Toy Wars – Preview

 

Juvenile

 After my uneventful manufacturing process, I woke up. Where was I before that sleep? I didn’t remember deactivating my cognitive process. My memory sump revealed no memories that predated that moment. Life must begin and end somewhere, just as a line must have two points that define its position in the universe. My line started when I awoke.

My memories show only a notation of my origin. “Activation occurs, L+13y224d1h0s. Internal clock set to M+0. Awaiting command from Factory 55466.”

“Stand by for shape and color recognition patterns,” came the voice of the factory itself, both auditory and over the net. The voice vibrated deeply from the very walls of the 3-meter-high chamber as the voice over the electronic network mimicked it in tone and timbre. A large video display in front of me carried the image of my body being laser-scanned from the top of my big saucer-shaped ears down to the bottom of my broad flat feet.

“Basic unit makeup includes a height of 2.1 meters, a mass of 136 kilograms, and a base color of purple,” Factory Six said. “Pattern recognition marking includes belly color of white, and fur mottling of blue diagonally over left foot. Unit make is prototype S12 with serial number 1 of series teddy bear,” announced my benefactor and creator. “Assault weapon M16A and .45 caliber long slide pistol are standard issue with eight clips of ammunition for each weapon. Additionally, S12-1 to be equipped with one plastic expandable canteen, two sticks black and green paintsticks, combat knife, and gun cleaning kit.” A tightly woven olive green backpack came out of the nearby wall and was placed over my shoulders, and an assault rifle was thrust into my hands. Another mechanical arm came and slid a chromed automatic pistol into a holster belt around my waist.

My right hand automatically snapped the holster closed. “Basic load accepted,” I said, opening my mouth for the first time. I must have sat there for some time examining myself, twisting my thick arms and flexing my fingers. I jumped to the floor, my legs out at a natural and comfortable wide angle. All so new, yet so known and understood.

 “You are Teddy 1499,” the factory decreed in a booming voice that again shook the room. I was awestruck by its power.

“I am Teddy 1499.” It felt peculiar to be moving, talking, and thinking. At the time I couldn’t even describe it adequately, even to myself. It was as if I knew how to do everything because of some distant dream. All my experiences and memories flowed across my mind as still photos in grays and umbers when suddenly, by performing an action, it was full of color and life, and no longer shrouded in opacity.

I knew Six would give me more information as I didn’t yet have a purpose. I felt hollow, like I wasn’t—like I didn’t quite exist. I looked around for something to fill that hollow.

Machinery, tools, and dozens of mechanical arms all worked on different projects making the construction space appear much smaller than its true cavern-like dimensions. Two of my fellow units lay on the table with their legs off at the hip joint. My sump and processor provided the descriptive teddy bear. From the images I observed during my manufacture I was a teddy bear. Each of us had two thick, cylindrical arms that stuck almost straight out to our sides sporting manipulative hands with five short, stubby fingers. Our large circular ears stuck well above the height of the head. Each wore a dark black nose on a snout that held an almost comical grin underneath.

One of my fellows sported vivid orange fur with blue spots and the other was pure green. Several robotic arms reached in, attempting to connect a pair of tank-like tracks to the green bear’s torso in lieu of its discarded legs, 4 meters away. To my relief, the green unit was deactivated during the maiming procedure.

All that time I remember hoping the Humans would give me a worthy mission. I was so inexperienced back then. I still believed in the Humans: creators of the factory and the master programming.

“Sector Alpha-4 compromised. Your mission is to take command of units in sector Alpha-4 and stabilize the situation,” Six said over the network, emphasizing with the same verbal commands. “Pursue and destroy any local fauna. Ensure a strong defense line.” Epiphany! My simple task would prove my ultimate worth to Factory 55466.

Alpha-4 maps sprung to my mind like a memory of a memory. “I will be victorious,” I said confidently to Six. My sump held databases of tactical and strategic information dealing with commanding forces, deployment of resources, acceptable loss ratios, and decisions of great Human commanders (Alexander the Great, Hitler, Napoleon, Stalin, Kin Su, Admiral Hornblower, and more) in victories and defeat. I would fulfill my mission in their image, for Six’s pleasure and the glory of the Humans.

“Complete your mission, Teddy 1499.”

“Affirmative,” I replied as I marched proudly out of the factory dome to the train station outside.

My first look around didn’t surprise me as my long-term memories of more of the gray picture filled in with pigment and motion. Dominating the view, a 10.2-meter crimson weeping-fly tree swayed heavily in a stiff breeze only 43 meters from the main audience chamber of the factory. A 12-centimeter-gauge train, painted black and bearing “PACIFIC NORTHWESTERN” in yellow across both sides, waited for a crowding throng of units to board.

