Dr. Negron-Omikon wrought his hands with unconcealed glee. “Well, H.P., you’ve outdone yourself this time!”
He gloated over acres and acres of tanks, robot tanks, that surrounded his observation tower. The testing had been a huge success and now his robot army was ready to smash into the Swedish army, fortified along the high banks of the Parana River.
How the Swedish army was on the Parana River, fighting the combined forces of the USA and Indonesia was a funny enough story in and of itself, but Dr. Negron-Omikon had no time for geopolitical musings. This was his moment, the zenith of his career, no doubt, and he was about to be rewarded handsomely for it.
General Ludd stood behind the gifted genius. “So, these robot tanks gonna do the trick?”
Dr. Negron-Omikon turned with the grace and pleasure of a billionaire, which he was about to be. “They will do the trick, and more, General Ludd. They will not only take the high ground on the opposite bank, they will shatter the entire Swedish army. This,” he stamped his foot and pointed downward with gravitas, “will be the decisive battle of the war, and you,” same stamp and gravitas, but now with a finger pointed at the general, “will be the victor that history will celebrate.”
General Ludd chewed his gum. “What about you?”
“The funds that will be deposited into my accounts will be reward enough.”
“I’m sure they will be.” The general looked suspiciously at the robot tanks. “These things immune to, uh… tampering?”
“Absolutely. We learned the lessons of unmanned vehicles of the past. Because of my patented system of communication via spontaneous subatomic particle pairs, the enemy will be unable to jam, intercept, alter, or fabricate any instructions we send them.”
“So nothing like the drone debacle at Poughkeepsie last year?”
“And no disaster like the failed assault on Mt. Pinatubo?”
“No, nothing at all like that. These aren’t even armed with tactical nuclear weapons, for starters.”
The general kept up his interrogation. “How about the betrayal at the Battle of Yakutsk? We gonna see that happen?”
“Again, sir, because of our absolutely secure means of communication, nothing like that will happen.”
The general chewed his gum in silence, then, “So you say.”
“So I know.” Dr. Negron-Omikon held his head high, ready to defend his creations to the hilt.
“All right then.” General Ludd shrugged. “Commence the attack.”
Dr. Negron-Omikon nodded and pressed the big red button in front of him, the one labeled START.
Countless hordes of robot tanks rolled forward. Swedish cannons poured armor-piercing rounds at the tanks, but both their armor and nuclear dampers prevented both conventional and nuclear shells from doing significant damage. And those tanks that were damaged got pushed into the river, creating the basis for a bridge.
General Ludd frowned. “Pontoons would have done the job, and been cheaper, as well.”
The scientist had a ready answer: “This is combat engineering at its finest. You think the Swedish dogs would let us build a bridge in peace, prior to the attack?”
“They did at Second Budapest.”
“And then what happened?”
“Well, they shot everyone that crossed over the bridge. Point taken.”
Meanwhile, the bridge of tanks had grown rapidly. Soon, it touched the far shore. When that happened, the tanks revved their engines and plowed ahead at 100 kilometers per hour. When they hit the cliffs, they collided with them, forming the base of a wedge.
General Ludd watched on, disbelievingly, as the wedge grew tall enough to reach the height of the cliffs.
Dr. Negron-Omikon said, “Now, get ready for some real action.”
The robot tanks roared into even higher gear and blasted a breach in the Swedish lines. A cloud of dust rose over the battle.
Mingled in the dust, some larger particles seemed to arc through the air.
General Ludd asked, “What’s that in the dust?”
Dr. Negron-Omikon handed the general a pair of binoculars. “Why don’t you look for yourself?”
The general brought the binoculars to his eyes. He saw, to his horror, that the larger things were actually human legs and arms!
“Dr. Negron-Omikon, what in the name of Mars is going on?”
“Ah, that, my good general, is how we win the war.”
“Certainly. The robots are programmed to decimate the enemy.”
“Well I can see that!”
Dr. Negron-Omikon bore the interruption with the patience of a very rich saint. “Decimate, as in the original sense of the word, to kill one of every ten men.”
“Wait, only one of every ten? How do we win if we don’t kill the enemy?”
“The robots wound horribly the other nine, that’s how. Every participant in this battle on the enemy’s side is either dead or a huge burden on his nation’s health care system. We won’t bleed them dry: we’ll keep them donating blood until judgment day!”
General Ludd chomped on his gum. “I see.”
“And those arms and legs that aren’t from wounded soldiers are from the bodies of the deceased. The robots make it a special point to desecrate the bodies of the fallen.”
“That’s a war crime, you nutcase!”
“Only if we lose the war, my good general. Besides, with the terror such a series of acts will create, the enemy will be ready to surrender, leading to the saving of lives from future battles. It’s only humanitarian to fight a war in such a way.”
“I see,” said the general. He nodded understandingly and looked through his binoculars again. “I see that the robots are returning. Good job, Doctor.”
