of the small valley Carson’s company was just beginning to cross. Initial contact had been made, and the fire fight started when the point descended the north bank of the gulch, putting the units in maximum exposure.
Carson called up a bigger picture on his visual input. To the west, the valley tapered into a series of shallow, branched gulleys. Eastward, a small dammed lake with a swampy ground downstream of it extended into the forward battle area of another Blue company, Walker’s Warriors, who were yet unengaged.
Head Honcho, request flanking maneuver from Walker.
Request entered, sir, Master Sergeant Kester shot back in verbal. No joy, Captain. Walker is engaged, too.
Carson then knew this would be a loner fight. He’d have to win it without help. But he had good data. He knew what was happening. As the tactical situation began to clear, Carson started to issue orders. Morgan, engage with Alpha platoon in frontal assault. Jerry, take Bravo platoon around the right flank.
I can comply only with my nine all-terrains, Captain. That ground is too rough for my heavy tracked vehicles, Lieutenant Jerry Allen replied quickly. Carson could tell from the new lieutenant’s computer voice that Allen was unsure. The company commander hoped that the young man’s West Point education would prove out. It always had in the past, and Carson knew his own commanding officers had probably harbored the same doubts about him years ago.
Alpha engaging, Lieutenant Alexis Morgan reported. Carson didn’t have to worry about her at all. She was one of the people he would be glad to have with him in any sort of a fracas.
Kester, assume command of the reserve units. Tag them as Charlie Force. Detach all Alpha Tango Victors to Bravo, withdraw the heavies, assign them to Charlie Force, and put Charlie Force in fire support of Alpha.
Roger. Kester exiting Head Honcho for Charlie One now. Lieutenant Allen, you just got command of Charlie’s former Alpha Tango Victors and I’m taking your heavy Charlie Whiskey Bravos.
You’ve got my heavies, Charlie Leader. Bravo Leader is on the move, heading two-four-zero. Picking up some light fire. We’ll suppress it, Lieutenant Allen responded.
Cover, cover. The warning came from the orbiting Bravo-Three recon aircraft. The data suddenly showed Red tactical air support coming in low and fast, fangs out and hair on fire in the strike mode, going for the moving robot vehicles of Bravo platoon.
The air over the right flank was suddenly filled with smart rounds from the quad-forties of Charlie force which Sergeant Kester had prudently moved into place at Bravo’s rear for ground fire suppression as well as the contingency of a Red air strike against the exposed Bravo robots. The smart rounds jinked and zanged, found their targets, and a troika of Red saucer-shaped strike fighters became smoking holes in the ground because their own AI units couldn’t or didn’t react in time to spook the incoming smarts. Fortunes of war, Carson thought.
But there could be more where those had come from. Carson contacted Regimental and requested air cover. It wasn’t available. He’d have to fight this one out on the ground with what he had available, which was adequate if he deployed it properly.
Lieutenant Morgan’s Alpha platoon was moving forward with unexpected ease against what appeared to be light resistance. A disquieting thought entered Carson’s mind: If Morgan was encountering such light resistance, her assault target couldn’t be Red’s main body. Where was Red’s main body?
As Allen and Bravo platoon turned the corner of their flanking attack and began to move east after crossing the gullied terrain and breaking out onto the open, relatively flat mesa beyond, Carson acted on a hunch and extended his sensors deep beyond Red Zulu’s forward battle area. Head Honcho, the main company battle computer, noticed and remarked, I didn’t know you wanted deep coverage, Captain.
I’m looking for the main body, Carson muttered curtly.
And he found it.
It was lurking – unmoving, unseen, camouflaged, and stealthed – in defilade deep in another gulch five hundred meters to the south and rear.
Now it moved.
Bravo, look at what we’ve found, Carson warned his platoon leader, meanwhile instructing Head Honcho to artificially enhance and point out the images of the newly discovered Red main body. Break off the wheelleft and engage Red Main ‘s left flank before it can get out of that valley. Charlie force, I want a rolling barrage in front of Alpha force, but keep the beaten zone to the left and away from Bravo’s advance. Alexis, break through there. Crunch that Red forward party and prepare to hit Red Zulu main in frontal assault.
Carson had done the right thing. In sensing deep, he’d made the critical decision in this skirmish. In the next few minutes, the fight intensified, along with the inevitable “haze of battle” that accompanies such concentrated violence. However, modern sensors and detectors cut through most of the countermeasures and continued to give Carson a realistic picture of what was going on. The science boys in Ordnance Corps had done their job, and the AI units were responding effectively to enemy countermeasures, shifting their own battle management information inputs around Red Zulu’s jamming and spoofing.
