Wednesday, November 11, 2009


(A short science fiction war story, written in observance of Veteran's Day)

We were launched from the Hive like thirty buzzing, angry bees which flew at hypersonic velocity.

We didn't know what our target was. In fact, up until this instant, we had no idea we were even in a battle at all; protocol called for all DF-12s (official designation: Apis) to be kept in a low-energy hibernation state, with just a trickle of power to maintain vital systems, in order to preserve longevity and battle-readiness. But the ships that held us could be armed and launched in seconds, and we their pilots would have plenty of time to wake up and assess the situation as we accelerated towards our targets.

Telemetry from the mothership streamed across my instruments. It was going to be a long flight; over 20 minutes of constant thrust just to close to interception range of my target, and then however long it took to maneuver through its flak shield and point-defense systems to strike its exposed engines. If I missed, turning around for a second pass would be all but impossible. I was accelerating at nearly 10 gees, and after nearly a half -hour of that I would have built up such inertia that it would exhaust my fuel reserves to overcome it.

Vector plotted, weapons armed, countermeasures at the ready. I would have only once chance at this and I knew I would make it count. With 15 minutes of mindless acceleration ahead of me, I dozed. I would need all the power I could squeeze from my Apis when we reached the Interdiction Zone.

Ten minutes out. My target, an Aegis-class Battlecruiser, was sweeping with active sensors and my instruments were pinging like mad. Our swarm had been detected. Acting on a hunch, I performed a one-second maneuvering burn, nudging me starboard and downwards. Three swarmmates performed similar operations. At my current speed, even a one degree change in my original vector will be significant.

Five minutes out. A flash of electromagnetic radiation shows that those members of my swarm which didn't deviate from their original vector have been destroyed by a nuclear-tipped interceptor missile. For the briefest of microseconds I ping my target with active sensors, hoping the EM noise of the nuke will mask my scanning. I plot a solution through the defense grid.

One minute out. My swarmmates and I deploy chaff and other passive countermeasures. We know we've been spotted; our only hope for survival is to hide our actual numbers behind sensor noise. Are there a hundred of us on this vector, or just one? The Aegis has no way of knowing, and there are more of us than she has interceptor missiles. We are the Apis, the Killer Bees of legend; we are legion but swarm as one. Fighting us is like fighting a cloud.

Thirty seconds out. A too-close strike has destroyed the three DF-12s with me, and most of the chaff. I survived only by luck of being on the side farthest from the explosion.

Ten seconds out. I kill the throttle. Inertia will carry me the rest of the way; no sense in lighting up their gunsights with an active plume of thrust.

One second out. Sensors active, weapons hot. Engaging. I launch counter-flak rockets ahead of me, clearing my vector like a shotgun blast with directed explosions of shrapnel. My lasers target gunnery-pod sensors and blind them. Particle guns scramble the delicate electronics of point-defense missiles.

I'm hit. Thrust and control are gone; the g-stresses on my compromised spaceframe will tear me apart in milliseconds. As my nose tumbles wildly, I make the necessary calculations. I have only one shot at this.

Target lock anticipated in 5 microseconds. When that happens, the nuclear bomb I am carrying will detonate, energizing the X-Ray laser in my nose and firing at the Aegis' engines. My mission will be accomplished.

That this will result in my destruction does not concern me, for I am not alive. I am an Apis DF-12 Drone Fighter. I feel no pain and do not fear death. This is my purpose, to die for my people rather than have people die for me.

Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Bunny likes.

    Although IMHO you could have left the identity of the pilot a bit more vague (by for example scratching the "I'm not alive" part).

    I think it would add some mystique/food for thought if it was left open for speculation if it was an AI or maybe a specialized drone soldier belonging to some sort of bee people.

  3. Point #1: I tried that in the first draft and the reader expressed feelings of sadness that the pilot died. I then had to explain what "Drone Fighter" meant. I decided that having the point of the story be clearly understood trumped any concern about subtle language.

    #2: I didn't do a very good job of explaining it, apparently. The drone fighters are launched in a barrage, a la the Macross Missile Massacre. I decided that an angry insect analogy would be most appropriate, so I went with a Killer Bee motif. I was going to use *more* insect imagery but then risked confusion with the narrator being an actual living, albeit alien, thing.

    #3: The narrator is intended to be a sophisticated AI of sorts, advanced enough to have sapience (has hunches, makes judgements)but lacking the survival instinct of the Id and therefore having no need of the Super-Ego. It's just a construct of pure Ego.

    So, yeah. I wasn't very happy with how it turned out, but I couldn't think of any way to improve it. I can see, based on your comments, that there is definitely room for improvement. Any suggestions in that direction are most welcome.

  4. Is there anything wrong with feelings of sadness at the death of the pilot?

    I mean, even if it's an AI it's still a sentient and thus its passing is sad.
    Just as sad as it would have been if it had been a biological entity with no sense of self-preservation (an alien bee of sorts).

    Also there is a sort of disharmony between "I can not die" and "my death".

    If I (with my crappy writing skills) would rewrite the last paragraph it would be something like:

    "That this will result in my destruction does not concern me, for it is my destiny. I am an Apis DF-12 Drone Fighter. I feel no pain and do not fear death. I cease to be so that my people do not.

    Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori."

    Or something like that.

  5. I suppose there's nothing wrong with feelings of sadness; my main concern was that on first reading of the first draft, my test audience still thought it was a human pilot (despite subtle references to reaction speed and g-tolerances in excess of human parameters).

    The whole point of this story was "I hope that, in the future, fewer veterans die due to use of robots and drones in warfare." That's why I wrote it on Veteran's Day.

    Again, I know it's not my best work. The sentiment behind it was real, though.

  6. Really good work, though DemonicBunny's rewording of the final paragraph would clear up those minor bits of contention.

  7. Regardless, i really enjoyed it.


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