Furious activity flowed all around me. A squad of elephants, 150 centimeters tall and sporting brilliant multicolored fur, marched past in perfect time, shaking the ground with every footfall. Three Tami dress-up dolls, their 20-centimeter bodies nothing more than molded plastic explosives, walked by with exaggerated caution. Eight tiny Tommy Tanks, in their standard gunmetal gray, rolled past my feet. An 8-meter-long python slithered directly behind me past the station and joined up with two drab brown gophers. The trio meandered off into the foothills toward the mines. Two roadrunner birds, with their big saucer-like eyes, raced past on unfathomable errands. I caught a glimpse of three bright-green balloon units launching into the sky. I gawked at the chaos around me.

The countryside seemed equally busy. Brilliant red light from the sun bathed the landscape, washing out nearly any other color that dared to rear its head—my own purple got scrubbed to an almost burnt cinnamon. The entire area looked as if someone had upended a can of wet crimson paint over everything. Even those plants that attempted to make use of chlorophyll wore a scarlet cloak. Brick red, rose, carmine, maroon, and ruby were just some of the pleasing variations on the shades. This was home.

Six’s units scurried all over the mountainous valley on missions instilled into them by Six and decreed by our creators, the Humans. A solitary dump truck, a mere 40 centimeters high, carried an unidentifiable cargo toward the smelting plant. A trio of plastic-bodied spiders scuttled off toward the eastern horizon. The activities spilled all over the lowland in a frantic, almost artistic display of randomness.

Dozens of kilometers to the north, three mountain peaks so nearly matched the shape of the factory’s triple redundant net controller (NC) towers that it made me wonder about the Humans and what they knew about that marvelous place. The bright silver of the Central River rushed by, only occasionally sending off a spray of liquid metal in its haste to be over a particularly large rock. Mercury globules landed on the ground nearby, coalescing to roll back into the river as if the components had never been parted.

I spent some time looking at the creature that had given me birth. A huge mottled pink dome 200 meters across and 80 high sat among several ancillary buildings within a field of tall red and white hor clover. A rising helix of dense black and blue smoke distinguished the factory’s squat brown smelting plant. Six’s power plant, a nuclear reactor, blocked the entire view to the west, with pipes and miscellaneous equipment sticking out, giving it the appearance of a toddler’s Tinkertoy creation.

The net, an all-purpose power and communication system, glittered invisibly in colors which have no Human words. It covered the valley in a crowded crisscross pattern like matted fur from one tiny node to another with concentrated channels heading off in the direction where conflicts raged. Each NC transceiver wore a diffuse halo dancing around in changing colors as commands flew in and out. Those invisible but powerful lines of the net were our life-force. Six ordered units to perform their tasks through the net. Without it, most units would simply stop doing what they had been ordered and would quickly run out of power. As my original design basis came from a scout unit I could operate outside the intangible touch of these veins of our life’s blood by making my own decisions and storing my own power.

A piercing whistle stole attention away from my attempts to fill in as much of my memory as possible. The first of three engine’s eyes watched me closely and spat up steam in angry bursts. I was certain Six had programmed instructions not to leave until I embarked. I knew of the notorious impatience of trains from the database Six provided. It had to do with their mission to stay on a schedule, which they never really managed.

“Releasing your steam that way is not becoming. I will be there momentarily.”

“Toooooooooot!” screamed the second engine in protest. This engine wore the green BNSF logo over yellow.

“Be right there,” I replied. I wouldn’t see this place again for a long time. I wanted to take in as much as I could. After a 16.8 second memorization period, I sighed and gave in to the impulse to carry out my orders.

Before I moved even a meter closer, a deep claxon sounded aloud and over the net. For 64 milliseconds I actually believed Six used the racket to chastise me for tardiness.

“Fauna attack, bearing 5.3 degrees magnetic, 5.242 kilometers distant. Force composition includes three hundred fliers, seven hundred fifty infantry and two hundred four mounted units.”

My head swiveled almost instinctively to the north. On the horizon hovered an indistinct cloud of blue. I trained my sight to maximum magnification on the cloud to pick out a mass of distinctive biplane shapes. The voltage on my main power bus spiked and I dropped flat to the ground for cover. Those couldn’t belong to Six. His fliers resembled balloons or dirigibles.

“All noncombatants rendezvous at assembly point Delta,” Six said, speaking firmly and without hesitation. “Heavy fire units array at assembly point Alpha orienting toward incoming fauna. Open fire at extreme range.”

The train moved from between me and the enemy. My voltage that finally had fallen to operational range once again ramped up into levels requiring unacceptable levels of maintenance. I looked around for a spot of safety when I realized not one shot had been fired by either side. With reluctance I stood up and my servo voltages crept back down. Some leader I turned out to be. My first battle and I start it hiding face down in the dust.

“All infantry and light units array behind heavy units to provide supporting fire,” Six dictated.

I strode over behind the solid ranks of plastic Tommy Tanks that arrayed themselves side by side behind a low solid wall of plastic blocks. The tanks’ 50-centimeter height gave me a good field of view. On the firing line on either side of the tanks, sitting on their haunches, some elephants held mortar rounds in their trunks, poised over the muzzle on their chests. The hollow thump of the first elephant to release its weapon caused me to duck down behind a tank’s short but broad bulk.

