The Troubleshooting Reality Blog

Machine Learning

As I mentioned before, my former advisor, Dr. Chang, decided to let me work as a "provisional research assistant" under his guidance after I graduated. Since then, I've been a lab-slave at Freeman University, the school I had hoped not to see again.

My day begins the same way. After morning rituals and workout, I prepared to leave the basement I'm renting to drive to work. I threw on a gray hoodie, gloves, and tan baseball cap. I made sure I have my wallet and smart phone in a drawstring bag, and wear it on my back. I headed outside, and a cold wind hits my face like a shotgun blast. I shuffled down to my run down Toyota, and hoped the engine block hasn't joined the Great Junkyard in the Sky.

Things are pretty good, despite being tossed out of my old place by my parents. Since they didn't take discovery of my arsenal too well, I moved in next door with the kind old lady who used to give the best candy on Halloween, the old widow Mrs. May Weathers. In exchange for helping her with chores and some paltry rent, I get a nice place to crash, and some conversation whenever I wanted it.

So, why would a researcher need a trunk full of guns and random supplies? The way I figure is that if there's ever a dictatorship, the intellectuals are always among the first to go. It may not be likely now, but hey, who knows?

There's some other reasons, too. You see, not everything I work with obeys the laws of thermodynamics. Physics drills them into you: Energy and matter cannot be created, only transformed, and there's always some inefficiency in the process. Nature tends towards the lowest possible energy state, since nature's lazier than I am.

Since I work on some military-related research, I can safely say I know these laws. Yet every law has its violators, and sadly the laws of thermodynamics are no exception. Given my observations so far, there's an unwritten third one: "There are some exceptions to the above rules." Mother Nature was giving us the finger.

Now, I'm not going to bore you too much with details of how I came to learn this. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, and almost getting devoured by a werewolf was enough for me. The laws of physics seem to be suggestions the closer you get to quantum mechanics, anyway. As with the research and my side job I do every day, I often have to work with limited data points. The human brain's hardwired to look for patterns, but not enough information means you'll make the wrong conclusions. As a general rule, though, I don't use things I don't fully understand. There are good reasons for this policy, so long as you define "good" as my continued survival and prosperity.

I drove through the town of Grendale, Maryland. It's a suburban college town built around Freeman University, and some parts of the town have rather interesting histories. It's practically a city during the semester, but, then again, so is Mogadishu. My destination, however, was slightly outside of town. I drove out to where the town gave way to farmland. A few gas stations and remote developments sprung up amongst the rural landscape like cancerous blots.

Near a clump of trees was a small side road, partially hidden from view. The sign read "Freeman University Technology and Research Park," and I turned towards the entrance. I could see the building, a two-story brick structure in the center of a sea of brown grass and scrub brush badly needing to be cut. The roof was covered with solar panels and satellite dishes, standing like a beacon of science in the backwoods.

I saw a campus police car near the edge of the lot, and a familiar figure get out. A tall black woman in a police uniform stood by the building, fiddling on her cell phone. If Officer Debbie DuBois was here, chances are she had some work for me.

If she wasn't here, I would've gone right in and sat down in my office, writing technical commentary or running simulations on new military technology. I pulled into an empty lot and stood up. I honked my horn, and stepped out of the car. Debbie looked at me, and walked over. I approached her and waved. I glance down at her hips, and saw she finally had upgraded to the new campus police standard sidearm, the HK USP. Lucky woman.

"David Archer," she said, glancing at the car. "About time you showed up. I've been calling you since seven this morning!"

"I keep my phone off most of the time, since the damn thing's distracting while driving," I pulled it out and turned it on. I had five new voice messages and twice that many texts. "Want me to do some more range tests to determine the optimal amount of propellant you need?"

"The point of a cell phone is that I can reach you at ungodly hours. If you leave it off, there's no real point to it," she replied. She handed me a sealed manila envelope. "Here's something I want you to have a look at. You do this today, there's a nice bonus in it for you."

