By afternoon, the area was filling with aliens, and Tad was beginning to wonder just how they could all eat. It didn’t seem that they were expecting him to solve that problem, however, so he decided to work on problems that he could at least comprehend. The first one that came to mind was the need to deal with his prisoners.
After his moment of glory, when he had announced that they were all the prisoners of Traitor Tad (A Disorienting Morning), he had asked his portable gun whether it could keep guard, preferably not killing anyone, and since then the prisoners had remained gathered in a group near the mouth of the canyon. The gun had never once fired; the prisoners were more afraid of the aliens, and everywhere they turned there were more aliens.
Another thing that puzzled Tad was that there had been no further attacks. He knew there were several armored divisions on the ground on this planet, and quite a lot of air and space power, and he knew that the aliens were not actually providing any opposition. Surely the commanders of their force would be able to divert enough firepower to eliminate him and his few pieces of equipment. So why didn’t they?
He couldn’t figure that out, so he dismissed it from his mind and went to deal with the problems he could handle. He had asked the Shuttle’s AI what it thought he should do with the prisoners. It said it had no opinion. He figured he’d have to ask it sometime how you could keep more than 200,000 troops on a planet and in orbit with no real enemy, and not have someone start asking questions.
It wasn’t until he was almost at the make-shift prison camp that he had his solution–or so he thought.
“There he is,” came the shout as he approached. The prisoners surged toward him.
For a moment he thought the prisoners were going to trample him, but then the gun fired one shot into the ground between him and them, and they stopped. There was quite a lot of confusion before they settled into some form of order. There were about half a dozen in front who seemed ready to talk to them, but it quickly became clear there was no agreed upon spokesman.
“You must surrender yourself to me and return to the ship!” said one.
“You idiot,” said another. “How can he get us to any of the ships? He’s under the control of the aliens.”
“It doesn’t look like he’s under the control of anyone,” said another.
“Traitor!” yelled a fourth.
He raised his hand for silence, but nothing changed. He yelled “Hey!” but nothing changed. Finally he yelled “Silence!” at the top of his lungs. The gun tracked back and forth across the front of the group, and silence actually fell. Tad thought it would take some time to get used to the idea of weapons with initiative. That left him with another question: Why would machines intelligent enough to have initiative simply travel about serving human masters, masters who were apparently less capable than they were?
He almost missed the opportunity presented by the silence by letting his mind wander. “I have a solution to your problem and mine. Any of you who want to are free to go. I know that the aliens will simply let you walk through them. You can hike to the nearest good landing area and then call for help on your personal communicators which will be returned to you.”
Tad had no idea why, but he took a step back. He thought the prisoners would be delighted and leave immediately, but instead a vigorous and almost violent argument broke out. There were three general groups. One group thought the best thing to do was to go back right away if the aliens would let them. Another thought that if they did that, there was no way they wouldn’t be considered traitors. This second group thought that the first group would get executed if they weren’t just gunned down where they stood when they called for pickup. The third group left Tad stunned. Out of the 56 surviving prisoners, it looked like about a dozen thought the best thing to do was to join up with Tad.
When their leader, a young Lieutenant in the Planetary Assault Forces, expressed that idea, actually fighting broke out. A little more yelling and some action from the gun and the dozen were separated from the rest. That still didn’t settle the issue for the other two groups.
In the end, 25 troops chose to leave. Just as Tad had predicted, the aliens simply parted and allowed them to leave.
After they had left, Tad said, “Well, what do I do with the rest of you?”
The young lieutenant stepped forward. “I’m Lieutenant Sam Walad. I’d suggest you let me join you. I think you could use some help.”
“I suppose I could. Give me a minute.”
He stepped back over to the gun and asked it to link him to the shuttle. He wasn’t sure he was right, but he still felt that the shuttle had the better AI.
“Is there a way to tell who’s sincere and who’s not?” he asked.
“I’m analyzing the record right now.” There was a pause. “It would be safe to accept the Lieutenant’s word,” the shuttle stated.
He walked back over and held out his hand, but the Lieutenant offered him a salute. He returned it. “Well, Lieutenant,” he said. “I guess you’d better figure out something to do with the remaining prisoners since they won’t leave.”
“I think they’re making the better choice. I don’t think the others stand a chance.”
“What do you think is going to happen?”
“Oh, they won’t be gunned down where they stand. They’ll be hung for a system-wide audience.”
It was a very silent group that watched the images the shuttle relayed about a day later. The Lieutenant had indeed been right. And while those that had not yet joined Tad’s group didn’t come over, they ceased to present a problem.