RED by Alan Delaney

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SUMMARY: It was designed to be invincible, it was designed to be loyal, it was designed to kill. Then, something went wrong

Rocks and mud, mud and rocks. There was little else in this barren wasteland - no life, no sound, no movement, just rocks and mud. Sure, there's the burnt-out shells of abandoned tanks, the decaying ruins of empty villages, and the whitened bones of long-rotted corpses, but nothing lasts long under this baking sun and in the end, the wilderness swallows them all.

One figure moved in the otherwise dead landscape, yet even that couldn't be called alive. It trudged its way towards the low-lying hills to the east - observing, probing, scanning, ever vigilant in spite of the desolation of its surroundings. Officially it was termed a Reconnaissance and Extermination Droid, or RED - a nine-foot-tall, heavy-armoured, experimental battledroid designed for long-duration military operations in inhospitable environments - but out here this model had acquired the name Jim, a corruption of the native name for it. Its purpose was to ensure that the dead landscape stayed that way. These lands had been a cesspit of terrorist hideouts only a few years earlier and though it was rare to find any life at all nowadays, not since the Holy War had passed through here, there were still small pockets of resistance dotted around. Jim's mission was to locate these pockets and eliminate them.

Jim worked alone, it was designed that way. There was no team to work with, it had no logistics to take care of, its considerable firepower mainly consisted of the spoils of earlier missions, and it possessed enough scanners, probes and sensors to negate the need for scouts. Instead, it operated in environments too inhospitable for regular soldiers and took care of the sort of missions that they despised. As for its orders, they came from two sources: the HQ which monitored the recon satellites and located suspicious activities, and heuristics - "low-level, decision-making capabilities for ground-level survival requirements," as the press release termed it - that operated during times of crisis where direct orders would be too slow. HQ's orders, which always took priority, outlined the broad plans - heuristics took care of the fine details.

Some hours ago the recon satellites had picked up evidence of possible terrorist activity in the hills that Jim was currently approaching. Jim's orders were routine: investigate and eliminate. Jim was of course incapable of any kind of dissent or disobedience, its hardwiring took care of that, but the borders of its heuristics were poorly defined and recently it had been pushing those borders out further and further. Its creators would probably not be very happy at what its heuristics were concluding now. The hills were not so high but they stretched on for miles. There would be enough natural cover and hiding places to make such a camp a possibility but the logistics involved in having any kind of community in this environment would mean that any such camp would be a small one. Heuristics: no real threat here, very small likelihood of any major military operations being conducted here, at worst there were just a small band of people with little water and less food doing their best just to stay alive.

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