I tore open the seal, hoping to look at what was inside. This was always my favorite part of a job. I felt like a kid on Christmas morning opening his first gift.

Debbie checked her watch. "Sorry," she muttered. "Dave, I've got to get back on patrol. Wait, you've got your big guns, right?"

"Yeah, in the trunk," I thumbed towards my car. "Never leave home without them."

"You might need them," Debbie added. The policewoman briskly walked back into her patrol car, and tore out of the parking lot. I decided to look over the contents of the envelope inside at my "office." I entered the side of the building, and all natural sunlight was replaced by the dim glow of fluorescent lights installed by the lowest bidder. The tiled floor was perpetually dirty, despite custodians constantly mopping and waxing. I headed down the hallway towards my office.

"Hey, Dave," came a familiar voice beside me.

I turned to see the stocky postdoc who occupied the lab beside me. He was large, but was at least a head taller than me. His face was clean shaven and his blond hair was parted with laser-like precision down the centerline of his head. His glasses were slightly tilted, a strange offset to his otherwise symmetrical features. He walked with a slight limp on his left leg, moving around with an asymmetric gait that subconsciously made something about him seem off. Given his unofficial research interests, there may be good reason for that.

"Hey Joe," I said to Dr. Joe Martoli. He'd been here since I was an undergrad, and seemed to have designs on a permanent faculty position here. "How goes the lab work?"

"Oh, slightly ahead of schedule. The organic neural net is performing better than I expected," he replied, a grin lighting up his face. "How about you?"

"Might get complicated soon," I replied. "I might need to ask you about the you-know-what again."

"Ah, the arcane arts," Martoli said, grinning a bit wider and more smugly. "It's a pity you limit your inspiration to mundane forces. Why not explore the work of greats as Crowley and Waite? There's no reason I can't do both science and magic."

"I prefer to admire Tesla and Browning," I replied. "Anyway, I'll let you get back to your work."

He nodded and moved on. How and why he first got involved with the occult, I'll never know, and I probably don't want to. He was still helpful whenever I consulted him, so there was no reason to burn bridges.

I walked past him and walked into my office. It wasn't so much a room as much as it was a cubicle with a locked door in the middle of the hallway. Inside, I was greeted by a familiar sound. The fan in my old desktop PC sounded like a blender as it choked on dust inside. Chances are, I'd have to clean it out soon. I turned on the monitor, and saw my simulation from last night was still running. With nothing else to do, I sat down and looked through the envelope.

There was a map of the Tech Park and surrounding locations, with a few red circles in certain places. Each circle had a reference number, and I found some photos with those same references. If a picture is worth a thousand words, each of these photos would take at least that much away. Each showed a mangled animal carcass with large chunks of flesh missing. The bones and leaner meat remained, as if some predator decided to only go for the juicy parts. Whoever or whatever had killed these animals was not just some feral cat or stray dog. The first incident was dated a week ago, and showed a rabbit. The second was a stray cat. The third was a dog. The fourth was a cow. Correlation between the cases was highly probable. The culprit behind them destroyed the bodies in the same way, and similar portions of the animal's anatomy had been removed. Whatever was behind the killings was likely working its way up, in terms of biomass of prey. While humans had less biomass than the cow, we could still be at risk from whatever this thing was.

There were a few other, less interesting photos. They showed tracks in the dirt near the site of one of the incidents, which were like no animal I had ever seen. Instead of paw or claw prints, a number of serpentine ruts of varying depth and thickness were the only trace of the assailant. Whatever this thing was, it didn't use two or four legs to get around.

The last thing in the envelope was a witness statement. The owner of the deceased cow claimed to have heard a slight droning sound from out back, but saw nothing. He came out to discover his cow was no longer in the realm of the living. He thought he saw something moving in the grass, shot at it with a rifle, but it was either unaffected or missed. Like most other witness reports of this type, the person repeatedly claimed not to be insane. Statistically, this often had the opposite effect. If more livestock was being mutilated, aliens were the standard culprit to blame. However, these incidents were hardly like stereotypical cattle mutilations.

