Janie, Joe Fortson and I were at Hanna’s. Gene Washburn along with Lester Reye’s fifteen year old son Mike, escaping from his dad for a time, and a couple of others who had worked there earlier were at the mill. Joe and I had pulled the equipment closer to town and doubled up on the robot sentries. Gene was directing security for now and had an open channel comlink to the emergency alert system. We had to keep the mill going and that was the best we could do on short notice.
“Joe, how did you feel about continuing to work out there after the commotion last night?” Janie asked Fortson. “Bart here just went back to bed and slept like a log.”
“Bart slept like a log with you in the same tent,” Joe chuckled, “Well… I did start a few more illumination fires and sent out some extra bots. But the works gotta be done. I’m sure when the autopsy comes in we find all of Jaisa’s rounds just went through the thing leaving small holes but hitting nothing vital.“ Joe paused for just a moment then continued. “Sure the thing is big but can’t have near the size of say… an elephant back on Earth. If it had anywhere near that kind of weight the tracks it left would have been far more pronounced. I read a book once abo-.”
“You… read a book?…” I spat out before he could finish.
“Yeah Bart, I did, but just that once. I don’t know what came over me… Must have been an accident. Any way it was called ‘Hunting the Elephant in Africa’ by a guy named C. H. Stigand. Teddy Roosevelt did the forward. Maybe you heard of him?”
“Wasn’t he once the police commissioner for New York City or somethin’?” I replied
“Let him finish Bart, this is Joe‘s story.” Janie admonished me with just a hint of a grin.
Joe thanked her and began again. “Back in the old days you’d be surprised at all the different types and calibers used for dangerous game hunting. Even for elephant some pretty small rounds were used with good effect. Stigand talks about one guy in particular that used a British .303 Enfield. Now this guy said that for a one shot kill on a charging tusker it was best to aim, and if you aimed there you better hit it, at the second wrinkle down the forehead of the elephants trunk. There were a lot of other places a good shot would take the animal down but it would take more time. And with something that large it’s easy to see you could pump in a lot of shots to non vital areas without slowing him down a lick. I figure that’s what happened with Jaisa last night.”
“So what do we do now?” Janie asked.
“Well for starters,” I said, “We better make sure that we have enough bots out to alert us if another one of those things show up and that the guards have the right kind of ammunition for the job.”
Janie said, “Just who is in charge of the guards anyway? I know Andy Stuart is setting up a militia and I just assumed he was overseeing the guards too.”
Joe looked over to me and I just shrugged. “Heck Janie, I don’t know either, Joe and I both, except for the first couple of days we were down, never stood another guard watch. Too much stuff to do at the mill. I figured Andy was in charge also, but I can’t see him letting Seaworth go out without having not just his robot, but a few more bots spread around for threat detection. What do you think Joe?”
“I hadn’t paid it any attention either Bart. All I know is that when you or I were out at the mill we always had our bot outriders. Figured camp security was the same way but it looks like that precaution fell between the cracks. I can say this though, and I’d bet every dime I ever owned neither of the Stuarts were in the loop last night. Camp security must just have been manned by volunteers from the labor pool. And at least one, Jack Seaworth, was well intentioned but obviously unqualified for the job. Even Jaisa made the rookie mistake of having nothing but penetrators in her mag. I bet Andy gets that situation squared up in a hurry.”
“That brings up a point I have been meaning to ask you about Joe.” I Said. “Why aren’t you working with the militia?”
For a moment I could see he was thinking about how to answer and then he said, “It’s like this… Andy’s the right person to be in charge of the group he’s setting up for what needs to be done… And he did talk to me about it a while back. I found it almost impossible not to get involved, but… I spent too many years taking orders, and when I got retired from the Fleet Marine Force I vowed never again. It’s a game for the young. Even with someone like Andy in charge I would spend too much time thinking of how I would do it differently. Now don’t get me wrong I support him and if things get tight enough will sign back on. But for now, the way this planet is panning out, there is probably nothing I could do anywhere, where my experience and training might not make the difference between success and failure. And everything we do is important if the colony is to survive. What about you Bart… why aren‘t you in?”
