Fiction Fragment Friday

This weeks story was inspired by playing back through Fallout 4 since Christmas. Power Armor is a technology in the game, but so are combat robots. This also reminded me of many Battletech conversations I have had in the past discussing how giant robots are not practical. The truth is that we are seeing the trend move towards remote operated drones in combat where possible. It just doesn’t make sense to put a human being at risk inside a suit of armor or a giant robot when you can remotely control them from a safe location. Some level of armor does make sense, but full battle suits that could walk on their own do not.

That is the genesis of this weeks story. I took an idea that has a cool factor, but doesn’t make practical sense and challenged myself to create a scenario where it would. How successful I was I leave up to you, but as usual with this piece of flash fiction I tried to create a larger world that would make you want to know more about it.

      “We’ve got remote control drones, tanks, and who knows what else. So why are we rolling out power armor?  Doesn’t it make more sense to control this stuff remotely from the safety of a command center.  Just like everything else we design?”

      The two military engineers stood in front of a large metallic suit of armor sitting on the reinforced metal pallet.  It stood out from most of the equipment in the room because it looked far more industrial than the fully refined designs of the Directed Remote Asset Mobilization Program.  Known as D.R.A.M.P. for short; the program usually produced sleek robots, planes, and drones.  Typically, they used a modified black silicon skin designed to absorb not just visible light but infrared light as well.  This bulky suit of power armor was an ugly gray and the seams as well as wires and hoses were still visible.   

      The older engineer looked at his young assistant.  “Normally you’d be right.  This doesn’t fit our program’s mandate at all, but we have the best chance of making it work.”  He rolled a cart with a monitor and keyboard over to the suit and started unscrewing a small panel off of the armor’s back.  “How much do you know about the Trekas Revolutionary Army?”

      “What?  I just know what I’ve seen on TV.  Small time warlord somehow rose to power and took over an island somewhere in the Pacific.  What does that have to do with us?”

      “Well that’s mostly true.  There’s quite a bit more to it then you’re going to see on TV though.  See he’s got some allies including the best hacker on the planet.  Highly classified allies.”  The older man motioned around the room.  “If we send any of this stuff even near that island, they can take it over and use it against us.”

      The young man’s eyes went wide.  “That’s not possible.  These are the most advanced systems in the world with multiple firewalls and redundancies.  No way anyone no matter how good is getting in.  I wrote most of the security code myself.”

      “Well I certainly hope your code is as hard to break as your confidence in your own abilities.  Sorry kid but it doesn’t matter how good you are, in this case your outclassed.  If something has a signal coming in it’s at risk and until now all our equipment does.”  He pulled the panel free exposing a port on the armor.  Snapping a cable from the card in a command prompt came up on the cart’s monitor.  “This monstrosity while it is computerized, has no wireless interface at all.  The only way to program it is by plugging in.  The only other input is voice controlled from inside the helmet.  The communication suite is old school radio band and physically isolated from the computers.  You can’t get much more secure than that.”

      “Why bother though?  If they’re so worried about out hackers just send in a battalion of well-armed soldiers.  This thing is overkill, and way too expensive.”

      The older man smiled.  “Now that, Mr. Vasek, is an excellent question.  One that you unfortunately don’t have the clearance for me to answer.  Why don’t you keep going down that line of thought eh?  You have a few pieces of the, puzzle let’s see if you can find any more.”

      The younger man started pacing around the room.  “Ok, if we get this thing working and the design refined, they want to mass produce them.  The only reason to use this over our remote piloted robots is because of this fear of hacking.  This warlord doesn’t justify firepower of this magnitude.  That means someone else does and they have the same or greater access to hack our systems.  Nothing like that on the news and you can’t just tell me because of clearance so I’m thinking it has to be something the public doesn’t know about yet.”

      “You’ve always had an excellent grasp on logic, and I marvel at your intuitive nature.”

      “So, I’m right.”  The young man grinned.

      “I’m just complimenting my coworker on his work-related strengths.”

      “Right.  So, there is someone out there with enough strength to require an army wearing unhackable power armor.  That means they have to have a lot of resources but have somehow stayed out of the public spotlight.  That seems impossible.”

      With a hiss the armor opened.  Seams slid to the side allowing space for a person to step inside.  Cables with medical sensors were dangling down.  “How would you like to take this thing for a spin?  Maybe after you’ve tried it out, you’ll have a better idea of how you can help me with the design.  Plus, I bet it’s a hell of a lot of fun.”  He smiled at his younger coworker and helped him into the suit of armor. 

      With a few more buttons and another round of hissing the armor closed around the young engineer.  Displays loaded up showing heart rate, oxygen levels, and various vital signs that Vasek did not recognize.  He took a slow step forward and the armor moved with his motions.  It felt like walking through molasses, but the clang with each step against the floor filled him with a sense of strength.  His mind was racing with ideas on how to improve the design and make the pilot more comfortable.  He thought through the list of verbal commands he had read about.  “Command Status”, he spoke as clearly as he could.  It was loud inside the helmet, but his screen started running through the various on-board systems and measurements.  “Hey Jack, this thing says it’s pressurized, and I have readings on air and temperature.  Did you design it to function underwater or in space?” 

      The voice of the older man came crackling over the radio inside the helmet.  “Theoretically, since it hasn’t been tested in either, it should function in space, but not all the external systems are waterproof so I wouldn’t recommend taking it underwater just yet.  Maybe a future design if that becomes a requirement.”

      Vasek thought about what the older man had said.  He seemed to be choosing his words carefully.  The suit did not have a design requirement for underwater functionality, but it could function in space which meant it did have that requirement or Jack would not have known the answer so quickly.  This brought some questions to his mind, but he knew he couldn’t just ask outright.  “Hey Jack.  Did I ever tell you I was a write as a hobby?  I’m working on a Science Fiction story and as a man of science I thought maybe you could tell me if you think my setup is plausible.”  He hoped that the older man could see through his question.

      “A game of hypothetical situations if you will?  Sure I’d be happy to.”  Vasek could hear the smile in the man’s voice.

      “Well, my story is about an alien invasion.  These aliens don’t want to just rush in blindly though.  They don’t think humans are a risk, but there are an awful lot of them.  So instead, they send a recon force.  Just a few to learn the technology and assess the risk.  They’re hyper-intelligent though so they master our computers really quickly.  They figure they can make things a lot easier if they get people distracted by fighting against each other.  Once they know it works the invasion force can just swoop in and use our own technology against us.  So, what do you think, is the concept plausible enough?”

            “Well, I’d certainly love to hear how the humans fight back in your story.  Let’s discuss that over lunch.  For now, though let’s focus on work.  I think you’ve learned everything you need to help me perfect this design.  Come on back and let’s get you out of there.”