Looking over the map, I made one more key observation. There was one that drew my interest immediately. The third incident had occurred the closest to the Tech Park, in a wooded area owned by a friend of mine. If there was someone who'd want to help catch the culprit behind the slaying of a dog, it was him. I set the envelope aside, and went outside to meet with the man next door, Mr. Justin Case.

I didn't bother driving to Case's home, since his property was literally next door. Where the Tech Park owned property ended, the woods began, an invisible by effective marker between both properties. As I walked deeper into the woods, I saw a small cabin and mobile home within a fenced-in enclosure. On top of the cabin were solar panels and a small wind turbine, and a few barrels of purified rain water. Above the cabin was a flag with a coiled snake reading, "Don't Tread on Me!" Three small houses near the corner of the yard held his dogs. There was a sign proclaiming, "Private property: NO TRESPASSING!" and "Intruders will be shot. Survivors will be shot again," in big red letters. Case valued his solitude, ability to live off the grid, and the urge to get away quickly if he had to.

As I approached, I heard barking and howling. I turned to see the two surviving dogs leashed to a nearby tree. The door to the small cabin flew opened, and a hirsute man bust out. In one hand was a modified Browning automatic shotgun, and a similar gun was slung over his back. He was a ruddy, stocky man, dressed in grease and mud caked camouflage fatigues. A strange smell came from Justin Case, and I didn't want to know what his hygienic habits (or lack therefore of) were. I highly doubted Justin Case was his real name, but his body odor was bad enough to kill my curiosity, presumably along with some small animals.

"Who's there?!" he shouted. "I know you're here somewhere!"

I approached him in plain sight, with my hands up. "Mr. Case, it's just me," I hoped his trigger finger wasn't too itchy. I could see his meaty finger instead rested near the trigger guard, showing he obviously control enough to keep his finger off of the deadly mechanism.

"Dave, that you?" he lowered the weapon and perked up. "How are you doing today?"

"Alright, thanks for asking," I replied. "I've heard about your dog, and I'm sorry for you. I want to help stop whatever did the deed."

"I've tried tracking it," he set down the shotgun and took a seat on a lawn chair under a tree. "That thing ain't natural. Whatever it is, Geri and Freki didn't sniff it out."

"You don't seem too torn up over what happened to your dog," I added. "A bit more paranoid, maybe, but nothing I don't expect from you."

"I don't retreat. I reload," Case gestured towards his shotgun. "Fenrir was a good dog and companion, but I always remember the worst can happen without warning. That's why I'm prepared for it. I've got power, water, food, guns, and plenty go to around. And if I do have to flee, I've got investments in foreign accounts."

"Do you really think things will get that bad?" I asked. "Or is that more conspiracy theory?"

Case shrugged, his face hardened granite. "I don't believe in conspiracy theories. I believe in conspiracy facts. The Federal Reserve's been lowering the value of the dollar since we dropped the gold standard. The military's overextended across the world. The Feds can spy on anyone they feel like. They could have mind control satellites for all we know!" he ranted. "So, I'd invest in the precious metals. I prefer silver. Good investments when everything's shit."

"Some irony there," I muttered. "Anyway, you still have that cell phone I gave you?"

"Modified it so the Feds can't listen in or track me too easily," Justin replied.

"Keep it on. If I find anything or need your help, I'll give you a call," I said. "Whatever this thing is, it's going after bigger prey with each kill. It may start going after people."

"Whatever it is, I just hope it ain't from the Feds," he replied.

"It's probably not," I said. "Anyway, I'm going to be heading back now."

I left Case's makeshift fortress, and headed back to the Tech Park. I walked through the overgrown grassy field towards that oasis of technology in the middle of nowhere. I could see the grass bending and blowing in the wind, recognizing the wave-like motions of the stalks. As I walked towards the building, I saw something that did not quite fit the profile of grassy rolling hills. If I was surrounded by "amber waves of grain," something hard to see was trampling the stalks of grass behind it. I couldn't clearly see what it was, since it was probably low to the ground. Leaving a wide swath of trampled grass behind it, I did the most rational thing I could think of. I sprinted for the building as fast as the narrow columns of meat I called my legs could carry me.