Lieutenant Allen caught the Red main force on its left flank as it started to move ahead, and even without air support, Lieutenant Morgan was able to move behind Kester’s rolling barrage and break through the light frontal defense perimeter. By the time her platoon reached the van of Red main, Allen was moving through the enemy force and cutting it to ribbons.
But then it was suddenly all over. Carson’s Companions never got the opportunity to exploit the operation by continuing their deep thrust into Red territory and pursuing the enemy force while maintaining contact.
The call came suddenly from Regimental. Curt recognized the “feel” of the computer “voice” of Colonel Belinda Hettrick: Cancel the battle simulation. Good job, Captain. Also thank your troops; they did an outstanding job managing several robots. Unlink as soon as practical. The critique of today’s exercise is canceled. Assemble for a staff meeting and briefing at Regimental Headquarters. Sorry to rush you, but we’ve just gotten an emergency mission.
The data flow from the tactical training simulation computer suddenly stopped. The sensor outputs and displays froze like a videotape in freeze-frame mode. Curt found himself in a totally static situation. He and his human companions, the “warbot brainies” who were running the robots, couldn’t remain in a nonchanging situation like this for more than a few minutes. It was almost as bad as being killed in action. Since Carson had twice before lost all input from war robot sensors, he didn’t want to experiment with zero-input degradation. So, he immediately began the process of reincorporation, pulling his mind and senses back into his body as it lay on the command couch, still linked with the Head Honcho master battle computer which in turn was tied in with the battle simulator computer of the training center.
Captain Curt Carson was wondering to himself what the hell was going on? Why the sudden cut-off of the battle-training simulation? It was not only dangerous to pull people out of linkage quickly, but the colonel’s procedure was definitely nonregulation. Even with Carson’s extensive training, his nervous system would still be attuned to the electrodes of the combat couch for another hour or so. He’d have to work hard to force himself to accept the perception of the actual world coming in through his normal senses. Any warbot brainy, especially an officer with a command, would normally be given a resynchronization period of several hours after coming out of linkage. Whatever the new assignment was, it had to be something requiring an unusually rapid response.
He mentally steeled himself for withdrawal. Coming out from under direct linkage with computers and robots was like waking from a dream, a transition from one reality to another. It took a lot of training to enable modern soldiers to discriminate between experience and existence. Sometimes, an officer or NCO got confused in spite of all the training and the subliminal commands. When that happened and battle fatigue set in, it might mean six months to forever under psychological reprogramming. A few never made it back. They became human vegetables and were listed as Missing In Action on the roster. But Captain Curtis Christopher Carson never had trouble coming back. He was a fighter and a survivor; the genes of eight generations of military people were very powerful.
As the operations room took form around him, Curt sensed his body reclining on the couch. Sergeant Helen Devlin, a linkage biotechnician, was at hand, checking him as his mind returned. Helen was one of the pleasant things about coming back; a Biotech Sergeant Second, Helen was as expert at therapy as she was with the biological aspects of human-computer interfaces.
“Back from the wars, Captain?” she asked him pleasantly as she sponged him down to get the stink and sweat of battle off him.
Curt snorted. “Just war games!”
“But they’re as realistic as a war.” Lieutenant Alexis Morgan declared. She lay nearby on her own couch.
“Except you can’t get killed in action in a simulator,” her company commander reminded her, as he reached up to remove his skull cap.
“Begging your pardon, Captain.” It was Lieutenant Jerry Allen, the new officer under Curt’s command, who was just coming out of linkage on another couch. “If the robot quits before you can transfer away from it, it’s just as bad.”
“Don’t ever let me find out that you got caught in that situation, Lieutenant,” Curt told him flatly. “No competent, trained Academy graduate should ever delay transferring out of a malfunctioning robot. Machines and computers are cheap; humans aren’t! Or have they changed the doctrine at West Point lately?” He sat up slowly, separating his neck and spine from the network of sensors and probes attached to the couch. As usual, being shot at, even in a simulator, had had an effect upon his sexual drive, triggering the gallant reflex. “Sergeant, my fatigues, please,” he said to Helen Devlin. He then pulled on and fastened the trim, insignia-bedecked coverall which the biotech sergeant handed him.
Other biotechs were assisting his two officers and three NCOs as they detached their minds and nervous systems from the nonintrusive sensors and probes which had linked them to the electronic circuits of the battle simulator. There was much groaning and stretching of cramped and stiffened muscles, but the loudest complaints came, as usual, from Master Sergeant Henry Kester.
“I’m getting too old for this!” the lean but wrinkled man muttered.
“Want out again, Henry?” Curt Carson asked him. That was part of the unofficial ritual.
“Hell, I couldn’t live a normal life now. Probably go out and clobber some innocent vending machine in a flashback,” the master sergeant replied. “Besides, if we’ve got a hot operation comin’ up, there isn’t time for me to train-up either Nick or Edwina.”
