Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Robot Wars!

     After the film megacorporations had wrestled with the music industry for three thousand years to control the space colonist market niche, finally, what had always been a cultural and economic contest escalated into open war. Unfortunately, the factories producing the stylish exteriors for such products were too streamlined to rebuild, so all weapons were made to fit one of two molds: the sinister, empty stare of the TV set, or the enigmatic orb of the loudspeaker. At the height of their manufacturing power during this war, the film industry turned out a complete television-headed robot every two-point-three seconds.
     Agriculture suffered.
     From the heartlands of Ohio, a hero emerged, clad at all times in his trusty spacesuit, partially due to frequent flights to the Moon, where much of the war was fought, partially in case an unfriendly robot were to pick him up and throw him, with the full strength its cold-fusion-powered pistons, into orbit. But regardless of the spacesuit, this fellow had been raised a strong, patriotic man of the land, chivalrous toward good Christian women, compassionate toward the weak, and tireless in protecting his country. At least, that is how he was described on the globe-spanning television network. In the catchy twelve- second news-report jingles that played on the hour on the hit radio stations, solid proof was brought forward that he was a bi-curious middle-class youth raised in the Low Countries and educated in Berlin, a raver, a freelance DJ, and an award- winning hair stylist from the tender age of thirteen. The truth was that his spacesuit made it devilishly difficult to ascertain his identity, and that no-one had yet figured out which radio channel he used.


     Worse, perhaps they had stumbled on the right channel already, and he had no interest in answering.
     A union leader in Chicago was interviewed on TV, and said, “It's no wonder young people in this, the worst age of humanity, have no interest in communicating clearly to the people around them. Why, on three-quarters of TVs being built today, there isn't even anything on!”
     Meanwhile on the Moon, two million speaker-headed robots and two-point-one-two million TV-headed robots did battle. Single-minded they might be, and, yes, incapable to fulfilling their idealized purposes of entertainment. But they were not stupid, and only one robot (on each side) made the mistake of leaping toward its foes with the full strength. (Those two exited the Moon's gravitational pull and, after slinging past one asteroid after another for eight awkward months, they eventually forced each other into a collision course with Jupiter. Somewhere out beyond the small rocky planets, they are presumably still dueling as they approach their fate.) After that negative example, two clear rules of robot Moon combat emerged. First, never fire your weapons at a robot who is beneath you, because being rocketed into space yourself will temporarily negate the effect of eliminating one of the enemy on the Moon. Second and corollary, always maneuver for a position as close to the dusty surface as possible.


     And, no, despite the many pleas that robot commanders sent back to their manufacturing plants, a propulsion system that would function in the vacuum of space (apart from the robots' weapons, themselves) was never implemented.
     The robots wielded lasers and gamma-rays, corrosive acid and guided missiles, machine guns and shoulder-mounted artillery, plasma weapons and anti-matter weapons, and the cutest little jack-in-the-box toys that would play a thumb-piano “All Around the Mulberry Bush” and then explode, although who those were expected to fool is anybody's guess. The robots shot down the missiles, took shelter from the lasers, and ignored the jack-in-the-boxes with equal cold logic. Obeying their computationally perfect grasp of tactics, they crouched down and scooted back and forth across the Moon, sometimes flattening their bodies mere inches above the Moon rocks, in strange shifting formations. Only after days of nonstop scooting would the chaotic laws of fluid robot dynamics force one into an undefended position, which would cause miles of the Moon's surface to erupt immediately in gunshots, and here's why.
     Say a speaker-headed robot scoots into cover behind a Moon rock. He has calculated that the enemy formation is about to force his backup speaker-headed robots into a retreat; he knows he is about to die. Rather than flee, and allow the enemy to gain ground, he holds his position, perhaps laying down cover fire, so that his death will keep the TV-headed formation at bay.
Someone blows up his Moon rock. He dies.
     That TV-headed someone rockets backward, due to low gravity and a lack of convenient Moon rocks to brace against. He leaves a hole in his formation, and takes up space in a formation half a mile to two miles behind him, screwing up their intricate calculations as well as his own.
     Aforementioned backup speaker-headed robots perceive an opening. They scoot forward, calculate how to best take advantage of the newly holey TV-headed formation, and fire, rocketing backward, leaving holes in their own formation and cluttering those of their comrades. Simultaneously, the arrival of a TV-headed someone on the battle lines a mile or two in front of them disrupts the formation but adds firepower to the TV-heads. Even odds whether the speakers or the TVs advance, but one of them certainly calculates a perfect place to shoot at, to take advantage of the disruption. Whoever shoots, rockets backward.
     As tactically perfect beings go, robots sure get stuck in infinite-repetition loops a lot.
     And our hero, humanity's last hope, assuming that he's human to begin with, jets onto the scene (the Moon) every three weeks or so, disrupting like crazy, shooting lasers, antimatter and jack-in-the-boxes everywhere, sometimes appearing to aid one side, sometimes the other, somehow never getting shot down himself. What an ace! An expression of the chaos and imperfection that makes us human. Who is this vigilante? And does he fight for the audio tycoons, for the audiovisual tycoons, or somehow for the common good?
     We have only one piece of hard evidence, and, folks, it
could point either way. That is a damn fine stereo system he has assembled on his spaceship.


 Written by Valery Grue
Illustrated by Nemo