Running was something I did frequently, since cardio is good for you for more reasons than I can count. A quick glance over my shoulder showed the thing banked a sharp turn like a speeding car and came straight at me. At the speed it would overtake me before I could reach the safety of the building. I sprinted straight for my car, which was parked near the edge of the field. I was going to need some method of defending myself. The car had that.

Behind me, I could hear noises that sounded like an overloaded washing machine was charging after me. Strange rumblings and mechanical noises grew closer, and I burned whatever stamina I had left to get moving. Whatever was behind me was accelerating, but a quick glance over my shoulder saw that I had a good lead on it. The grass was still too high to see what was pursuing me. It was never a prudent idea to get too close to nasty unknown entities like this, so I sprinted as fast as I could towards my car. My eyes fixated on the goal: the trunk.

With a strange buzzing behind me, I dashed forwards to collect my only means of survival. I ran out onto the pavement and hit the hidden latch, popping the trunk opened. Inside a black oblong box was my favorite possession. I pulled out the sleek, customized Steyr AUG A3 assault rifle with a Metalstorm MAUL shotgun under the barrel. I slammed a magazine of 6.8mm SPC rounds into the mag well, chambered a round, and flicked off the safety. I turned around, with the intention of turning the horrid body-butchering monster into Swiss cheese.

The monster, however, had other plans. I felt a vice close around one of my legs as I turned around, yanking my balance away from me. I fell onto the pavement, almost smashing my head open. I could see odd colors flashing in front of my vision, and my sense of orientation was likely upside-down and inside out. I did realize I was still in motion. Something was pulling me into the high grass, with the probable intent of literally turning me inside out. I scrambled back towards the car, trying to grab a hold of something solid.

It took me a moment to realize I still held the rifle in my hands. I could see around my ankle, a hydraulic pincer of some sort was locked around my leg. The appendage was taught, and pulling me straight towards an object in the grass. I felt like a cow on the way to the slaughterhouse. I could barely see into the dense pack of brown grass, but part of my would-be butcher was visible. It had a low profile and dome shaped form, as if someone had flattened a flying saucer, painted the top in drab brown earth tones, and mounted it on a dozen roller skates. A mess of camera lenses and instruments stuck out from its "face," right above an array of mounted tools and weapons, most of them with nasty edges looking like they could hack through bone like butter. I could see two of the knife-like appendages scraping each other, sharpening their edges in anticipation of a human kill. A small hatch next to the face opened, with blood and the smell of rotting tissue issuing forth from it. Whatever this machine was, it was planning to give me some unwanted surgery.

I responded by emptying my weapon at its face. Firing both the rifle and under-barrel shotgun, I blasted the cameras, "mouth," and forearms as the thing tried to squeeze my leg tighter. I struggled like a caught fish at the end of a line, thrashing and twisting my body to try and get away. As I unloaded my salvo, I kept hammering my foot at the machine's grappling claw. If my puny muscle failed to dissuade it, my barrage of fire, smoke, and lead would be my only hope. As I was drawn over the edge of the parking lot and at the abomination machine, it suddenly released its grip and retreated into the grass.

I laid prone and confused there, for a moment, with my heart beating like a drum. Whatever that thing was, it had almost eaten me. Looking down, I could see red marks on my pants. I tried moving my toes on that foot, and carefully stood up. My leg was probably not broken, but hurt like hell. But now was not the time to sit around in the lab with an icepack on my leg. Instead, I reloaded my weapon, yanked out my Glock 21 pistol from the trunk, put on a tactical Kevlar vest, and put on a special glove on my left hand. I fell back to the Tech Park, scanning to either side to watch for additional movement. I called up Debbie.

"What's up, Dave?" she asked. "Any news on the hunt?"

