We’re already sending machines to kill people — but what happens when those machines can walk and talk? And when we put our own minds into them, so we can control them as if they were our own bodies? That’s the nightmarish future in this excerpt from Christopher Golden’s Tin Men.
A low, tinny alarm buzzed. Danny breathed deeply of the richly oxygenated air in the canister and felt himself floating, drifting into something not unlike sleep. It felt as if he were sinking into a sea of warm, dark water, an ocean of shadow . . .
Inhaling sharply, Danny opened his eyes to the bright, baking sunlight of the streets of Damascus. He blinked twice, heard the low clicks that went along with blinking, and a silent computer readout sprang to vivid life across his vision. Temperature, time, precise GPS locations for himself and every member of his unit, readout of avail¬able weapons and ammunition, and more.
“Those assholes,” Kate snapped.
Danny heard her voice in his head, just as he’d heard Uncle’s. He glanced around and spotted her a few feet away, standing in the jag¬ged shadow thrown by the ruins of the Khan As’ad Pasha. Even with¬out the markings on her dusty frame, he would have recognized the way she carried herself. He imagined that back when her flesh-and-blood legs had still been in working order, she’d moved in much the same way as she did now, in the robot body assigned to her by the 1st Remote Infantry Division.
Like the rest of them, her frame had an antique sort of bone-white hue that blended well in most old Damascus neighborhoods and could color-shift to black once the sun went down. But Kate and the soldiers from the other two platoons who shared this frame with her had modified it with a pair of devil horns painted on the sides of the metal skull and a small trident pitchfork on the left cheek. Danny’s own frame had the number thirteen painted on the forehead, flaunt¬ing superstition with his personal number. The soldiers on the other two shifts who shared his frame had appreciated his desire to taunt Lady Luck.
“Which assholes are we talking about exactly?” he asked.
“Cupcakes,” Kate said, pointing at his chest. “Look what they did.”
Danny glanced down and saw the target on his chest, painted in perfectly concentric circles of red, white, and blue.
“That’s not funny,” Kate said.
He smiled, knowing that she would recognize the small variation in the expression on his robotic face.
“Well,” Danny said slowly, “it’s kind of funny.”
Before she could reply, Sergeant Morello started barking orders and the platoon gathered in two rows, standing at attention. Lieuten¬ant Trang stood behind Morello. Neither man had any marking on his frame that indicated rank, but anyone watching would have picked up the command structure easily enough. Trang had an infin¬ity symbol on his chest, while Morello’s frame was marked only with black stripes under the eyes, the sort football players painted on to cut the sun’s glare.
“Platoon C reported zero hostile activity during the past eight hours,” the sergeant said. “That might make you lazy assholes feel all cozy and safe, but it ought to make you paranoid as hell. No news is good news, that’s what they say, right? I say bullshit. No news means somebody’s trying hard to come up with a new way to kill you today. So I want you all extra sharp. You see anything that looks wrong or just feels wrong, you sound off. Got me?”
“Yes, Sergeant!” Platoon A chorused.
He didn’t ask them to repeat it.
“Just don’t be stupid,” Morello said. “Move out!”
Platoon A began to spread out along the broad street in front of the wreckage of what had once been among the most beautiful build¬ings in the world. The domes of the Khan As’ad Pasha had drawn tourists from around the globe. The shadowed beauty of its interior, the gentle interdependence of its architecture . . . like almost every¬thing else the Syrian people held dear, it had been obliterated in a civil war. Danny had heard the expression “never shit where you eat,” and thought it a crude but effective wisdom. The Syrians might hate America now, but they’d been their own worst enemies.
The Tin Men fanned out into the streets and souqs, weapons held at the ready with hydraulic muscles that would never tire. Danny knew that none of them would take Sergeant Morello’s warning to heart. Some jihadist prick could nuke Damascus, incinerate their robot frames, and the worst the Tin Men would suffer was psycho¬logical trauma. Compared to the old way of soldiering, it was a sweet gig. They could wage war without any casualties on the American side.
They had to stay alert in order to do their jobs properly, to keep the peace and maintain order in a city where they were considered in¬truders, devils second only to Shaitan. They needed to stay frosty-a single substantial screwup might cause an international incident, and the U.S. Army’s remote infantry was controversial enough already-but at the end of the shift, all of them were going to wake up safe and sound in their own bodies, back at the Hump.
Danny hadn’t been lying. He did think the target on his chest was a little bit funny. But he hadn’t told the entire truth, either. When he’d glanced down and seen that target, he’d shivered-and not only his flesh-and-blood body, back in Germany. His whole robot frame had shuddered just a little.
Snipers and martyrs were always taking shots at the Tin Men, but he had never felt like a target until today.
From the book TIN MEN by Christopher Golden. Copyright © 2015 by Daring Greatly Corporation, Inc. Reprinted by arrangement with Ballantine Books, an imprint of Random House, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. All rights reserved.