PREDATOR MACHINES
Sarah Hartwell, 2018
Dream 5th/6th September 2018

I was a specialist on a science team sent to a scrubby arid area of an alien planet to find out what had happened to the previous survey team known as SMU (or SMUD). When we arrived after many months in space (in suspended animation of course), we found a region ruled by predatory machines that hunted the organic fauna, and sometimes each other. We deduced that these machines had evolved from SMUD’s AI units used in surveying the region and transporting their heavy supplies. The machines, used as rovers and repair-bots, had become autonomous, but having limited data they had used the history and entertainment files from the ship as their template. Hence our Exploration and Recovery team faced AI machine versions of pteranosaurs and allosaurs that hunted, killed and ate humans, using them as fuel. They also built more machines and roughly followed the evolutionary path from Earth, this being their only template. Once they became sufficiently advanced we knew they would break away from this template.

I went scouting the badlands in a hang-glider made from material that shielded my thermal signature so that the machine pterosaurs above me could not detect me by my body heat. I discovered that some native mammal-like creatures still survived, but were being hunted by the machines as fuel. I saw a machine-allosaur hunt and kill two creatures – one looked like a white bipedal horse and it was accompanied by a brown ape-like creature. These were the only creatures I had seen in the whole time we were here. We had originally thought the area was totally uninhabited except for the scrubby bushes growing among the yellowish-brown rocks and sand.

The machine intelligences were cannibalising the SMUD craft and the supplies in order to reproduce. Older, more primitive, ones were disassembled and used in building the next generation. Something had gone wrong in their files to make them repeat Earth’s evolutionary history. Perhaps there had been radiation damage that had corrupted some of the ship’s systems. My aerial surveys found no sign of the original Survey team, but I had spotted structures. To avoid attracting attention, we used low-tech methods to communicate out findings – narrow-beam directional radio signals, or even word of mouth.

With no other way to wipe out the machines we decided to bomb the machines’ base and hope that some native fauna would survive outside of the bombed area. The machines’ base was a large warehouse full of green crates that we recognised as holding SMUD supplies and scientific instruments. We also found an all-terrain vehicle that could be repaired; while this was being attempted I was one of the people looking out for machines among the stacked crates and outside the warehouse. I spotted a large humanoid machine – it looked like the machines had evolved. Then we noticed that these humanoid machines were the mechanical exoskeletons manned by humans and used for shifting heavy crates.

Unfortunately the exoskeletons seem to have alerted the machines to our presence and we had to abandon the idea of fixing the vehicle and set up the explosives instead. If we lured enough machines into the warehouse we could destroy them. We would then have to hunt down the stragglers before they could build replacements. We noticed that the exoskeletons did not seem to be doing anything except moving around. The machine intelligences did not attack them, recognising them as fellow machines, but they did not interact. They just moved into position and waited. The exoskeleton creatures seemed unaware of us. Perhaps they were more primitive machines with little AI and simply stood still until they received orders from somewhere.

While wiring up the explosives we discovered the remnants of SMUD’s base made out of metal spars, crates and even fabric. One of the anthropologists in our team said the SMUDs had formed an alliance with small intelligent creatures that resembled domestic cats (one cat bonded to one person) and were somehow avoiding the machine predators. Then we saw the exoskeletons start to attack the predator machines. We knew that the exoskeletons were manned by SMUDs. We couldn’t do much except wait for the fight to end. Many of the machines at the warehouse were disabled and others made a tactical retreat, ready to regroup. Repair-bots arrived on the scene. Many of the exoskeletons were also wrecked.

Each exoskeleton had been manned by one human and one cat. Several humans and some of the cats were killed. I tried to console one of the cats whose female human had been killed, but the main source of grief among SMUD personnel was for a basket of kittens – almost ready for field duty – that had died. Because of their reduced numbers, the SMUD team and the cats came back to our base on our small rover vehicles for safety in numbers and because the machines had not commandeered our stores and equipment. We knew we had attracted their attention and they would take action against us.

We knew we had to do something to protect this planet from the machine predators we had accidentally introduced. We decided the only option was to nuke the region from space before the machines evolved enough to make it into space and use the files from the survey ship to come to earth to hunt down humans. While stocking the craft we tried to figure out how to keep the cats in suspended animation for the journey home. Then we looked out of a window and saw other native animals coming towards us – some looked like dingo dogs, but instead of tails they had upright furry flaps on their backs. Some looked like large rodents, also with the furry flaps instead of tails. We realised that the creatures all communicated with each other to form a group intelligence and they expected us to take them to safety, like an Ark. We decided to “nuke” the region with a massive electro-magnetic pulse to “kill” the machines from orbit, then we could return the animals to safety. Then the predator machines turned up and we started fighting again while the animals came inside our base ready for us to lift off into orbit.

(And I woke up at this cliff-hanger moment)

DRAGONQUEEN'S LAIR

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