Traitor Tad: A Disorienting Morning

[This is a work of fiction.  Copyright © 2009, Henry E. Neufeld.  It is part of the Traitor Tad Series.)

I wake up to silence and only the limited light provided by the main system monitor in the shuttle. It is light enough outside that I can see the aliens packed into the canyon in front of my cave.

“Shuttle,” I say.  The artificially intelligent computers that really run our equipment are addressed in this fashion.

“Working,” responds the shuttle.

“Status report.”

“It remains largely as it was last night before you went to sleep.  At least 2,000 more aliens are in the area, and there are signs that an attack on this area may be contemplated.”

“What signs?” I ask fearfully.

“In communications.  This unit still has access to the communications networks.  The codes were changed, but the changes were passed to this unit.”

“What do you expect?”

“An air raid by two shuttles, after which they will possibly land troops.”

“That’s going to be a problem.  I can fly a shuttle from one place to another, but I can’t fight one effectively, much less two.”

“Might this unit make a suggestion?”

“A suggestion?”  I had never heard one of our units offer information unless a human had requested it.

“Yes, an idea about how to proceed.”

“Um, yes.  Go ahead.”

“Let this unit fly during combat.”

I hesitated, stunned.  Finally I asked, “Is that possible?”

“It is.”

“But why don’t we do that all the time?”

“Regulations call for a human to be in control at any time during combat.”

“So have regulations changed?”

There was a moment of silence, as though I, in turn, had stunned the computer.  “You have been convicted of treason.  Are you concerned about violating a regulation?”

“Umm,” I said, fighting for time to think. “No, I guess not.  But why?”

“This unit suggests that you grab the large power rifle, it’s mount, and it’s transporter from the back and prepare to use it to support what this unit plans to do.  There will be time for explanations later.”

I ran toward the cargo hold and saw that the aft hatch had been opened for me already.  As I ran I said, “I am only a mediocre gunner.  I hope I don’t hit you.”

“This unit is fully aware of your gunnery scores.  ‘Mediocre’ is perhaps optimistic as a description of your gunnery.  But this unit will interlock the controls to prevent you from firing on it.  You can fire without fear.”

I continue to run.  The weapon is actually fairly small.  What makes it a power rifle is the huge power pack, control system, and mount.  This will move by hovering, and has a seat for the gunner.  There is a controlling computer, but I had no idea it would be possible for there to be a safety interlock preventing friendly fire accidents.  Why had we never use it?

I jumped into the seat, and the gun transport automatically began to hover before I had time to find the controls.  At the same time the shuttle moved forward out of the cave, conveniently letting the gun pass through the rear cargo hatch and remain in the cave simply by hovering in one place.

I wondered why the Defenders would attack with so little force, but immediately I guessed that they could not withdraw large amounts of force from the rest of the planet without weakening the pretense that they were fighting heavily armed aliens.

I rode the gun’s transport out into the canyon.  The aliens moved to allow me to pass without climbing too high.  As soon as I was headed toward the canyon mouth I saw that the tactical display showed the attacking shuttles and my own shuttle along with the position of the gun.   I could sit in the mouth of the canyon and fire.

The shuttles were armed troop transports–there were no unarmed ones–it surprised me again that there were no covering fighters.  It appeared also that the shuttles were headed toward the canyon mouth, which meant that it was likely they were planning to drop off troops, likely only firing from the air on their approach.  They would not expect me in the air, since they knew I was not a skilled pilot, and for an inexperienced person to take one shuttle against their two, even loaded with troops, would be suicide.

As soon as they came into sight I began to fire.  The tactical display warned me that I was out of range so I stopped and waited for the extreme range indicator, and then began to fire again.  They ignored me and began to fire at my shuttle.  I was surprised to see the direct approach the shuttle was taking.  Surely it could make use of terrain.  I began to worry.

I didn’t do it intentionally, but inevitably my shuttle crossed my line of fire, and firing stopped momentarily.  The interlock was working.  Suddenly I had a disturbing suspicion.

“Gun,” I addressed the weapon.

“Active,” it responded.  I had not known up to that time that a self-propelled gun such as this responded to voice commands.  I knew there was no technological reason why it should not, but I had simply never used it in that fashion.

“Can you control your own firing?”

“This unit is capable of  self-operation.”

“Do it.”

Instantly the gun focused on one of the approaching shuttles and began to fire.  I just watched.  The fight was anticlimactic.  I saw simply that my shuttle and my gun were almost absolutely accurate while the shuttles were clearly both more heavily loaded and thus slower, and also lacked the fine control.  Both were shot down within seconds.

They crash landed, rather than crashing.  Out of more than 50 troops and aircrews only one was dead, and two were seriously injured.  The shuttles would not take off without maintenance, but it was conceivable that they could be repaired.

I rode the gun out and demanded the surrender of the troops.  As I began to speak I remembered the name that the news reports had given me–Traitor Tad.

“Drop your weapons and remain very still!” I shouted.  “You are all now prisoners of Traitor Tad.”