"Yes. It just attacked me outside the Tech Park. No serious injuries, but I think we should evacuate everyone. Think you can use that gas leak story to get everyone to leave?" I asked. A gas leak, or surprise fire alarm, was typically the story we used to get bystanders out.

"What was the creature like? Was there more than one of them?" she asked. "Is it smart?"

"It's a saucer shaped robot of some sort, armed with blades, some sort of mechanical tentacle, and sticks to high grass. Fast little bastard, too," I replied. "I drove it off with gunfire, but not sure if it's wounded or not."

"Sounds like something out of a cheap sci-fi movie," Debbie replied. "I can't offer any backup now, but I can help get people out, and watch the radio for any more reports of this thing."

"Be sure to alert the Feds," I added, in hopes the Department of Supernatural Security would show up with armored vans full of heavily armed agents. Chances are, due to having their budget cut, they wouldn't be showing up any time soon. One of the reasons convincing proof of monster attacks is so hard to get on video is they look like cheap effects anyone with an Internet connection and Youtube account could do. But at least they handed out permits for private citizens to deal with such things, such as myself and Debbie.

Shortly afterwards, Debbie's police cruiser showed up, and she went into the administrative center of the Tech Park. An alarm was sounded shortly afterwards, and the people began to file out of the building, heading to their cars. The reason we gave was a potential gas leak, and that they had the rest of the day off. Debbie and I took turns watching the grass from the second floor, ensuring the demonic machine didn't come back.

Daylight turned into late evening as the hours wore on. I was on the second floor as I watched Debbie lead the last few workers out of the building. She gave me the "all clear" gesture, and got back in her car. Mercifully, I turned on all the lights on the outside of the building, flooding the sea of grass and scrubs with illumination.

"Hey, Dave," she said over her phone. "I'm going to go on patrol around the woods with some backup. We'll see if we can set up a perimeter. I've got a shotgun and sub-gun in case I need them. You think you can hold the fort down?"

"Gee, just me against a crazy killer robot," I mused. "What could possibly go wrong?"

"You that crazy friend of yours, right?" she asked. "Why don't you give him a call?"

"I think I will, but I'm also going to look around," I mused. "I've had this idea."

I had printed out a map of Tech Park with pins denoting the previous robot attacks, including my own in the parking lot. I had entered the coordinates into my computer, which spat out the exact center of the attacks. It was within a hundred meters of the Tech Park. Seeing as it was a robot or machine of some sort, it was logical that the Tech Park was the only place within the whole county the horrid machine could've emerged from.

Or, more precisely, this was the likely origin point for the machine to have been built in. The fact it repeated attacks around the area showed perhaps it was exploring its environment, gradually expanding its knowledge of the area and the available prey in each region. In simpler terms, someone had built and unleashed a killer robot with the instincts of a predator. It was adapting its tactics to take down different types of prey, which now included humans. There was also the chance some animal killings had gone unnoticed, perhaps hunting in the middle of nowhere. This sampling was probably a good indication of the predator's behavior.

There was one lab I could think of where such a robot could have been built. I headed downstairs, towards the lab of Dr. Martoli. I forced open the door, and began to look around. Inside, a small maze of locked cubicles held the more interesting things in the lab. I walked over to the nearest cubicle wall, and lifted myself over with my hands. Inside the first one, I saw a computer print-out of various schematics for an extendable tentacle and pincer. There was a shelf with spray paint cans in brown, gray, and olive. A number of small cameras were leaned against the wall, with an electrical diagram showing their proper positioning in a familiar insect-like arrangement. I paged through a lab notebook detailing Bayesian probability and statistics, machine learning algorithms, computer vision using infrared imagery, and most unexpectedly, Kabbalistic golemetry. That last one was the one I least expected to find, and also the least welcome.

Having seen enough evidence, I walked right out of the cubicle, intending to call up help from a very qualified source. I walked right into Dr. Martoli, holding a bizarrely shaped Rhino revolver in his hand. Having left my rifle and Glock back upstairs, I had no means of defenfing myself, should he become hostile. "Hands up," he took a few paces back, recalling the martial arts disarms I had taught him during a self-defense seminar. "So you were the one rooting around in there. Pardon my paranoia."

