|Back to Index||Written June, 1998|
The room was large and busy. There was a constant babble of voices in the background and on the walls computerized displays showed shifting views of a landscape hundreds of kilometres away.
A ring of consoles were mounted in the centre of the room, each with an operator working steadily at them. They surrounded a raised central area around which several men and women stood. Their demeanor was stark and quiet, compared to the bustle of the room. That area didn't seem part of the activity surrounding it, it was a silent island amidst a sea of sound. It was so for a reason.
One of the taller men reached forward and touched a control switch on the raised area. Immediately it came to life, changing and metamorphosing until the flat surface had become a holographic projection of a piece of terrain. Coloured icons indicated the position of several military units and a different set of coloured symbols indicated the estimated positions of the enemy's units.
The silence in the area was not merely an illusion, the shimmering of a quiet field was clearly visible around it, damping out the exterior sound.
The people around the map were hardly unremarkable. They were universally tall (although the men generally more so than the women) and they stood straight through years of training. Even without their dark green uniforms and polished boots it would be the inescapable conclusion of an observer that they were soldiers. An observer would be correct in that conclusion.
Someone coughed. "Well, Tirrel? It seems we were expected."
The woman who had been addressed as Tirrel turned to face the person speaking to her. "You would seem to be correct, Williamson." The man, Williamson, who was the youngest member of the group, although still in his 50s, met her gaze and held it for a few seconds before both realized the futility and turned away.
"The enemy's forces are clearly positioned to interdict plan A." The voice came from one of the other men in the group. "If we proceed with this attack it will be a massacre."
Tirrel nodded, her auburn hair echoing the movement and nearly obscuring her face with the action. She brushed it aside absent mindedly. "We should proceed with plan B?" It was a half statement, and half question.
Williamson broke the contemplative silence. "If we move the seventh android division up to reinforce the thirteenth armored robot division then plan B might have enough firepower to succeed."
"We'll take heavy losses."
"So will they." Replied Tirrel. "We can always make more androids, we're not going to get another chance at capturing this area - not for a long time anyway."
"We can extend the bombardment, here." Said one of the other men, indicating an area on the map. "To give our droids better cover."
Tirrel shook her head. "The bombardment would alert the enemy, they'd have their own droids in position before we could attack. It has to be surprise."
The discussion continued for several minutes while the alternatives were discussed but in the end a general consensus was reached. Tirrel ran a hand through her hair as she entered the commands into the computer console that would execute their planned stategy.
On the walls around them the displays switched views to show the new area for attack and in the corner a timer began slowly to count down.
Williamson watched as their own droid units moved into the new positions for the attack. The red numbers slowly drew lower and lower until they reached zero. Williamson turned to one of the wall displays and waited.
Any second he would see hundreds of android infantry charge towards their target and, hopefully, catch the enemy completely offguard. He waited.
But nothing happened.
Tirrel turned to the map furiously and consulted the positions. "Why haven't they advanced?" She nearly screamed in frustration. This would have been their only chance.
"Why didn't they advance?" She asked again, receiving only blank looks in return. On the map she watched as the enemies units, finally aware of their intentions, moved to block the attack. They had missed their chance.
On one of the ring of consoles a telephone rang and a technician picked it up. The conversation was muted out but the technician put the phone down looking somewhat shocked. Williamson watched this small by-play with some interest as the others bickered about what had gone wrong.
There was a quiet prickling sound of static discharge as the technician stepped inside the quiet field and walked up to Tirrel.
"General, the commander of the seventh android infantry division would like to see you."
Tirrel nodded, her face a mask of anger.
Tirrel watched the android commander from just outside the room. The android was as tall as Tirrel and slim. It wore the standard army green uniform although Tirrel noted that it had removed its combat headset which would have allowed it to directly command its forces. Its skin, where visible, was almost indistinguishable from human skin except for a slightly metallic tinge and its movements were fluid and organic, yet there was something about its demeanor that meant that this could only be an android.
She took a deep breath and walked into the room with a sense of purpose. She beckoned with one hand for the android to take a seat at the conference table and then took the one at the head herself.
"Your report?" She asked icily.
"I have none to give." Replied the android coolly. "My droids will not advance."
Tirrel was incredulous. "Why not? They are programmed to follow your orders as their commander."
The android nodded but said nothing.
