Sky blue eyes that reflect everything and let nothing inside. The face loomed over me, fronted by those chilling little discs of metal. I was so focused on them, and my own bloodied face reflected in them that I barely noticed the hand extended towards me. I took it, of course. I had no desire to lie in the broken scrap while rusty water soaked further into my clothes. The arobot hauled me to my feet before immediately losing interest and wandering off to its next selected objective. I brushed myself off in a small shower of gravel and dust. Not much I could do about the damp trousers and jacket, but they’d dry off while I walked.
Well, that had all gone awfully to shit, hadn’t it. My rusty little puddle was just one of many such new holes in the little village where we’d staged our ambush. I mean, it was a village. If no building left standing more than four feet counts as a bunch of houses, then you could possibly make the claim that it had only lost its top half. In fact, the enemy shells and our own ambush had razed much of the place to the ground. We had made sure the village was unoccupied before we started setting traps and wiring the larger houses with proximity detonators. We’d not skimped on artillery either. Four squads, made up half with people, half of arobots with their vastly superior resilience, speed and accuracy. Couldn’t beat them in a firefight, though they would occasionally take risks that would never even occur to someone like me. That’s where this fight had gone off the rails.
We’d been perfectly placed, waiting for darkness as the enemy’s octal tanks rolled into the village and settled for the night in a nice spot of cover. Not knowing, of course, that we’d spent the day wiring the place up for our perfect moment and then scarpered for the nearby ditches and drains. Not a pleasant wait that, crouched in a drain for five hours. Still, it’s amazing how much sleep you can get in such situations. When sarge judged the moment, from reviewing the micro drones we’d placed in the trees on main street, we let the proximity detonators do their stuff and activated all the other traps remotely. No point letting them trip wires and stuff on their way into the village. Far better to let them all in and then kill themselves trying to get back out again. They didn’t make it out, obviously. We’d set our traps well, and an old church exploding next to a couple of tanks makes a serious mess of them, as well as of the church. We hadn’t really taken the graveyard into account though, and after the various bombs went off there were a lot of old bodyparts and bones scattered across the village square. Never mind. The octals took most of the blast, and once they were immobilised (or shredded, take your pick), we moved in for the more personal killing touch.
It’s one thing to pop open an octal tank hatch and toss a grenade inside, quite another to start hauling its occupants into the street and decapitating them. Not my style, but it’s what the arobot decided to do. Whether we’d been waiting too long and some internal metric had gotten mixed up with its orders, or if it had just taken too many whacks to the head, we never found out. First I knew of it was hearing Lieutenant Swires bellowing at it to stand down. I’d just finished off the contents of the tanks under the church rubble, so I saw the arobot turn to face Swires, with that familiar dead look on its face, eyes giving you nothing – no insight whatsoever into what might be going on in that plastic and metal skull. They always look to me like they’re on the verge of violence, because it’s that same dead-eyed look, the suddenly still face that you see on someone who’s completely lost it, and is about to either murder your mate in the pub or top himself. You can’t beat an arobot in a shootout, and Swires didn’t even think he was in a shootout, so he lost that. Voice of authority down, the arobot went straight back to pulling the poor dazed bastards out of the tank. You don’t have to hate someone to kill them, sometimes that’s just your job. It was my job, but I wasn’t trying to make them suffer like the arobot was. It was pulling them out by their over-long arms, pinning them down with one boot and with a single blow, slashing through their necks with a brutal-looking machete, so their little three-eyed heads bounced off the top of the tank and onto the road. Their bodies slid over the tracks after them. God knows where it found that blade – for all I knew, it had been carrying it in its pack for weeks. The arobots do develop “habits” as they call them, over time. This once had a few too many habits for my taste. Plus, I was fond of Swires, and much less fond of a colleague who’s OK shooting my mates. I wasn’t the first to notice the lieutenant’s demise though – a couple of lads were much closer than me and went straight for shooting. That’s your best bet in a shootout with an arobot – make sure it doesn’t know you’re shooting at it. Unfortunately they’re wired to pay attention to these things, and it took exception before the first bullet took it in the shoulder. I’ve seen some knife throwing in sideshows, and it’s always impressive, but I’d never seen a machete throwing robot before. Weird bits of metal, machetes. Unevenly weighted, heavy. Not a problem for this arobot. It flipped the thing over while taking another bullet to its body and flung it straight through the shooter’s face. His mate hit cover immediately, but the arobot went after him.
I weighed up my options. I could stay where I was and pretend nothing was happening. That might seem a little cowardly, but sometimes “do nothing” is the best choice. It wasn’t in this situation – I was much more concerned that the arobot might decide we were all targets. My real decision was in how much risk I wanted to expose myself to. Some risk was unavoidable. I did a quick stock take of the traps and explosives I’d rigged and had the detonators for. As I suspected, not everything had gone bang – that’s just wiring and stuff, something always fails. But it did mean that the post box the arobot was going to pass on the way to me still had an unexploded bomb inside it. Alas, that meant I’d have to draw its attention. At least I had a plan, unlike the next lad who tried to take it out, and the other arobot that was unceremoniously torn apart. Yup, this one had gone bad all right. I took a deep breath, rolled, and shot the arobot in the side of the head. Yeah, that got its attention all right. It swivelled around, so its head never took its eye off me, the only sign of my shot being a slight dent in the side of its skull. Too damned tough, but I only wanted it to notice me. It was coming for me with that leisurely yet determined stride they have, but I had to wait until it reached the post box. That’s when I fired the grenade. Sharp bastard that the arobot was, it swatted the grenade out of the air, presumably thinking it was aimed (badly) at it. Thankfully it actually knocked it onto a better course than I’d managed with the awkward angle I’d aimed from. The grenade struck the post box and detonated the bomb. I had, I’ll admit, forgotten precisely which set of explosives we’d put where, and wow, that was quite a bang. The tank-buster in the post box incinerated the arobot and blew a fresh hole in the already wrecked village, hurling broken houses, tank parts and me through the air.
That’s how I ended up in yet another puddle, being rescued by a different arobot. Honestly, this war. I don’t know if I’m going to get killed by the enemy or one of my squad. Ah well, onto the next village. It’s a long walk, but I should be dry by the time we get there.