Robots With Feelings

Entry by: percypop

4th March 2015
Ten minutes before destruction, we switched off the current that fed the robot.
Its limbs sagged like a puppet with no strings and it slumped in the bin.
“How long does it take to defrag? I asked
Simmons shrugged “Maybe ten minutes –maybe more-the last one went in 12 minutes –but that was a Mark 3”
We had used this type for several years but had never been able to get more than 150 hours use out of them. They saved many lives but cost was an important factor. The War Office had compared the kill rate between human snipers and the robots and for a period they had authorised robot snipers. Now the swing was the other way and unless we could come up with a better kill rate our machinery was scrap.
Afghanistan had been the ideal territory to prove the effectiveness of our machines. With a low profile and camouflage they could remain hidden for days until the Taliban had moved into the area. Then we simply activated the preset firepower with the correct co-ordinates and zip the job was done. The only downside was that wear and tear on the components limited their useful life. Then we destroyed them to prevent the Americans or the French from reproducing them.
SNIPE was Five feet high, with caterpillar tracks for mobility. Its hands were capable of full rotation. The control centre (we called it the Head,) with the cameras, was a semi dome set into the sloping shoulders of the frame. I had upgraded the computers and enlarged the capacitor so that it could respond immediately to new targets automatically.

The infra red laser linked to the 50 mm machine guns would outgun any opposition and outlast any other robot sniper. I had tested it in the UK and now the field test was to be the next step. I called it SNIPE Mk3A.

Helmand Province is a dust bowl with mud brick huts as houses. The 4 years in which the Army had toiled against the Insurgents had been pretty unsuccessful until the robots came in. At once the kill rate had improved, not because the troops achieved success but simply the fact that we could take out enemy day or night and they never knew where the firepower came from. Yet the men on the ground seemed to resent the robots. It was as if they felt downgraded by these machines and as a result, the maintenance and supply became a problem.
So we had to service the SNIPEs ourselves and learn their individual faults and
strengths. I had serviced my Mark 3A for the last 6 months but never used it in action. Now I wish I had never touched the thing. We located it in a ridge above from the main road. It overlooked the village and the junction. If the Taliban came into the village from any direction our SNIPE could eliminate them. That night I stayed with the machine so that I could assess its functions.
It was a cold night in that desert and a full moon shone. About 3.30 in the morning SNIPE clicked into alert mode and I crept up to the edge of the ridge.
Below me I saw a line of figures moving into the village from the east.
They were Afghans and among them a glint of dull metal reflected in the moonlight.
A faint whirring told me that the SNIPE had processed the target and was armed.

Suddenly a child’s voice called out in the stillness of the night. It came from one of the mudbrick houses of the village. The dark figures halted like silhouettes against the sandy background. They crouched and after a minute moved on.
Within a few seconds the entire group had disappeared into the village. It was at that second that SNIPE clicked into life. With a burst of fire he sprayed the area where the cry had come from. The mudhuts exploded in a cascade of brown fragments and whirling bodies and I could do nothing.
The Robot twisted his head as he processed the scene, his mechanical fingers
still on the trigger of the gun. His infra-red beam like the eye of a guilty man scanned my face and clicked recognition. He raised one finger towards my face and gently touched my cheek as if to seek forgiveness then he rotated the gun and in an instant, before I realized, he had pulled the trigger.
The Enquiry was a foregone conclusion. The Board reported that a malfunction in an unproven Robot was responsible for the atrocity. No one paid the slightest attention to the destruction of the machine. No one knew at that final moment my
Robot friend had begged forgiveness and committed suicide.