“Face it, Henry,” the powerfully built Sergeant Edwina Sampson observed, “that’s just an excuse. If we wouldn’t get caught, I’d suggest we go over to the gym later and see who’s trained-up.” She knew what she was talking about. The ·standing order in the RI, the Robot Infantry of the United States Army, prohibited only one form of physical contact between male and female warriors: hand-to-hand simulated combat. No reasons were ever given, but it was widely assumed that the RI didn’t want its male officers and NCOs injured when it wasn’t absolutely necessary in the line of duty.
The master sergeant started to say something, but Sergeant Nick Gerard put in, “Yeah, we know, Henry: The Army’s gone to hell ever since they let women into the service.”
“Naw, only since they got tired of being assigned to dangerous posts but not being allowed to defend themselves,” Kester pointed out.
“I’m glad that’s changed,” Sergeant Sampson retorted. “Henry, face it, you just like the good Army life.”
Captain Curt Carson listened to this banter as Helen Devlin ran her post-linkage physical checks on him. The little tech sergeant finally looked up at him and reported, “Fit for duty, Captain.”
“Fit for duty, but tired. And, unfortunately, duty calls,” Curt told her quietly.
“How’s the post-battle tension?”
“It’s there. It’s always there.”
“If duty doesn’t call tonight, will you need some relief? As your chief biotech sergeant, it’s in my line of duty, you know.”
“I could go for some recreational sack time…as you damned well know. But I’ve got to find out what the colonel has in mind since she pulled us out of the simulator so quickly.”
“Any time.” Provided Alexis doesn’t beat her to me, Carson told himself. Battle stimulated erotic tension often affected women warbot brainies more strongly than men. What was it? They weren’t actually on a battlefield, but the stink of fear and adrenalin and other powerful pheromones was still there. He didn’t know why. Maybe some scientist types would find out.
Even in modern robot war, as the news media incorrectly termed it, it made no difference that people were no longer physically involved in battle. The minds of men and women alike, linked with computers and intelligence amplifiers so they might run warrior robots, were subjected to the same stimuli and stresses they’d undergo on the battlefield. In the early decades of the twenty-first century, the enormous technological strides made allowed machinery to be placed at risk in war rather than human beings. Machines made the human body far less important, even unnecessary, on most battlefields, but the human mind was still the most important factor in warfare.
And the human mind reacted as it always had, because technology made robot or telewar startlingly real.
The computers had to make it seem real. Otherwise, no warrior would take battle seriously. Players of video games, those early simulators of the twentieth century, perceived war without jeopardy. “Well, I can quit and disengage and go have a beer if I start to lose.” That attitude didn’t win battles. Effective warbot brainies had to be involved.
Captain Curt Carson took war very seriously. So did his officers and noncoms.
But Carson’s Companions was an elite outfit. As a result, it got all the dirty little jobs. Curt wondered which one it would be this time?
His warbot brainies were dressed and ready now. They looked sharp in the light green fatigues. It was easy to tell they weren’t rookies – except for Lieutenant Allen, fresh out of the Academy with no chest full of ribbons and citations.
Curt took the brick shaped telecommunicator from its belt loop and keyed it for Colonel Hettrick’s office. “Captain Carson speaking. Where does the colonel wish us to assemble?”
On the front of the telecomm, a miniature image of the colonel’s aide saluted and replied, “With the colonel’s compliments, Captain, there will be a briefing in Room Foxtrot-two-zero-seven at fifteen hundred hours. All of Carson’s Companions should be present. That will give you time to hit the open mess. The colonel specifically remarked that she wanted you and your people to have the opportunity to eat after that simulation, sir.”
“Please thank her for me. Carson off.” Slipping the telecommunicator “brick” back on his belt, he turned to the five people lined up before him. Although this turn of events worried him, he didn’t let it show. Instead, he observed, “I don’t think I need to ask this outfit whether or not they want to hit the chow line.”
“No, sir,” Sergeant Nick Gerard replied, but his smile was broad. “We could also have called ourselves Carson’s Chow Hounds.”
“Except the company commander would have overruled that. Let’s go,” Carson told him.
“Eat, drink, and be merry because tomorrow-“ Sergeant Edwina Sampson began.
“Tomorrow we may become totally digitized,” Master Sergeant Henry Kester put in.
Captain Curt Carson didn’t add to the lighthearted post-battle banter among his troops. He was worried. The colonel wasn’t one to push her troops to the limit unless it was absolutely necessary. Something big must be brewing. The colonel’s willingness to delay a briefing so Curt’s company could get a hot meal told him that they were going into action and might not have hot food for several days. Field rations meant combat.
 See Appendix A, Organization of The Robot Infantry.