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Survival Tactics   By:

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The robots were built to serve Man; to do his work, see to his comforts, make smooth his way. Then the robots figured out an additional service putting Man out of his misery.

There was a sudden crash that hung sharply in the air, as if a tree had been hit by lightning some distance away. Then another. Alan stopped, puzzled. Two more blasts, quickly together, and the sound of a scream faintly.

Frowning, worrying about the sounds, Alan momentarily forgot to watch his step until his foot suddenly plunged into an ant hill, throwing him to the jungle floor. "Damn!" He cursed again, for the tenth time, and stood uncertainly in the dimness. From tall, moss shrouded trees, wrist thick vines hung quietly, scraping the spongy ground like the tentacles of some monstrous tree bound octopus. Fitful little plants grew straggly in the shadows of the mossy trunks, forming a dense underbrush that made walking difficult. At midday some few of the blue sun's rays filtered through to the jungle floor, but now, late afternoon on the planet, the shadows were long and gloomy.

Alan peered around him at the vine draped shadows, listening to the soft rustlings and faint twig snappings of life in the jungle. Two short, popping sounds echoed across the stillness, drowned out almost immediately and silenced by an explosive crash. Alan started, "Blaster fighting! But it can't be!"

Suddenly anxious, he slashed a hurried X in one of the trees to mark his position then turned to follow a line of similar marks back through the jungle. He tried to run, but vines blocked his way and woody shrubs caught at his legs, tripping him and holding him back. Then, through the trees he saw the clearing of the camp site, the temporary home for the scout ship and the eleven men who, with Alan, were the only humans on the jungle planet, Waiamea.

Stepping through the low shrubbery at the edge of the site, he looked across the open area to the two temporary structures, the camp headquarters where the power supplies and the computer were; and the sleeping quarters. Beyond, nose high, stood the silver scout ship that had brought the advance exploratory party of scientists and technicians to Waiamea three days before. Except for a few of the killer robots rolling slowly around the camp site on their quiet treads, there was no one about.

"So, they've finally got those things working." Alan smiled slightly. "Guess that means I owe Pete a bourbon and soda for sure. Anybody who can build a robot that hunts by homing in on animals' mind impulses ..." He stepped forward just as a roar of blue flame dissolved the branches of a tree, barely above his head.

Without pausing to think, Alan leaped back, and fell sprawling over a bush just as one of the robots rolled silently up from the right, lowering its blaster barrel to aim directly at his head. Alan froze. "My God, Pete built those things wrong!"

Suddenly a screeching whirlwind of claws and teeth hurled itself from the smoldering branches and crashed against the robot, clawing insanely at the antenna and blaster barrel. With an awkward jerk the robot swung around and fired its blaster, completely dissolving the lower half of the cat creature which had clung across the barrel. But the back pressure of the cat's body overloaded the discharge circuits. The robot started to shake, then clicked sharply as an overload relay snapped and shorted the blaster cells. The killer turned and rolled back towards the camp, leaving Alan alone.

Shakily, Alan crawled a few feet back into the undergrowth where he could lie and watch the camp, but not himself be seen. Though visibility didn't make any difference to the robots, he felt safer, somehow, hidden. He knew now what the shooting sounds had been and why there hadn't been anyone around the camp site. A charred blob lying in the grass of the clearing confirmed his hypothesis... Continue reading book >>

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