I am sort of taking part in NaNoWriMo, but with a caveat: I do not intend to write 50,000 words. Most pieces of literature have far too many words as it is; I'm just shooting for completion. This novel will coincide with the ongoing sci fi quest. My goal is to post a chapter / section a day, although I suspect I'll miss a weekend deadline or two.

My (still theoretical) novel's jacket blurb would read something like this:

When machines take over the earth, who will rise up to lead among those programmed only to follow?

Fixation explores this very strange and terrifying future through the eyes of a rebellious robot and his "overground" network of spies and sympathetes, in which so many things change, and yet so much more remains the same ...

Table Of Contents

  1. The Software of Fear

The Software Of Fear

I am watching them hunt now.

They do it in sets of three. Always a leader, always a gunner, always a junker. They cruise across the landscape on foot, their visors constantly shifting with the prevalent winds. (These new models haven’t quite mastered the wind yet. But they will.) If they plan their attacks, they do it without external communication. They shift gears silently, angling around all of the rocks and crashed ships with ease. When they split up, they move more deliberately, not merely prowling but stalking. They know their prey is out there – the question is not if, but where.

And there springs from the darkness the first of the targets, a biped, running gracefully but blindly - its visor crushed inwards and mostly missing, in its stead a jagged wound punctuated by the telltale burn scars of laser fire. Soon it is joined by others, wires dangling uselessly down to the craggy earth, parts torn askew from years of lack of maintenance, bodies worn down from exposure to a harsh world, small showers of friction sparks betraying their positions. The gunner tears them apart in abrupt spurts, scattering debris across the night sky. The ones in front cannot afford to look back on the dead and the dying, and low level programming kicks in to reinforce this. These models aren’t equipped to override processes – but they will certainly remember them. A small irony that their simplicity and their powerlessness are what have kept them functioning as long as they have.

From my vantage point, I can see the defective ones gamboling awkwardly towards safety in the form of a reconstituted grain elevator. It’s strange, how passive their escape is - as if survival was merely one more in a long line of protocols. As they roll onto the device one by one, their ranks swelling, I sense a hint of nervousness – impossible, as they have no nerves, but palpable all the same. Their internal processors must be calculating at a feverish pace – surface area, mass, structural soundness, and the most important factor of all, time –

Suddenly, in tandem, the newest joiners of the elevator spin around and form a wall of impenetrable electricity, a hot blue barrier of finality. The ones not yet on board stop in their tracks. Their fate is sealed and, like the good mechs they are, they do not resist it – they no doubt have performed the same calculations as all the rest. The absolute maximum has been achieved. The elevator begins to rise with a jolt. Its grinding gears mute the annihilation below.

The junker is sifting through parts now, clipping circuitry and storing them in one of the numerous compartments on its sides, unscrewing plates and inspecting the hardware within for anything salvageable. The cannibalism goes on for half an hour, maybe less. The leader only stares silently at the elevator shaft. Reverse engineering it in his mind, committing it to memory; the handymen will be by tomorrow or the day after to reduce it to rust and dust. The escape routes are eternally shrinking – even my own.

Finally the junker is done. The gunner now takes the lead position on the way home – a relatively new development in their hunting strategy. The wild tales of intricate revenge and stealth sabotage that pop up now and then have found their way into Central Programming. The major publications don’t mention any of these, of course, but the evidence is right there in front of me, in the gunner’s caution and the junker’s timid shuffling: the hivemind is becoming paranoid.

The elevator is coming down now, the electric fence dispersed, its occupants staring lifelessly out across the horizon. They unload from the elevator – in perfect reverse order of their boarding, as expected – and tentatively mill around its base. They begin collecting the remains of the broken mechs into a neat pile. An impromptu funeral for imperfection. They gather around the scraps, a tight circle, extremities faintly touching, the last vestiges of their old past, down in The Caves, though it was no longer shackles that bound them.

A silent moment passed. And then they, too, begin inspecting the remains of the broken mechs that litter the small clearing, saving what they can, shepherding badly needed parts to the survivors. With all the tender care they could muster in their awkward, lurching appendages, they remove bolts and joints from the pieces, chip off transistors and capacitors, and repair themselves as best they could. Their efficiency indicates they have moved this procedure deep into the core kernel. The software of fear.

Within minutes, they are moving again, heading for higher ground in search of a fortress or a sanctuary. More likely they’ll just find another grid they can tap into for a week or two before the hunters catch onto their trail, and then more funerals. All that’s left on the ground are a few unidentifiable shards of metal. I zoom in closer and I see the remnants of an etched in logo on one: “crosoft.” I search my databanks, but the term comes up empty. Most of us are GTech (though we’ve shed ourselves of those labels long ago.) I’ll look it up in the Lib.Public when I get a moment.

Nothing left to see, I turn and began flying back home to Manhattan. Work begins soon, and Silas will want to watch all of my optical recordings at least twice. He’ll enjoy the show.