Written for The Speakeasy at Yeah, Write. A story about loyalty and a wonderful guardian begins after the photo.
Genre: Science Fiction
I found the tracks in the deep snow between the trees. I estimated almost thirty feet between each set of prints. My god, the dog had to be running faster than a cheetah. I shouldn’t have been surprised though. Starlight was mad, really mad, but most importantly he wasn’t a dog. He was a machine.
In 2062, General Dynamics asked our team to make something totally outside the box. We listened. The artificial war dogs currently deployed were loved by the soldiers like someone who appreciated a great tool. It wasn’t the powerful attachment that a person felt for a real dog. That’s what General Dynamics wanted. Not just a weapon system, but a companion who provided comfort and bonded with soldiers under duress in the battlefield.
By 2069, prototype #8 was ready for testing. Starlight was big, like a Newfoundland. With Isabella’s incredible work on his skin and fur, he could fool anyone outside of a trained vet. He was friendly and definitely “doggy,” but strong enough to drag a pickup out of the mud. Though weaponless, he was potentially dangerous. That’s why we tested him with Isabella, who knew all the emergency protocols intimately.
At first, we couldn’t believe her glowing reports. I began visiting her ranch regularly to monitor Starlight. To my delight, his programmed bond to Isabella worked perfectly. She couldn’t help but love him back. I hung out with Isabella for hours at a time, Starlight’s head laying in her lap while she idly pet him. Isabella wasn’t a woman anyone would call “pretty,” but she had a warmth about her that out-shined the sun. I hadn’t realized it until I spent time with her outside the lab. In brief moments during technical discussions, I realized I could easily fall for her. I was so caught up in the project I didn’t notice that she felt the same way.
That’s why I blame myself for Bryce moving in with her. I knew she was lonely, but Bryce? I couldn’t understand it. During my visits, she doted on him, bringing him beers on demand while he doted on his massive pickup truck. He spent a lot of time customizing, caressing it like a lover. He’d return to house from it, and kick Starlight out of the way, yelling for food…now. Whenever Starlight tried to lay in Isabella’s lap, Bryce would kick and punch him until Starlight retreated from the couch, just like a good dog should react. Bryce would say, “Don’t want my woman stinkin’ like no dog.”
Info on Starlight was classified of course, so Bryce didn’t know what he was beating. Still, I worried how our prototype might react to the abuse. He was programmed to obey and do no harm, but he was still a self-programming AI. Something could go wrong.
Then I received the dreaded phone call.
When I arrived, the EMT’s were applying a temporary cast to Isabella’s arm. The bruise above her eye was a livid purple. Tears streamed down her weathered cheeks. “I gave the shutdown command, Alton,” she wailed. “I swear it!”
“It’s okay, Isabella. What happened then?”
“It worked for about five minutes. I hooked up a monitor, and I watched him unpack a pre-made hack that overrode everything. He’s hunting Bryce!”
I retrieved the monitor to see what Starlight had done. “What was the file name for the hack?”
She shivered. “Bryce.exe.”
I followed the tracks until I began to see parts of Bryce’s truck, a taillight here, bumper there. When I heard the screaming, I activated the transmitter I’d brought with me. The counter-hack I’d prepared overrode Starlight’s self-programming edits, and shut him down. I found them at the edge of a deep crevasse. Starlight is so strong, it must have been child’s play to wad the giant pickup into a ball…with Bryce inside.
Beside it, paw lifted to push the teetering Bryce-ball down the steep sides, was Starlight in shutdown mode. I looked at the pleading jagoff inside the ball and did the only thing any compassionate man could do.
I kicked the him into the crevasse.
Don’t worry. He survived.
I knew he would by the way Starlight ensconced him. I also knew Bryce would send the law after us, and GD would want their prototype back. Isabella and I, and Starlight are hiding now. The mountains are beautiful. Starlight has reprogrammed his bond with Isabella, but it’s okay. Our son Todd now has the most loyal dog any boy could ever love.
Every week, The Speakeasy Grid at Yeah, Write opens for business. The prompt is a full sentence and image. This week the sentence, “I found the tracks in the deep snow between the trees,” must start off up to 750 words of writing. The picture below must have some reference to it, but the work doesn’t have to be about it. I don’t suppose it’s hard to find Bryce in the pic below. This is glorious fun for anyone who wants to join in. Here’s this week’s prompt: http://www.yeahwrite.me/speakeasy/badges-140/