A while later, after discussions with some of the local tribal elders Choc had placed TAMaxwell on a rock in the canyon leading up to the mine entrance. Most of the local tribespeople had moved to caves further away to try and stay safe, but many of the men had opted to stay and fight.
“Better to die on our feet than on our knees,” one of them had told her. TAMaxwell had twittered and wiggled its ears at this. Choc couldn’t help but wonder at the tiny little ball of fur. It seemed that heroes came in all sizes. Choc crouched behind a rock waiting. After some time she made out a humming sound approaching from behind her, she turned to see a familiar sight. Even though Choc knew that facial expressions were impossible, Steve still looked annoyed.
“Was that really necessary Miss Harvey?” He glided to a stop beside her.
Choc frowned. “I thought I powered you down.”
“Asimov’s first law of robotics Miss Harvey. I cannot allow you to put yourself in harm’s way.”
“I’m not putting myself in harm’s way,” said Choc. “Harm is making a detour to find me. I order you to go back.”
“I am sorry Miss Harvey, but your order breaks Asimov’s second law, and therefore the first law as well.”
“Well, stay there and don’t do anything.”
“Oh all right!” Choc threw up her hands in exasperation. “Remind me to have a word with that Asimov bloke the next time I see him.”
“Duly noted Miss Harvey.”
“Oh, Steve. Where would I be without you?” Choc smiled, then leant over and gave his casing a small kiss.
“I do not know,” said Steve, “but I predict with 96% certainty, and an error of plus or minus 0.03%, that you would be getting yourself into trouble.”
“What about the modified DNA information, is it safe?”
“Yes, Miss Harvey. Do not worry. It is in a place where it will come to no harm and do the most good. Where is TAMaxwell?”
Choc pointed to a rock about thirty feet in front of them and directly in the path of the oncoming Smibbles.
“A good choice,” said Steve. “The Smibbles cannot fail to see it and we are protected here from any potential fall-out or other violence as the new DNA takes effect.”
“I just hope it works,” said Choc.
“I believe we are about to find out,” said Steve. The first Smibbles had entered the canyon. As Choc and Steve watched, the canyon began to fill with tens, then hundreds, then thousands of small balls of fur, all with bunny ears and prominent fangs. Ahead of them, on the rock, TAMaxwell trembled slightly, chittering to itself.
The Smibbles came on. A never ending stream of fur shimmered in the sun and smog that still enveloped this part of the country. As they made their way up from the valley floor, Choc was transfixed. Slowly, slowly they came on, inching their way forward. After around fifteen minutes they came within sight of TAMaxwell sitting on the rock. The Smibbles gathered round, curious.
“What’s happening?” asked Choc. “Why don’t they do something?”
The lead Smibble twitched its nose a few times, glaring at TAMaxwell, now sitting still but with its ears bent.
“I wish I knew what it was thinking,” said Choc.
“I believe it said ‘Do you really expect us to fall for this old trick?’” said Steve.
“You speak Smibble?” Choc was gobsmacked.
Steve hummed, “I am a translator in over six million forms of communication,” he replied.
Choc frowned. “Steve, there are no Smibbles in Star Wars.”
“Of course Miss Harvey. Actually, I picked it up from TAMaxwell when we were doing the experiments. Although the Smibbles seem to have developed a new dialect, and their use of sarcasm is unexpected.”
Choc raised a hand.
“Shutting up Miss Harvey,” said Steve.
Choc stood up and addressed the lead Smibble. “I know that you are programmed to understand the effects of over-population. Your numbers are out of control. You will destroy mankind, you were not designed for that.”
The lead Smibble twittered and twitched its nose. “They say that they were designed to save the planet from the effects of man-made climate change and global warming. They do not care about the fate of mankind,” translated Steve.
