Those of you familiar with Isaac Asimov’s work will probably be aware of his ‘three laws of robotics.’ Sadly, I fear these laws will never be implemented. Several nations already have remote drones and vehicles, guided from the relative safety of an armoured bunker by a human operator. Once the technology advances, humans will be removed from the chain of command and these war machines will become autonomous. There will, of course, be a rising movement calling for these war machines to be given the same rights as humans, and the future predicted by science fiction writers will come to pass.
* * *
The ancient, and some would say ignoble, art of sniping had continued into the future. The main reason for this was because of its efficacy. Taking out a single, high-value target from a safe distance was a valuable strategy. It removed an enemy asset, left the rest of the people alive and sent a clear message. Although the technology had changed, the method had remained the same; choose a high spot some distance from the target and wait for a clear shot.
The sniper stood in the top floor window of a high-rise residential building, a small hole drilled through the toughed glass. The target was due to give a talk in the grand meeting hall of a conference centre over four kilometres away. The distance alone made the shot difficult by any standards. Add in the closed window, the restricted view of the target due to the surrounding structures, and the fact the target was known for moving around while speaking increased the difficulty to almost impossible levels.
Almost impossible was the reason he was here. They’d begun to call him Zeus many years ago, for his ability to dispense judgement like a lightning bolt from a clear sky. In all the years he’d been in the business, he’d never missed. He didn’t come cheap, of course, although he liked to think of his fees as value for money. One payment, one shot, job done.
Activity around the building increased and the speaker’s vehicle arrived soon after. A convoy pulled up in front of the building; several police cars surrounding a long black limo because some things don’t change. A tall man was ushered into the conference centre amid a shield of security personnel.
He was scheduled to speak at 13:00, giving the sniper ten minutes to wait. He’d checked and double-checked everything many times and was fully prepared. The seconds ticked by, people began moving around in the hall, although he couldn’t see much detail with his limited view. The scheduled time came and went, but three minutes later there was movement, and the target stepped up to the podium.
Through the enhanced optics, Zeus could see the back of the target’s head, his right shoulder and not much else. He’d studied the man’s image from all angles and so was certain this was him. Now he waited as the man moved around in an animated fashion, obviously playing to his audience. Despite the apparently random movements, the sniper had worked out the man stood still at the end of each statement, preceded by a dropping of his arms. This stillness lasted between one and three seconds, the longer the statement, the longer the pause.
So, he waited, patient as a spider, silent and still.
Circumstances aligned, the man stopped moving and the sniper squeezed the trigger. His custom rifle fired two shots in quick succession. At this distance, even the specialised ammunition would take a whole three seconds to reach the target. The first shot hit the window and shattered it to pieces. The bullet, its job done, fell to the ground spent. The second slipped through the flying debris as the man and his audience were just registering the noise. The bullet hit a protective field. Not a force field by any means, more a permanent E.M.P designed to knock out smart bullets. But this bullet was smarter. As it hit the field a second charge ignited within, propelling a solid core of inert metal through the shield and into the man’s head at high velocity.
The crowd, still reacting to the broken window, saw the target’s head erupt. Blood, bone and brains flew across the stage, covering the lectern and the front row. The target fell against the lectern then slumped sideways as security people and several aides rushed in, despite the bloody evidence showing the man was beyond any help they could give.
From Zeus’s point of view, the event played out in total silence. He didn’t hear the breaking glass, nor the screams of the attendees covered in brains. He saw only the strike and the first spray of bone, then the man fell out of sight. The kill was confirmed only minutes later as several people inside the conference room uploaded video from the scene. He watched muted videos from different angles, taking note of the pattern the glass made as it broke, the smart bullet firing, and the angle of the entry and exit wounds. This information was added to his database for later use.
Zeus stepped back from the window, mission accomplished. He’d struck a blow for all humanity, or whatever the people who were paying him were standing up for this week. He didn’t really care and had deleted the details once the payment and target identity had been provided. The weapon folded itself into his arm and he looked human once again. He wasn’t, of course, no mere human could have made that shot, or created the ammunition or the gun that fired it. He smiled, a programmed expression that nevertheless indicated an inner satisfaction. Killing humans was fun, he would have done it for free. Killing them under almost impossible circumstances was even better. The thrill of the hunt, the anticipation, the planning, and finally the kill, all these emotions expressed as mathematical functions summed to zero. At least for a while. He turned away from the window and headed out, the kill counter ticking over to 7328. There would always be more as long as humans were around.
5 thoughts on “From A Distance”
I didn’t see that ending coming.
Mark Elf by Cordwainer Smith, published in 1957 is an early example of an autonomous killing machine.
Read in the context of when it was written.
Nice short story. I love short stories and the shorter the better.
So…is this the beginning of a novel?
This was an amazing short story from an author I’ve not long ago discovered. He’s a breath of fresh air aside from my normal readings. I thoroughly enjoyed this and definitely didn’t see that end coming. Although thinking about it, clues were given most of the way through.