Be careful what you wish forà not all is fair in love and war.
"It wasn't supposed to happen."
"But it happened."
"Yes. And now they're shit out of their minds scared."
"I can see why." The colonel eased back in his chair with a thick sheaf of papers that was a report on the recent successes of the world's first autonomous combat drones. "You say the brigade employed these little bastards as a diversion, hoping they'd get all shot to hell, and these... machines... stole the whole show? How is that possible?"
"Section C of the report, sir."
"I have the report, mister, but I asked YOU a question."
"It's difficult to summarize," hedged the protocol officer, Lieutenant Junior Grade Brash Revitz. When the colonel's brow wrinkled violently and turned red, however, Revitz hurried to add, "But I'll do my best," even as his commanding officer flipped to section C of the lengthy diatribe.
"It seems the first shipment of drones, the, ah- the L-Series I believe, was defective. It was a minor problem with the decision processor, and it wasn't detected until the machines were engaged in heavy combat. The flaw caused their action routines to become disorganized and uncontrolled, and many of our own troops were killed in the chaos before the machines could be deactivated-" the colonel waved him on impatiently. This much, at least, was old news.
Skipping forward several months, the lieutenant tried again. "All ten thousand shipped units were recalled, stripped and repaired, then these along with another twenty thousand units were sent to the Eurasian front as the M-Series."
"Our little... hero machines, right?" The colonel flipped pages and grunted, listening as well as reading.
"Yes, sir. Frankly, none of the front line officers had any confidence in the M-Series. To avoid a general mutiny, Central Command directed the line officers not to integrate the drones with their ground forces, and instead the robots were mustered in special action groups along the vanguard of the attacking line. The idea was, I believe, that the machines would go in first, take the brunt of the enemy's guns and maybe, just maybe, rack up a minimal body count. That was it.
"So, at oh-four-hundred, the attack commenced. It was an infantry charge across a saddle-back valley, our high point striking east to west to take their high point." The junior officer leaned across the desk formally, and used his stubby right forefinger to point out features on a contour map that sprawled across the colonel's desktop. The older man grunted and nodded and acknowledged the disposition of opposing forces. "Artillery and air strikes were ordered from zero hour until the attack sounded, and there was some hope that the enemy's emplacements had been sufficiently disrupted to allow the machines time to get across the river at the bottom of the valley. Owing to their superior speed over broken terrain, you see..."
"So the machines went first. Just the machines... and the rest you know."
"Let's see, ah," rumbled the lean, leathery commander, running his left hand through the bristles of his regulation hair. "The M-Series carries quad lasers to suppress enemy infantry at close range, a pair of medium range rocket launchers for armored threats, and optional modules that include, ah... is this right? M1-A1 Gatlin Series 40 mike mike cannon... 75 mike mike mortars... Howitzers... Flame throwers... Multiple fragmentation bomb discharge engines... Christ, no wonder the little bastards cleaned up so thoroughly."
"Yes, sir, ah the enemy sustained one hundred percent casualties before oh-six hundred hours. Eighty percent of their casualties were KIA. The rest were all WIA. We rounded up thirty thousand badly damaged survivors."
"Thirty thousand of one hundred and fifty thousand men and woman that had occupied the enemy's emplacements..."
"Yes, sir. And we expect the KIA roll to increase dramatically over the next several days. Many of the wounded won't survive."
The colonel, a career military professional and a decorated veteran of countless combats, shook his head and sighed wearily. "A God damned slaughter, that's what it was. Just a slaughter. We could hang for this, you know."
"Well, sir, I- ah, that is we didn't know, did we? They had failed only months earlier at Chimbay, and we expected to lose more of our men to the drones than we hoped to kill enemy, I think."
"That's all beside the point. We let these monsters loose on men of flesh and blood without warning or restraint. We sent them across the line as a pack of unleashed, ravenous dogs of war. It's the command parameters programmed for the attack that concern me the most. I mean, look at this shit!" he barked, suddenly sitting forward in his chair and tossing the opened report on top of the map. "What joker is responsible for this one?" He quoted, "'Directive Alpha Sigma Seven, Extermination!' Right there in the main header of the command program! Jesus Christ on a crutch! Extermination?"
"We are investigating the matter exhaustively, but I think it safe to say that the boys were merely having a bit of fun. They thought the drones were a joke. They really did. Nobody thought that including the 'extermination' parameter would truly imply extermination of the enemy. At best, they hoped for a few hundred enemy casualties."
"And instead were delivered one hundred twenty thousand corpses. What a mess." The colonel scratched his whiskers, rolled his eyes and sighed leadenly. Then he was at once animated again, "Say, who did we get to clean that up, anyway?"
The lieutenant was somewhat taken aback by the query. He could only shrug by way of answer.
"Never mind. I'll tell you what we're going to do, Lieutenant Revitz. First, we're going to send this straight up the chain of command. There is no way in hell that I intend to sit on this one myself. We were instructed to do what we did, and, damn it, we shouldn't have to hang for it. So we gotta paint this picture rosy, you understand, nice and pretty and clean and by the book, before we ship it to our general officer. The combat took place yesterday... so that gives us maybe twenty four hours before I have to make the final report." The old war dog harrumphed and grunted and rummaged through the desk's many heavy metal drawers for something. "In that twenty four hours, all evidence of the 'exterminate' parameter will be deleted from the memory stores of each and every M-Series drone involved in this contest. Even the ones left on the field, damn it, you know what those MI guys can do with dead chips.