“But humans are facing extinction because of you,” Choc pleaded. She turned, pointing to the few men brave enough, or crazy enough, to be watching from the top of the hill. “These people live lightly on the land. They give back, recycle and nurture the ground. They are no threat to anyone. They should not suffer because of the mistakes of others,” her voice cracked, “they shouldn’t suffer because of what I did.”
Twitch, twitch, snuffle, ear-scratch, twitch.
“Yet suffer they do,” translated Steve, “Humanity still faced extinction without our existence. The responsibility for their deaths does not lie with us. If you wanted humans to thrive, you and your kind would have heeded their warnings. You invent machines to make things better, yet you fail to realise how good things already are. You are obsessed with money, technology and celebrity without stopping to consider what these really mean. You are willing to live in ignorance because you fear what knowledge could teach you.” Steve paused. “The question is whether humanity is worthy to survive,” he finished.
Awestruck Choc looked at Steve. “You got all that from a few gestures?” she asked.
“It’s all in the tone,” replied Steve.
Choc turned back to the Smibble.“Who are you to judge humanity?” she asked. Before the Smibble could gesture Steve replied,“It’s in their programming.”
“You were watching Celebrity Big Brother during their programming stage. Judgement and evaluation are part of what makes them who they are,” he said.
Ear-scratch, rub paws, twitch.
“Apparently 100% of the voting audience has decided that humanity doesn’t deserve to survive,” said Steve.
“But they wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for me,” retorted Choc.
Blink, bend ear, rub paws, twitch, twitch, ear-scratch, snuffle, twitch, blink.
“We owe you nothing.”
Choc stared at the Smibbles. The Smibbles stared back. Steve hummed. No one moved. A small wind eddy disturbed the sand creating a tiny dune. A scorpion scuttled out from behind a rock, and then seeming to think better of its actions ran back out of sight. On the rock ahead of them TAMaxwell began to tremble, but defiantly, the Smibble held its ground.
The Smibbles pounced. TAMaxwell and the rock disappeared in a sea of fur.
“No!” Choc started running. Suddenly she was flailing and scrabbling, forward momentum halted, running as fast as she could, yet going nowhere.
“Miss Harvey,” Steve’s electronic voice was loud in her ear, “I cannot allow you to do that.”
“But TAMaxwell! I have to save it.”
“I fear you are too late Miss Harvey.” The Smibbles parted. Too stunned to move, Choc looked across to the rock and the remains of TAMaxwell. There wasn’t enough of the Smibble left to make a fur ball.
“The Smibble didn’t deserve to die. It hadn’t done anything wrong,” she said, brushing away a tear.
“TAMaxwell understood the risk,” said Steve, releasing her, “the Smibble made its own choice.”
Choc turned to Steve, a puzzled look on her face. “Steve? Since when could you restrain things?”
“It’s my new electro-magnet,” explained Steve. “Although I can see the attraction, your modification to pick up stray paperclips and ball bearings appears to exceed the required power criteria.”
“I’ll be sure to check it during your next maintenance cycle,” replied Choc, she turned back to the Smibbles still gathered around the rock ahead of them.
“Any suggestions?” she asked. She felt a nudge against her right arm and turned to see a glass of whiskey. “Your logic is impeccable,” she said, gulping it down.
Momentarily stopped by the distraction of TAMaxwell, the Smibbles now advanced.
Throwing down the glass, Choc turned and ran. From above several men threw missiles, knocking some of the Smibbles aside. The main horde continued unhampered. Running and clawing her way up the side of the canyon, Choc tripped as a stone came loose under her foot. Something grabbed at her ankle, but she pulled away and began to climb once more. Again, something clutched at her ankle. Pulling away quickly, it gripped tighter and Choc felt a piercing pain in her left leg. Then there was a whistle past her ear and a thud. The something let go and the pain disappeared. Choc looked down to see a Smibble out cold, a boomerang beside it.
“And I thought they were just trash for tourists,” she said. She felt blood begin to run down her leg and she resumed climbing. Looking behind her the oncoming torrent of Smibbles was relentless. Choc gasped. The valley was flooded with them now. Even if she outran the first few, the rest would be inescapable.
