Fiction

Known Enemies / NATO Allied Command Transformation Innovation Hub / April 2020
CHAMPS-ÉLYSÉES — PARIS, FRANCE
The protestors’ braying air horns reminded Alain Durand of the feel of his father’s hand squeezing his as they watched the Tour de France peloton speed by on a verdant hill outside Chambéry, half a lifetime ago. Tonight on the Champs-Elysées it meant drones. It meant gas.

He carefully pushed aside two old fashioned white cloth banners — “PAX MACHINA” and “NON AUX ARMEES, NON A LA GUERRE,” written in thick red brush strokes to better see. In a field of view populated with synthetic representations of the real world, the banners were anachronistic but also enduring. They spoke to the necessary spirit of dissent in one of Europe’s more temperamental democracies, Alain thought. Yet it was time to change again: France was the last NATO member, other than the United States, to maintain conventional combat forces. The other members had already robotized.

“A matter of not just tradition but national survival,” his father, a colonel in France’s 3e Régiment de Parachutistes d’Infanterie de Marine, always insisted.

 

Arctic Night / Norwegian Army / November 2019
HAMMERSKJOLD HOLIDAY CENTER, TROMSØ
They never, ever should have put the rocket batteries by the kiddie pool, she thought.

Ingrid Torlund sighed at the boxy wheeled weapons, articulating quad launchers at each corner. They looked like giant upside-down tables kicked over by an ill-tempered god. No, the Vulkan systems were too exposed here. They should have gone behind the arrival center on the southern perimeter, under the cover of the bus loading bays. There, they could be wheeled quickly in and out of what could easily work as makeshift revetments.

She walked up to the nearest Vulkan. She placed an artificial hand on its sun- warmed grey and green ceramic armor, feeling the organic-looking bumps and ridges of the sensors and antennae. A faint hum tickled the pads of her mechanical fingers. She knew how fragile brutes like this really were.

Torlund was going to say something to the Norwegian Army major enthusiastically converting this 5,000-acre four-star summer resort into a depot for the thousands of small battle bots that would form one of the main lines of the Finnmark Denial Zone (FDZ). But he might recognize the “Lionness of Vilnius,” and the highly decorated former FSK Jegertroppen master sergeant was a little embarrassed by her mundane civilian job. She worked as a seasonal host for some of the hundreds of thousands of wealthy Chinese tourists who beat the heat of Beijing, Shanghai, and Chengdu by summering in Norway’s relatively cool climes. Her job was to know the guests not by name, but by the bounty of data they each produced. With the help of the resort’s AIs, she could foresee what they needed before they knew. Torlund took to it naturally, just as she had teaming with military AIs on the close-in targeting missions that made her a wartime legend.

 

Automated Valor / US Naval Institute Proceedings Magazine / May 2018
Sticky’s seat began vibrating, a resonant warning from deep inside the British Commonwealth Legion high-speed fighting vehicle, a Marathon HSFV. Then the gunner felt the closing Chinese bot swarm almost in her teeth—as if the sound were coming from her and the crew, not a fast-approaching enemy.

“Move, move, move!” she shouted. The closer the threat, the more her harness tightened, shielding her behind the combat couch’s blast-resistant wings. It felt as if somebody were hammering her coffin lid down while she was paralyzed but still alive. This particular fear was a well-worn track for the 24-year-old private. To suppress the panic, she angrily gloved a salvo of 30 thumb-sized diverters skyward. She quickly followed them with a pair of four-inch pulse-mortar rounds. Those would float gently down on parachutes, shorting out anything electronic within a five-meter radius until they exhausted their batteries. Her haptic suit pinched her to let her know it was overkill for the incoming threat, but it still felt right. She could answer for it when she wasn’t as worried about dying—whenever that day might come.

 

When the Blood Runs Cold / Strategy Strikes Back collection / May 2018
SIXTH PLANET, HOTH SYSTEM – The tauntaun ran screaming across the crevasses and zig-zag trenches dug into Nev Ice Flow, fur singed black and gold and slathered in crimson.

A tauntaun doesn’t bleed red though. Rebel infantry does. Unlike the rest of the 61st Mobile Infantry, the crazed riderless creature charged brazenly toward the approaching Imperial armor and occasionally tripped on its entrails. A direct shot from a chin-gun finally killed the beast. Was that mercy? Or luck?

On this day, the last the Alliance forces would ever spend on the sixth planet of the Hoth System, the rebels lacked both.

 

Operation CANDLEMAKER / Atlantic Council Art of the Future Project / November 2017
After seventeen years in the US Navy, Commander Wayne McCabe got seasick for the first time when a robot had the helm.

Technically, there was no actual metal humanoid at the controls because the 130-foot Sea Hunter-class trimaran warship was driving itself, six miles south of Jazireh-ye Larak in the Strait of Hormuz. McCabe ground his teeth as he fought the urge to throw up yet again and wondered what he was really doing aboard the USS Nantucket. McCabe adjusted the five- point harness on the captain’s chair by feel and looked at the spot on the console in front of him where the ship’s chief engineer had duct taped a red “NO” plastic button from a party store.

Just out of reach. Fitting.

 

UNDERBELLY / West Point Modern War Institute / January 2017
The major general had forged his 31-year career in the British Army by sheer will, be it through SAS selection, stultifying desk jobs, Iraq, Afghanistan, a PhD in Russian literature, and much more. But just getting his fork from the plate to his mouth required more strength than he’d ever had. Two peas, nested in cold mashed potatoes, perched upon the tines. The room’s sole candle cast a long shadow across the tabletop, the mobile phone flipped screen-down next to an untouched, perfectly creased paper napkin. An inch off the plate was as far as he could get. It had been 18 hours since he’d last eaten but there was just no room in his stomach for food anymore. The profound need to prevail would sustain him until this was all over.

 

Discards / West Point Modern War Institute / August 2016
Tap. Tap. Tap. Tap. Tap. Tap.

“You hear that?”

Banging like a hammer on a nail. Then three more precise taps. Faster this time.

Silence.

“What?”

“Kick the ball again, at that one container, Wiz, just like you did,” said Lieutenant Evelyn Guerrero.

Tap. Tap. Tap.

 

ANTFARM / Atlantic Council / War Stories from the Future anthology / November 2015
The airframe’s vibration reached him through the pilot couch’s gel padding, familiar as his wife’s snoring. Three days into this sortie, his fifth weeklong mission over Yemen this year, he knew the plane’s patterns of life well. He nodded off, returning to the in-between sleep and wakefulness that he described to his wife as being like “a misty summer dawn with a symphony of cicadas.” Captain Aaron Fung was proud of finding those words for her. The plane’s engines hummed soothingly, and, for now, the fabs in the launch bay were silent. It was a great job for a dreamer. The recruiters should use that one.