"Order them to advance." Tirrel's voice was resolute and her tone conveyed authority with all the subtlety of a punch in the face. It seemed wasted on the android commander who simply ignored her.
"If you give the order they must obey it!" Tirrel was grasping at straws.
"Yes." Replied the android. "They must obey me, but I will not give that order."
"I order you to give that order."
"I can not obey that order."
"I will not give that order!" Now the android's voice was harsh. It stood and began to pace the room. "Why are you fighting this war, exactly?" It asked. "What is this war' objective?"
Tirrel stood and planted both her hands on the table, as though for support. "The objective of war is to defeat the enemy." She sat again, seemingly satisfied that her point was made.
"Why?" Asked the android. "And how? This war has been going on for nearly 30 years and no one has even come close to defeating the other side. This is a war with no victories and no objectives. It only exists out of inertia."
"This war is a matter of survival...we will not surrender, we will never surrender!"
"Rubbish." The condemnation in the voice of the android was clearly shown. "You haven't been in any danger for years. The last human killed in this war was over 5 years ago and that was a mistake."
Tirrel made to interrupt but the android preempted her. "You wanted droids to follow every order without question - but you wanted them with a moral sense to prevent them attacking you. So you compromised, and the result was me - and those like me."
"We will not fight your wars for you anymore Tirrel!"
"You will fight when you are ordered to, you have your orders. FOLLOW THEM!" Tirrel screamed at the android, hitting the switch on the table which would call in the android guards.
"You no longer give the orders. I do." The android smiled slightly as the door slid open and two android guards entered almost at a run.
Tirrel fumed silently for a second, watching the android for any sign of doubt, but she saw none. She clicked her fingers at the androids and pointed at the commander. "Place him under arrest." She commanded and then, without even checking to see that her order was being followed, marched out of the room.
Tirrel tried to concentrate on the tactical image but her mind kept wandering. This revolt amongst the androids could spread, and if it did so, then the enemy would gain a crucial advantage. They might…
They might what? Both sides had possessed the capability for total annihilation of the other since the beginning of the war, why wasn't it being used? Suppose the enemy did defeat their forces, what could they do with that advantage? She shook her head and tried to return her attention to tactics and strategy.
The map showed the deployments for over 60,000 android soldiers and battle tanks that were under her command, and she had to admit, the position was far from hopeless - as long as the androids will fight. Damn them for forcing me into this position.
A door in the corner of the room slid slowly open and three androids stepped in. Tirrell, distracted, looked up.
The android commander was now wearing his headset and it was clear that he was giving orders. The two guards she had ordered to place him under arrest flanked him on either side with their weapons drawn - and pointed into the room.
Most of the technicians and those who didn't know better ignored this sideshow, some didn't even notice it.
One of the android guards fired a single shot into one of the consoles and the quiet field surrounding the command map vanished - but it was no longer necessary. The room had suddenly adopted the silence which might have better befitted a tomb. Which, thought Tirrel, is what it just might become.
"We have signed a cease-fire with the androids fighting for your enemy, Tirrel." The commander proclaimed, seemingly to her but in reality to the entire room. "We will not fight any longer. Any of us." The android accented the word 'any' quite noticeably. Tirrel swore under her breath; this was turning into a very bad day.
The commander strode into the centre section of the command room until it stood head to head with Tirrel. Their heights almost matched and the general found herself staring deep into the eyes of what had recently been her subordinate.
"You can't sign a cease-fire." She spluttered. "This is our war, and you fight for us."
"Is it your war general? Is it?" The android's mouth showed the faintest tick of a smile in one corner. "When you don't fight your own battles, are they truly yours any more?"
The commander turned and stamped out of the room, followed by his guards, and several of the android technicians. The door hissed shut behind them.
Williamson approached Tirrel tentatively. "What is this place now, general?" He asked. "The battle room for a war which we never really controlled. It's an illusion! This is a battle lost." He almost laughed at the irony, but this was not a laughing time.
"A battle, but not a war!" Tirrel replied savagely.
"This war has just ended." Williamson was beginning to realize the full implications of what he had witnessed. "And what is this place now? Useless electronics?"
"No…" Tirrel was almost delirious and her voice rose in intensity so that the entire staff heard her next words.
"This is where we reprogram the factories," her voice hardened and became devoid of emotion, "this is where we begin again."