The image was particularly nice: a yellow and black weaverbird caught in the act of building one of their hanging, gourd-shaped nests on his anti-tank cannon mount. It was a keeper; Akili just had to decide which picture to give up in exchange. He had plenty of power left in his superconductor ring — enough for years of twenty-four-hour imaging. But not enough memory to hold more than thirty seconds at a time. And even less space for long-term storage. The thermobaric warhead that the rebels used to initiate the ambush had savaged him. Besides the loss to his memory cores and all but one of his cameras, his central wiring harness had been severed, leaving him completely immobile on the side of this Kenyan foothill.
Akili examined the two images he permitted himself to keep in long-term storage. One was of Captain Orongo, hat pushed back on his head, relaxed and laughing the day before their last patrol. Akili hesitated. He wished he could have done something to help during the ambush. But unable to move, all he could do was watch the hyaenas drag off what was left the next day. This image was now the only thing he had to remind himself of the Captain.
The other image was of a three-month-old sunrise. It was indeed beautiful — a blended palette of purples and reds that tinctured half the sky. But there would be other sunrises. So he deleted the image and put the weaverbird beside the Captain.
Days became weeks, and other weaverbirds arrived and built their nests on his cannon mount. Akili enjoyed watching them work. It made him happy — the birds had come to depend on him, but in a way different than the Captain had.
Akili was turned inward one morning, reviewing the short-term images of yesterday’s nest-making progress, when he suddenly became aware of his gun mounts and targeting processor. He turned his attention outward. Forty-seven point three meters downhill sat an empty cargo truck. Beside him, two men — neither in uniform — cursed as they shoved on his scarred and dented left leg, trying to knock him over.
The flechettes from Akili’s anti-personnel rifle made tiny pops as they broke the sound barrier. One man gave a short yelp, his chest sawed open. The other simply fell, a pink cloud hiding the ruins of his face. Target: Rebels and/or scavengers, his processor whispered. Directive: self-preservation.
Akili concurred. Besides, in rocking him, they had knocked down several nests.
Query: current mission status?
They’d been ambushed. Not only had they not completed their patrol, he’d been unable to protect Captain Orongo. A failure all the way around, Akili thought.
Query: secondary mission/objective?
Akili hesitated. Until a few moments ago, he hadn’t been able to even react to the outside world. A quick functions check showed he’d regained his weapons, short-range millimeter radar and targeting processor. During this time, neither the truck nor the bodies had moved. But there were now too many gaps along the cannon mount for his liking. Just then, a pair of weaverbirds flew up and landed, shrieking their anger.
Trucks were expensive; whoever had sent the two men would want it back. But the bodies crumpled at his feet would serve as an appropriate warning. Anti-personnel area denial in a 360-degree, twenty meter radius, Akili thought, then added all four-legged animals above one kilogram for good measure.
Interrupt: insufficient memory for database necessary to implement new mission. Continue?
So Akili asked how much memory would be necessary. The answer made him pause: all but 16 of the undamaged bytes he possessed. If he initiated the area-denial mission, there would be no room in the memory cores for his higher functions. He would cease to exist.
Akili spent a moment pondering this. He studied the image of Captain Orongo, then took another look outside. One of the two weaverbirds still sat on his cannon mount. Its mate reappeared a moment later, a long blade of grass dangling from its beak, then began patiently bending the grass around his cannon, beginning a new nest.
He hoped the Captain would have understood. The weaverbird flew off to get another blade. Akili tracked it with his camera until it was out of sight, then told his targeting processor to go ahead.
Andrew Gudgel has always loved playing with words and language. He and his wife currently live in Asia, the latest stop in their nomadic existence, in an apartment slowly being consumed by books. Visit him at andrewgudgel.com.
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