Are we the bad guys?
By Matthew Sylvester
“I’ve completed the upload. Drones should be able to parse information three times faster than before. Just need to get them onto the range and test it,” Laura Cords pushed herself away from her monitor and rubbed at her tired eyes. She’d been at it for six hours straight, no break, and she was feeling frazzled, in need of sugary drinks, and desperate for a shower.
“Good job,” Lex Redrus, her supervisor leaned over her shoulder to look at the results of her test. “Don’t suppose you want to earn some overtime? Get a drone out there now? Sentinel are busting my ass to get the new drones out and in the field.”
“Not a chance,” she groaned, rolling her shoulders in order to move him out of her personal space. He didn’t seem to have any social awareness, no matter how many times she and other members of his team told him. Still, it was a small price to pay to work with someone so gifted as him. “Where will the be deployed?”
“Apparently they’re having some issues with homesteaders up in the mountains. Taking heavy losses. The drones will help even the odds.”
That didn’t sit right with her. It was bad enough that Sentinel was having to hunt down members of Skell how had gone rogue, but attacking the people who had been on the island for generations felt wrong.
“Are we the bad guys?” she looked up at him as she pushed herself away from her desk. “Jace is off grid, Sentinel is patrolling the island and making everyone unhappy, and those Wolves,” she lowered her voice and glanced around, “are pure evil.”
Redrus looked at her for a moment, saying nothing. He too looked around before he finally replied. “No, I don’t think we are. Afterall, we’ve been told that Sentinel are here to keep us safe, and it was the Outcasts and Homesteaders who started all this violence. Why, do you think we’re the bad guys?”
“I don’t know!” she threw her hands up in despair. She knew where she was with code. It either worked as specified, worked in an unspecified way, or didn’t work. Anyone of those she could understand and deal with. But knowing if what they were doing was good, bad, or just in the middle was something she couldn’t pin, and she didn’t like the sneaking suspicion that they were actually erring on the bad side. “Whatever, I need a shower. I’ll see you tomorrow for breakfast?”
The team met at eight in the morning every day for a communal breakfast. They used it as a quick sprint daily stand up. Although it was actually a daily sit down as they’d quickly worked out it wasn’t conducive to eating a good breakfast.
“See you tomorrow.”
“Drone’s up,” Cords reported as she watched through the remote relay. She’d entered the mission parameters, a simple search and destroy pattern, and the drone had been issued with simunition. Sentinel troops, heavily armoured, were playing opfor.
“This is going to be fun,” chuckled one of her colleagues, a heavy-set man called Tanaka. He preferred to be called Tank. She called him Tanaka.
At least they don’t seem to have any qualms about all of this.
The drone settled into a search pattern, zipping around the false walls of the test area. A shot rang out and the drone spun, orientating itself towards the threat. The head of a Sentinel assault trooper could just be seen poking out around cover.
“That’s a tight shot, ten skells it misses,” Tanaka rubbed his hands in excitement.
“You’re on,” she replied. The camera zoomed, cross hairs laying themselves on the Sentinel’s crown. The camera shuddered as the drone fired, and there was an explosion of pain as the burst hammered into the Sentinel’s head. He stood, slapping the activation button on his IFF before the drone could send another burst into him. Spotting that the former enemy was now a friendly, the drone resumed its search.
“That’ll be ten skells please, Tanaka,” she said, holding out her pad for him to send the money too.
“It’s Tank,” he muttered.
“Drones are coming up to the target now. Infantry moving in, three vehicles,” Cords watched the feed as a Sentinel communications officer narrated the events they were watching on multiple screens. “Squad one has dismounted and is making ingress. Squad two is on overwatch. Squad three has moved to the north of the objective and will act as a stop-gap.”
Figures moved on one screen, the image supplied by an Azrael drone high above. Other screens showed feeds from personal cameras and the Murmur drone cameras. Cords was impressed by the clearly well-drilled movements as squad one made its way into the homestead and then took up holding positions.
“Time to see if the drones perform as well in the field as they do in the tests,” Redrus said, leaning towards the monitors as if he wished he was in the field rather than the comfort of their office.
Cords didn’t say anything, mouth dry she watched as the Sentinel troops hold their positions, letting the drones overtake them. A man stepped out of the barn, raised a weapon, and immediately started to blaze away at the troops as they hunkered down. He hadn’t spotted the drones.
Thanks to the HD camera, she saw the moment he realised that the drones were coming, an almost comic-yet-tragic ‘O’ of comprehension as they zipped towards him. A shudder as the drone fired, and then blood and bits of cloth spraying into the air as the burst punched into his chest. He was dead before he hit the ground.
A sudden movement, two shapes running for cover. Too fast to catch, the drone spun and fired a longer burst. The larger of the shapes crashed to the floor, arms out flung, whilst the smaller lost a leg, spinning into a fence where it clutched on for dear life. Another burst and the smaller of the shapes fell to the ground.
“A child. We just killed a child,” Cords choked, staring in wide-eyed horror at the massacre unfolding before her as homesteaders opened fire on the drones. She turned away, unable to watch any further, but also unable to shake the image of the maimed child from her mind.
“He fired first. We just need to calibrate the drones so that any target under a certain height and body mass isn’t engaged. We’ll get it right for the next time,” Redrus patted her shoulder awkwardly then joined the rest of the technicians as they celebrated a successful mission.
“We’re the fucking bad guys,” Cords whispered to herself.
There was no going back. She knew that as soon as she made the decision. She and her friends had set out to change the world for the best. Now, with their inventions and software in the hands of men like Lieutenant-Colonel Walker, they were helping destroy it.
Slipping out of her room, go-bag over her shoulder, she padded along the corridor to the hab block exit. Her workstation was located a few metres away in a separate office building. Swiping the card she’d swiped from Tanaka’s desk at the end of the day – she smirked at the thought – she entered the office and made her way to her workstation. She could have used anybody’s workstation, they all shared their passwords anyway. But she wanted to have her name on what she was doing. It was her way of doing penance. The only reason she’d used Tanaka’s key card was because he was senior to her and was allowed to work out of hours whenever he wanted.
Settling into her chair she wiped her suddenly wet palms on her trousers. Whilst she waited for her computer to start up, she forced herself to remain seated, but couldn’t stop her legs from jigging.
“Come on you bastard machine,” she hissed. Exclaiming as it finally present her with a login screen. As quickly as she could, she keyed in her details then navigated to the drone software folder. Going into the backup, she selected a patch which had failed testing and dragged it onto the desktop. She then deleted the backup folders, entered the backup server and used Tanaka’s key card on her keyboard card reader to delete every backup made of patches that had passed, leaving only faulty ones.
Once that was done, she dragged the faulty patch from her desktop and dropped it into what her team called “the fuck it bucket”, clicked yes when prompted and watched as the patch was sent out to every active drone, and scheduled for any drone which was currently powered down.
That done, she powered down her laptop, snatched Tanaka’s card out of the keyboard and left the office. Slipping her go-bag onto her shoulders, she looked at the distant mountains and slowly made her way out of their facility.
Who knows, perhaps they’ll take me in? Whatever happened, she’d done what she could. And would continue to do so for as long as she lived. No matter what.