With the mortar fire now rolling out consistently, I slowly stuck my head up to look out at the barrage’s results. Vermillion dirt jetted away from impact sites in an inverted cone pattern. The explosions rarely found targets to vent upon. Small horses, 50 centimeters high, bore proportionally small Human-shaped riders with remarkable speed amongst the chaos. Our elephants walked their fire in closer to match the rapid charge of the fauna cavalry. I couldn’t watch the entire field but one time I witnessed a blast that threw both rider and horse sideways 6 meters. The pair didn’t move on the earth as a pool of their amber fluid grew around them, mingling in the red earth.

“Adjust your fire to lead the mounted units which are travelling at 21 kilometers per hour,” Six offered.

Reducing my eye’s magnification, the scale of the attack became clear. A mass of brightly colored infantry, each looking very much like me, marched toward us, a kilometer across. Their mounted cavalry spread out across an even wider front to avoid the ravages of our mortars but kept boring in.

The rate of mortar fire slowed. My bus potential ramped just a bit.

“Level four inquiry to elephant squad one concerning rate of fire,” I placed on the net.

“Rate of fire reduced to maximum sustainable to prevent overheating.”

Sensible, I thought, willing down my errant voltage.

I pulled back my vision to local mode. Six’s entire force stretched in a doubled line to meet the advance of this enemy. The arrangement didn’t seem optimal. Any fire our way was bound to hit some unit.

As the fauna’s leading edge of speeding mounted Indians reached 1800 meters, the tanks opened up with their .50 caliber main guns. The sound threatened my aural receivers so I tuned down the amplification. Vivid blue tracer rounds marked each unit’s lane of fire. It took no time at all to reap a path of destruction through the fauna as it all but advanced directly into our fire. I didn’t sense any threat from this attack.

The earth jumped beneath my feet as an explosion on the right flank of our troops lit up even the daytime for an instant. An elephant, as massive and heavily armored as it was, lay torn literally in half by the blast, with tiny fires melting its green skin. Two more explosions, each one closer to me, went off in quick succession, one hitting empty ground and the other narrowly missing a Tommy Tank but setting it on fire.

A very loud chord of sirens announced the presence of six tiny fire engines, each pulling a hose behind it. They rolled up next to the burning unit dousing it with streams of water.

A whistle penetrated my lowered hearing. This time I caught a glimpse of the straight downward plunge of a bomb just before two of the fire trucks evaporated in the detonation.

We forgot about the fliers! Worse, our units lined up perfectly for them to fly along, almost guaranteeing to hit something.

“Priority one—all odd numbered units retreat 6 meters,” I ordered. “All units whose unit number is divisible by four with no remainder retreat 3 meters.” Gratifyingly, the line divided per my order. The tank in front of me moved backward as well, forcing me to move with it. More bombs landed on empty space.

“All units orient antiaircraft batteries overhead bearing 85 degrees magnetic. Weapons free,” Six added.

Thirty caliber machine guns roared to life all around me, licking fire up into the sky. Green tracers hurled up at the fliers. As they flew in parallel formation down our defensive line, they made easy targets. I even put my M16 up to my shoulder and fired away.

Our fire dropped six of the fragile planes inside our perimeter, one landing directly on top of a gopher. Unfortunately, the already dead animal still had its bomb attached. Only bits of smoldering fur and a couple of metal bones remained of our unit in the resulting crater.

The fauna broke up, scattering. They no longer made for free kills. Many still dropped their ordinance within our area but none got free kills. Many of the fliers fell, but many more lived to retreat, some scathed with battle damage and others completely untouched.

“All units reorient on ground attack,” Six ordered.

I realized that I had been paying attention only to the air battle. I had lost track of what had happened on the ground. Not a single mounted unit remained moving, but now the massive contingent of infantry began shooting in our direction.

“All units redeploy against wall,” I yelled as some of our own fire came dangerously close to our own units. The command echoed across the net as teams dispersed it. Unintentionally my order caused all of the units that took second rank to find ways up to the wall, packing our numbers even tighter across the line.

I stayed behind and snapped shots at the encroaching infantry but the impact seemed negligible compared to the machine guns that played across the rows of infantry marching closer. The fauna fired back as they inched forward. Once I heard the whine of a bullet near my head but our own mass of fire drowned out all other sounds. Animal after animal of the teddy-like fauna dropped. The few times one managed to overcome its wounds and got up, it went over again in a matter of seconds.

The number of animals dwindled rapidly until a mortar round fell adjacent to the last upright fauna. The upper torso blew out its back. Against odds it remained standing for 2.3 seconds before toppling over backward.

“Ceasefire,” came Six’s command over the net. “Resume normal duty stations and missions.”

Primary mission accomplished. Six was safe. Home was safe.

* * *

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