My first published work of fiction, a short story called ‘The Killing Machine,’ is now available as a short story for Kindle. Published in 1991, the story was derived from a table-top war-game that I was developing called ‘Armor 2050.’ The eBook includes a new Author’s Foreword and an Illustration from the unpublished game.
I had this friend, Scott, who ran a game store, and sometimes when visiting I would peruse the manuals for the game Battletech. It was neat to look at but I thought that it was ludicrous. Forty to fifty foot tall bipedal robots stomping around? Really? When the Future Main Battle-tank Study had determined that a target one meter tall and two meters wide was too big to show to an enemy a mile away because it was too easy to hit? Not too mention that all of the weapons were ridiculously short-ranged.
Because of my work with tanks and wargaming in the Army I had kept up on emerging military technology, and because even then I was a Geek I had kept up with all sorts of technical developments. So I wrote my own table-top war game, taking a ‘hard science’ approach to make logical predictions based on emerging computer, materials science and weapons technology, and how these would be applied on the battlefield. I did a LOT of very complicated math to determine the armor penetration values of different weapons, protective systems, communications etc. Many of the ideas from this game have shown up, or are just now showing up, in real life. Not because I ‘invented’ them, of course, but because they were logical. I invented very little of the tech in the game; I just figured out interesting applications for existing and emerging technologies. We play-tested this at the store and at some local gaming conventions and got a glimpse of the battlefield of 2050 AD.
It looked like Hell.
Artillery-deployed hunter-killer smart mines. Brilliant missiles. Real-time 3D ‘virtual reality’ control systems. Smart artillery shells. Recon and attack drones. Autonomous Combat Vehicles. Individual vehicle defense systems against man-pack anti-tank missiles. Special operations units in powered armor carrying vehicle-mount chain-guns as ‘assault rifles.’ Smart grenades. Magnetic accelerator cannon firing armor-piercing projectiles at velocities measured in kilometers per second. Orbital recon and intervention (crowbars from space.) And of course grunts. Very high-tech grunts, but at the end of the day they were still ‘leg infantry.’
Autonomous Combat Vehicles in particular fascinated me. These were self-directed, self-teaching machines ranging from man-height bipedal (but non-humanoid) systems that would accompany infantry squads to provide heavy fire-support, to something like a four-wheel-drive motorcycle with a brain and weapons used for recon, vehicle defense and remote attack. These would use a combination of ‘insect intelligence,’ Artificial Intelligence and Expert Systems in a dispersed processing and control array to achieve ‘life-like’ behavior and decision making on the battlefield. To function effectively these machines would need to be smart enough to blur the line between machine intelligence and sentience. I also predicted (correctly as it turned out) that the actions of such a system might be unpredictable at times.
I came upon me that the first aliens that we encounter might well be of our own making- machine intelligences like those in the ACVs from Armor 2050. What would it be like to work with these in the field? Eventually a story about his occurred to me and even though I had long given up any pretense of being a writer I sat down and hammered out ‘The Killing Machine.’ After some re-writing to tone down the ‘authentic grunt-speak’ of the narrator and some judicious editing the story was published in the Fall 1991 issue of Figments, a small-press science fiction magazine.
We ran across a copy of the magazine the other day while searching through some paperwork and decided to transcribe it and publish it as an eBook. It’s about 3300 words, and the writing is not up to our current standards but the story was well-regarded in it’s day. There’s also a new Author’s Foreword and an illustration of the ACV from the story that I did for the game. If you fancy an unconventional bit of military science fiction you might give it a go for 99 cents.
As for Armor 2050? We moved to New York city that year and I never finished the game.