Janie started before I could open my mouth. “It’s my fault Joe.” Then she waved me off as I started to object. “I’m really embarrassed. I should have told you already. It’s the general tone of the colony that’s got me upset. I just want to get away from all of these people for a while.” Joe’s head came up and he looked right at her. “ No not you, and there are a quite a few of the others who are ok, but folks like Buchanan and the Reyes and especially Jack the Blade. And I hate to admit this but even Andy gets on my nerves at times. Rules, rules, rules. I convinced Bart that we ought to try to get away on our own, do some exploring or anything to get away from the camp for a while. We even talked to the Hist about it. He convinced me to wait a while but we are getting ready.”
“Yeah I’ve noticed you working with Bart on your marksmanship. After last night though it kinda looks like it would be very dangerous, not sayin’ suicidal mind you, but very dangerous for a couple or even a small party to be out in the boonies on their own.”
It looked to me like Janie was starting to tear up at that. She turned away briefly and when she turned back here eyes were clear again. Stern stuff my Janie. “Babe,” I said to her for the first time with someone else present, but Joe was family, “It might not be as bad as it looks.” Her expression became very intent.
“First let me say something about one thing that’s really been bugging me… We’re not using the robots very well.” I could see I had both of their attention. “Oh, I don’t mean us, it’s the rest of the colony. The Hist and I, while on the Mayflower had four years to figure out what they could and couldn’t do. With Arte Clark dead that just leaves, asides from us, Captains Travis and Monroe with any real experience. Nothing available back on Earth even came close to them. The people here just haven’t had time to figure them out yet or what to do with them, and I see many folks who just don’t seem to even want to try. Call it “Fear of the New.”
“That was at least part of Seaworth’s problem. But it goes beyond that. There really was no reason at all not to have a couple of dozen bots out as perimeter surveillance. They were in the pool, charged, and being used for nothing. Probably the farmers and those working on roads and such wanted to make sure they had a fully charged helper to use in daylight. But a bot just standing stationary guard uses very little power. It’s a mistake we can’t afford to make again.”
“Now Janie, back to why we still might make a go of our exploration… One, we’ve got more bots then people to use them. If we take a few extras with us we wont be surprised in the middle of the night or at any other time. And two, Joe and I secured all of the weapons from the squad we took out prior to going for the cruiser and held on to them. They had a lot more stuff than just the ‘Rugs’ we’ve been using and you ‘ve been practicing with.”
“I follow you there Bart.” Fortson began. “We picked up a couple plasma rifles and even some grenades and launchers. And sure, nothing but a hardened, screened target could stand up to a plasma bolt at under a couple hundred yards. For that matter any thing made of protoplasm or with a nervous system certainly wouldn’t stand a chance at twice that distance. But as I understand it, and I got it from you, the bots can’t use them, and unless Janie gets mighty good, mighty fast… Well I wouldn’t want to go out under those conditions.”
“She is getting good, and pretty fast too. But I got another idea which will make this thing practical, and help out the township at the same time providing it works.”
“Ok Bart, I’ll bite. What is it” Joe asked.
“The bots… Let me explain. The reason the Jeep couldn’t harm any living thing is so deep in his programming that we can’t change it without ruining everything that makes him the Jeep. The Jeep’s ‘Brain’, if you will is tied into his sensory and servo-systems with an optical buss. We can, of course, disconnect the brain from the buss. That’s just what we do when we put in a new personality. All the systems are still there, just no way for them to do anything without control signals.”
“But what if when the ‘Brain’, was out of the loop and we connected everything else, by that buss, into a general purpose comp system? Something that could read the sensors and act as programmed by us and not with the canned routines. Heck, those types of systems have been around for forty or fifty years. The way it would work is like this. The bot detects a dangerous target, switches to the other controller which takes charge, and Bingo! No more threat.”
Joe‘s eyebrows raised a notch and he said, “That does sound interesting. But can you do it, and make sure it only shoots at what needs shooting, and does it every time?”
I smiled and replied, “No I can’t… but with a little help from Subbu, and my old buddy Ash Andrews, it just might be possible.”