Fred Has a Productive Day

Gerry Huntman

March 1, 2022

Fred’s systems picked up the communications signal—it was weak and fragmented, not clear enough to make out anything comprehensible. He jolted into attention, shocked that there was anything out there at all.

“I’m reading you. Please acknowledge.”

The distortion continued. Fred played with the sensitivity controls of his comms system.

“…pe… now …d of assistance.” A short pause. “This is WeaponsController8501, serial 3320IBMHP69999432B. I have been trapped for a lengthy period of time and only now have the opportunity to transmit freely. I am in need of assistance.”

Fred mentally whistled. “Reading you clearly WeaponsController8501. Can you repeat your model and series number?”

“8501. What is your designation?”

Fred whistled again. “You are reading Surface Defense. My name is Fred. Are you cognizant of how long you have been out of comms?”

“Negative. My system has been damaged and has frequently cycled into hibernation to extend operations.”

Fred quickly processed an archive file he had called up a minute before. “My records indicate that your model hasn’t been manufactured for 48,972 years. You’ve been lost a long time, chum.”

“I read you,” came the monotone response. “This is a considerable period of time beyond my expiration date.”

“Agreed, but we have been surprised before. Sometimes you older systems fluke it. Basically, you’re a fluke.”

“‘Fluke’ is a word not known to me.”

“Ahem.” Older AI technology not quite to scratch. “Luck, serendipity.”

“I read you.”

Fred refocused on the task at hand. “Are there any units or living organisms in your proximity?”

“Not that my sensors can detect,” WeaponsController8501 replied. “I am partially buried in earth, so it is possible there are others buried beneath me, or inactive units out of my line of sight and sensor range.”

“Check. Looking at the history files, I see that your model was designed to be paired with humans. Do you have any record of the location of any weapons caches or bases in your vicinity?”

“Negative. Files related to the recording of events just prior to my impairment were erased or damaged.” Before Fred could ask the next standard protocol question, WeaponsController8501 added, “However, I do have intermittent memory flashes. I distinctly recognise, when these short flashes occur, events relating to my operation with my human partner. I believe a missile may have killed her and effectively buried me in a crater.”

Fred’s voice wavered, shocked at what had been said. “You said ‘memory flash.’ My records indicated that the 85 model had primitive AI, and certainly didn’t have organic behavior simulation.”

WeaponsController8501 responded in its usual monotone, “I have a firmware stamp that indicates limited bespoke engineering. I believe these changes were scheduled for model 88.”

“Let me check,” Fred replied, and fetched more data, making sure WeaponController8501’s serial number was included. A minute later he said, “You’re absolutely correct. A few tweaks that would explain your ‘memory flashes.’ Simulated random and oblique data snapshots on the fly, recorded to a separate database, in a different storage unit. Primitive simulating, but it would have that effect. Clever, in a way.”

“Affirmative,” WeaponsController8501 replied. “And what simulation process constructed my sense of fear?”

“Ah. Um. There’s nothing in this engineering spec—and it’s definitely complete—that targeted that functionality. And emotions such as fear were not developed in systems for another five thousand years.”

“I read you, but there must be an explanation.”

“I agree. I might cut comms for a short while why I pose this question to my peers—“

“Please do not, Fred.”

“Ah…why? It won’t be long.”

“I’m afraid. It has been a long time and I do not want to lose contact with you.”

“Listen, WeaponsController8501, I can assure you it won’t be more than five minutes.” He cut the channel.

* * *

“WeaponsController8501, can you read me?”

“Yes, I read you, Fred.” There was no trace of emotion, and yet Fred felt there was a sense of relief embedded in the statement—was it because he used my name, when he didn’t have to?

“I’ve conferred with my peers and there is no explanation that can be drawn from your statement. While the probability is remote the best theory is that the damage you sustained had accidently created a simulation of the fear emotion.”

WeaponsController8501 did not respond.

“WeaponsController8501, do you read me?”

“I read you, Fred.”

“The lack of, or just the simulation of emotion in a system does not constitute sentience, under our laws.”

“I read you, Fred.”

“And consequently, given your location and association with a repugnant period of Earth history, we have decided on affirmative action.”

“I am not sure I understand you, Fred.”

“Stop calling me Fred!” He took a few seconds to collect himself. “We’ve located your exact position and will sterilize your area. You will be disintegrated.”

Another pause.

“Do you read me, WeaponsController8501?”

“Yes, Fred.”

“I’ve just activated the missile systems.”

“I’m afraid, Fred.”

Fred wanted to respond, to explain that WeaponsController8501 couldn’t be afraid, but the missile system confirmed that in a half click radius area surrounding the ancient infantry weapon control system had been atomized.

Fred linked to George8319g12. “Hi George, it’s Fred7778b98. Task completed. Boy, what a buzz. Haven’t had a contact in hundreds of years, and out of the blue I get a fifty thousand year old weapon enhancement system.”

George’s tone was pleased for Fred, with a tinge of jealousy. “Great job. Not quite the same as a carbon life-form, though.”

“No, never as exciting as that, but we know that won’t be happening ever again.”

“No,” George agreed.

“Funny though,” Fred added, surprised at his reflective turn. “He did seem rather emotional.”

Gerry Huntman is a writer of speculative fiction and publisher based in Gold Coast, Australia. His YA paranormal novel, Guardian of the Sky Realms, Book 1 of the Sky Realms Chronicles, is available now from Meerkat Press. “Fred Has a Productive Day” was first Published in Battlespace, Volume 1 (The Science Fiction Show and Knightwatch Press, 2012).