It’s grading day.
Thirty of us checked and ready; all with the knowledge to pilot any ship in the known galaxies; briefed with the most up-to-date military manoeuvres. 9-3-K squad marching across the airfield in the last rays of afternoon sun, the gold and blue insignia of the Lond military new and shining across our chest plates. Out of the latest team of elite life-forms, I rate ninety-nine percent.
Our bio-forms take on the long-limbed, humanoid shape most popular on this planet. Our covering of rough grey skin freshly grown and unblemished. Thirty ships await us. And that’s where things start to go wrong.
We were expecting the latest state-of-art stealth craft; cloaking devices and sophisticated weapons, hyper-drives and galaxy mapping. All the things that would enable us to put the advanced strategies held in our programming into practice. But the war between Lond and Santi had dragged on longer than our leaders expected and the military budget was running low, so the ships waiting for us are reconditioned fighters, old and tired with just 9-3-K splashed in blue and gold over their worn exteriors.
As soon as I connect with my ship I know it has problems. The seals are leaking, there’s a fault on the shields and its engines are running hot; a common problem with this early design. Of course, none of this is a big deal for the initial flight; a quick hop round the other side of the planet, hardly moving outside its atmosphere. I’ll report the defects to the tech team as soon as we reach our new base, because that’s the protocol, that’s what robotic life-forms are programmed to do.
Thirty ships hover over the field waiting for orders. The three moons of Lond climb above the production complex.
‘9-3-K fleet cleared for take-off,’ flashes across my visual interface.
We soar into the sky in perfect formation.
My base is hidden in the low cloud which permanently covers the mountain range high above the Lond capital. It’s perfectly placed to defend our leaders against attack whilst being naturally camouflaged.
“I replaced the seal in the main reactor,” the tech guy snaps when I collect my ship after its repair. He’s chewing synth-protein and his teeth have turned green. “But there’s nothing wrong with your shields.”
I lay my hand on the ship and access its diagnostics. He’s correct.
A crooked green smile spreads across his face. He spits a gob of synth protein and, even though I move my foot as soon as I detect his action, strings of warm slime slide over my skin. Proving a life-form wrong makes a lot of humanoids very happy.
But the shields were faulty earlier. It’s not the sort of thing my programming can get wrong.
I re-join 9-3-K crew standing in line, waiting to connect to mission control. Are they as excited as I am? We upload our first orders and march out to our ships – just like living soldiers.
I love my first flight; just me and my ship speeding through the vast openness of space. The gentle light from the stars is much more dazzling in real life than the flat map points in my data bank. The details I downloaded back in the production complex don’t show how graceful the swirling nebula around the outer reaches of Lond can be, or the exhilaration of passing through a cloud of asteroids while my ship neatly avoids being hit. I almost forget we have orders as I breathe in the wonders.
As we near Santi, the commands we received begin to fill my interface.
‘Reduce speed and activate shields; approach from the northern pole; destroy Santi living complex, West Meridian 92:79.’
West Meridian 92:79 is in the middle of the vast desert that covers the mid-section of the planet. It’s the place they send the waste to be recycled and crushed. I have no idea why we’d be targeting it. Humanoids can be illogical sometimes.
The desert swirls with choking clouds of brown dust and I only catch glimpses of the complex; clusters of square living pods stacked higher than their design should allow, the bottom ones sagging under the weight. Most of these homes were built when Santi took on refugees from Jagar. They were a temporary housing solution that turned into a permanent one. They barely provide shelter from the desert storms and they’ll be no protection from us at all.
Once our weapons are in range, we get the order to attack. Thirty ships fire simultaneously; purple beams, the ones that kill living tissue but that leave the environment untouched, streak towards the living pods. Our shields have hidden us from the occupants down below, but they see the beams, slicing through the swirling Santi dust. They run for shelter. Running; running and screaming. There’s nowhere for them to run.
I check the mission stats when I return to Lond. ‘West Meridian 92:79 ninety-nine percent eliminated – operation successful’ reads the debrief.
Now, I’m a life-form, we don’t feel happy. We don’t feel miserable either. You know, we’re just not supposed to feel. But I recall all those people running as the purple beams head right at them and I feel… something.