She turned to face the coming onslaught. As the tribal elder had said, it was better to die on her feet than on her knees, she wondered if she would be as brave as TAMaxwell. The first Smibble hit her then. Its aim was off and it smacked her in the arm, but it was still first. The wave of fur came on chocking, suffocating, although warm with rather a high insulation value Choc reasoned as the numbers of enclosing Smibbles forced her down to the ground. Choc struggled to breathe, the world became black as the Smibbles blocked out the light. She could hear scuffling and twittering as Smibbles jostled one another to get closer and attack. Pain overwhelmed her whole body. Her arms and legs were pinned down. She could hardly move her chest, not that there seemed any air left to breathe. From above her came a whirring sound and several Smibbles seemed to scream as they scattered. Choc breathed in the life-saving smog. She shook off a few Smibbles and sat up to see the Smibbles now tearing into Steve who had launch himself into the middle of the pack.
“No!” Choc cried, grasping for Steve under a sea of ripping, biting Smibbles. “Steve!”
“Save yourself Miss Harvey, go while you still can, ” said Steve, his electronic voice partially muffled by the enclosing mound of fur. Beaten back by the pressure of Smibbles around her, Choc stood and stared.
There was a sound of splintering as Steve’s carbon-composite casing was split from top to bottom. Choc took a few steps back and then, turning, stumbled further up the path. Behind her sounds of ripping, shredding and beeping continued. Several Smibbles bypassed the remains of Steve and came to harry her further away. This was death by a thousand cuts. Every time she went to stop, the Smibbles ushered her on. Her clothing was torn to shreds and she was covered in cuts and bruises.
From behind her Choc heard a low hum, as she turned to see where it was coming from, a Smibble nipped her ankle and she yelped in pain. The hum increased slightly in intensity. A few Smibbles around her paused for a moment before resuming their attacks. At some level Choc registered that the Smibbles were acting strangely, but she was so exhausted now that everything seemed strange. After the stress of escaping, too much whiskey, a full night of trying to bio-engineer TAMaxwell, too much tea, and no sleep, Choc’s mental acuity was failing. Again the hum increased in intensity. More Smibbles had joined in the attack now. This was pointless she realised. It was time to stop, give in, let the Smibbles take her. TAMaxwell was dead, and Steve was gone. What was left?
Choc stumbled to a stop and looked around, something was wrong. She looked down, nothing was biting at her. In fact, nothing had attacked her for several moments. Around her feet, several Smibbles quivered. She looked again, no, they weren’t quivering – vibrating, expanding. Expanding?! She turned, before her in the canyon was a sight that could only be described as the effect you might get if you shook a plate of spreading mouldy jello. Slowly, steadily, the tempo of the vibrations increased. The intensity of the sound made Choc scream. She covered her ears with her hands to no effect. The sea of fur before her swelled, almost filling the canyon. The pitch of the vibration increased beyond the range of Choc’s hearing and then
Choc was bowled over. For a while there was nothing.
Shaking her head, Choc took an internal inventory. Nothing broken, left ankle hurting, headache, dehydration, something warm trickling down her leg, a breeze on her face, stones under her hands – she was on the ground, shaken, covered in cuts, bruises and pieces of fur, but otherwise unharmed. Dust and fur floated down to the ground around her.
Chocolate Harvey looked at the scene of devastation around her. Turning over several pieces of fur and carbon-fibre, a twinkle of silver in the sunlight caught her eye. Sweeping aside grit with her fingers, she made out the name ‘Steve A’Dore’.
“Oh Steve,” she said, “how did it come to this?”
A couple of indicator LEDs blinked.
A raspy voice crackled, “we may have saved the world Miss Harvey.”
Tears began to stream down Choc’s face, “Yeah Steve maybe we did.” She sighed. “Do you think we did the right thing?”