“Wait, what?” Dr. Negron-Omikon’s smile became a bit false.
“They’re returning. They’re on their way back.”
“Oh dear. May I see those binoculars?”
“Uh, sure, uh… say, what’s going on?”
What was going on, to Dr. Negron-Omikon’s horror, was the disobedience to his orders. He had ordered the robots to take and hold the heights, nothing else. If those robots were coming back, it could mean only one thing…
No, that would be too impossible! The testing had some aberrations, but nothing like this!
Well, maybe something like this was possible… with the numbers being used… the scientist did some quick calculations in his head… oh dear, yes, that was a sufficient number, after all, especially if the cybertronic units in the fallen tanks weren’t totally out of commission.
General Ludd asked rather loudly and rudely, “Say, they didn’t develop some kind of hive consciousness and decide to turn on their human masters, did they?”
Dr. Negron-Omikon said nothing and stood absolutely still.
General Ludd spat out his gum. “I knew it! Dammit, Negron-Omikon, this wasn’t supposed to happen!”
“Well, general, no accidental development of self-aware machines is supposed to happen.”
“I don’t know whether to kill you now or wait for the robots to do it!”
“Probably better for us both if there’s one of us to decimate and the other one left to survive.” Dr. Negron-Omikon gulped. “If you don’t kill me, then we both have a 50-50 chance of only being horribly mangled instead of a 100 percent chance of being killed outright.”
The first few tanks had begun to fall off the edge of the cliff, just a few meters from the wedge of broken tanks that they had climbed up.
Bewildered, the general and the scientist watched as the tanks flowed over the edge to their shattered doom below.
Dr. Negron-Omikon said, “Well, it looks as though there may be a slight error in their GPS navigation.” His speculation was borne out as a few tanks that had managed to survive the fall limped into the river and sank just a few meters away from where the tank bridge crossed the mighty Parana.
The flow of tanks slowed to a trickle as the most advanced elements made their way back, where they invariably fell or drowned. All that was left of the battle were hundreds of thousands of injured Swedes and two completely unscathed Americans in an observation tower.
General Ludd ran the after-action report meeting.
“All right, Doctor. Let’s run over the successes and the opportunities for improvement. First success: your robots did a real number on the Swedes. Good job with that.”
Dr. Negron-Omikon hesitated to bask in glory, knowing that the failures were about to be summed up.
“However, I don’t care for the waste in building a bridge and scaling a cliff. Get some specialized units that can engineer that stuff under fire. Apart from that, good stuff, here.”
Dr. Negron-Omikon was confused. Where was the verbal abuse? Where was the threatened firing squad? Didn’t the general threaten to kill him just a few minutes ago?
General Ludd said, “I know what you’re thinking. Didn’t I threaten to kill you a few minutes ago? Yes, I did. I’m sorry for that. It was a momentary lapse of discipline, and I apologize for that.”
“So, you’re not mad?”
“I’m not mad. I’m thinking clearly, now. These robot tank armies of yours have great potential.”
“Even though they formed a hive mind and turned on us?”
“Well, that’s why I didn’t complain about the GPS errors. I see that as a mitigating factor when they mutiny. We could probably also stand to deploy them in smaller numbers. You got a winner here, doc, and you can expect your check… as soon as the war with Sweden is over.”
On the one hand, Dr. Negron-Omikon was happy that he hadn’t been summarily executed. On the other hand, he was a bit impatient for the money. He had just ordered a pool to be put in at his home. Now he was going to have to take out a loan to cover the costs.
Ah well, all is fair in love and war.
And, thanks to the battlefield prowess of Dr. Negron-Omikon’s robot army, the war with Sweden lasted only five more days. Sixty days after the cease-fire, a letter arrived in Dr. Negron-Omikon’s mailbox with “United States of America Department of the Treasury” stamped on the return address.
Greedily, Dr. Negron-Omikon tore open the envelope. He looked at the check inside, and his eyes widened abnormally. He then looked at the accompanying accounting statement and his eyes widened even more.
Then he blinked.
He looked at the check again.
It was for seventeen dollars and thirty-seven cents.
He then looked at the accounting statement.
Out of his payment of thirteen billion dollars, exactly twelve billion, nine hundred ninety-nine million, nine hundred ninety-nine million, nine hundred ninety-nine thousand, nine hundred and eighty-two dollars and sixty-three cents had been subtracted… for destroyed and damaged robots.
For, with the advent of entirely automated forces, not only could the precise cost of war be calculated… it could also be deducted from wages, tips, and other income.
Dr. Negron-Omikon had an overwhelming urge to exact an ironic revenge, but the US Army owned the big red START button, so there wasn’t a lot he could do except chalk it up to experience and hope that he got another idea as good as the massive robot army.
And soon, too. That pool wasn’t gonna pay for itself.