Thursday, June 7, 2012


Tactical Warfare
By Joel Zartman

She did not want to see it blowing up. The spectacular biotech monster was orbiting in its menacing way. It was a technological marvel, a space-going insect, a large bio-computer with an interior that served not only as interface, but accommodation for a crew.

Not that it needed a crew. That's why the resistance did want to blow it up. With their robotics, machines, and human sovereignty they were opposed to everything an autonomous biotech space-craft represented. Bio for the living, parts for the machines—was their motto. Interdependence and the secret dream of evolution was hers.

The Dragonflyer was the closest thing to the next step known. It was a triumph of biotechnology in the full sense of the term: living processors, aerobic circuitry, neural impulse commands and reactions. It was orbiting her home planet now, gathering information, thinking, regenerating its cells, recycling waste, bringing systems and processes online and putting others into a nurtured dormancy.

She feared a spy, an intruder. She feared the resistance would sabotage the Dragonflyer by somehow getting a bomb in, rupture its insect-like joints, put out its myriad jewel eyes, stop its impulses and scatter is material into a cloud of orbiting debris. And she had reason to fear: the ship had sent a warning just last night.


"Melissa. Yes?"

"Have you detected anything else?"

"No, but I have thought how something could sneak in."


"Below my level of consciousness. I need something, some kind of subtler system to feel under the shell that would be sensitive to smaller things. My sense of touch is scaled to my dimensions and to outer space, you see."

"I see," Melissa said. They hadn't thought of that. The Dragonflyer had been developed with a hard, outer shell for outer space: for resisting asteroids, the cold, great unforeseen shocks and blows. The complexity of the brain and systems had been thought of, not the complexity of the skin. Now she felt a new sense of dread. Her biotech creature was vulnerable.

How vulnerable she did not yet realize, but the resistance had a good hypothesis and were willing to go to great lengths to try it out. An insect sized drone had been employed. It was this the biocraft had detected, but only by accident and only for an instant. The insect drone (Anopheles delta model) had a kind of virus. The resistance was gambling and trying to take warfare on the biotechs to a new level, not just to shoot it down or bomb it.

Melissa watched the feedback from the Dragonflyer, and spotted the problem an instant after the craft itself did.

"There’s something wrong in me!" the Dragon said.

"You have a section where the neural impulses are no longer reaching and the cells are shutting down. Can you diagnose it?"

"It seems to be something causing the cells to mutate and multiply, but they don't contribute to the overall well-being, they just want to grow senselessly, with no discipline."

Melissa watched the great biocraft begin to twitch, to curl, to thrash in space. She disconnected as its communications became incomprehensible and watched the tortured, writhing death.

This is what comes—she thought—of doing it in secret, of not admitting critics to the project. She did not think it came of playing god: she would dedicate the rest of her life as she had up to this point to try and try again. And she watched as billions in investment and billions in hours and effort made its end, not with a bang as she had feared, but a whimper.

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Joel Zartman lives and works in Bogotá, Colombia. His work has appeared in Aoife's Kiss, The Mythic Circle and Yesteryear Fiction.

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