"I thought Debbie and I evacuated everyone," I asked.

"I was working in a small closet office," the postdoc mused. "Hard to hear the outside world, and hard for anyone to find me. Easy to lose track of time in there."

"And you were the one who built and unleashed a killer robot into the wild," I kept my hands up, watching where his pistol went. "Why'd you do it?"

"Crunch time for grants, and I need that funding to continue my research into the field," Martoli mused. "I combined golemetry with machine learning to determine that thing's thought process. The idea was it would serve as a more accurate model of a solitary ambush predator in the wild."

"Hell of an animat, then. I can follow so far. Still, there's one very, very important feature I think you would have better off removing," I mused. "Why the hell did you have it eat flesh and give it all those tools?!"

"I had hoped it would only eat small animals, you see," the mad Doctor continued. "Like those accursed rabbits, always chewing on the flowers and my vegetable patch. I had hoped to design it as a rabbit-catching machine as a model for predatory behavior. The machine would catch a rabbit, cut it up to determine vital specifics of the specimen, and digest the most useful bits in a small tank that uses symbiotic bacteria to gain electrical energy from."

"Yes, I saw the specs. There's a problem, though," I added. "It's not exactly content with eating rabbits. It's been going after bigger prey. Like a dog, a cow, and me. It almost got me near the parking lot, and cut me up so it could shove pieces of me into its mouth."

Dr. Martoli leaned backwards, a look of uncertainly and revulsion appearing on his face. "My apologies," he mused, and set down the pistol. "Hmm, perhaps it has to do with the size. To move that much mass at any appreciable speed while ambushing prey would give the chassis increased energy demands beyond what rabbits would provide..."

"Why'd you give it such a massive body, then?" I asked, moving slowly towards the pistol as I talked. I wanted to keep him distracted while I secured it. "I emptied my rifle and shotgun at its face, and it still managed to get away from it."

"I needed to save money, so I used an old, discarded prototype of some robotic space probe. It was designed to withstand micro-meteor impacts in space, so it's fairly well armored. The body also acts as a giant heatsink, and it's hard to spot on infrared, even though it sees in that spectrum. Surprisingly fast and stealthy for its size, so I added camouflage," he rattled off the specs with a hint of subtle pride on his face. "I also tied in some defensive magic, which protects it against damage."

"You said it was a rabbit hunting machine! So why would a flesh eating golem need arcane protection against damage and camouflage?" I slipped the pistol into my hand. "Any way I can defeat it?"

"Oh, I was worried it might fall and get overturned, or some driver might hit it at night," Dr. Martoli explained. "The primary vulnerability of the golemetry-inspired defensive wards is consistent application of armor-piercing weaponry, preferably at point blank range. The face is actually the most hardened points, since that's where all the sensors are. The weakest point is near the top of the shell."

I held the revolver in my hand. I kept strangely shaped, yet oddly comfortable weapon in my hand. "Listen, Dr. Martoli, I'm going to need your help. I need someone to help lure the machine up close. I've got some weapons that can destroy it for good."

He noticed the pistol had been slid off the desk. "Before you threaten me with that, Mr. Archer, keep in mind I am not intending to risk my life by fighting that construct," he stepped back. "Furthermore, I intend to leave. I am sure you and your policewoman friend have the cunning and firepower to destroy that the rogue machine, especially after I mentioned its weakness. Goodbye for now."

He backed up towards the door, and broke into a full sprint down the hallway. "Freeze!" I shouted, aiming the pistol. It took me a few seconds to realize the weapon was empty. Cursing to myself, I called up the one person I could still count on. Perhaps I could use Dr. Martoli's mad dash to escape to my advantage, and teach him a lesson at the same time.

I ran outside, and called up Justin for help, shouting an abridged version of the robot and my plan to destroy it to him as I followed the mad scientist into the parking lot. As a crazy survivalist and conspiracy theorist, he had more guns than I knew existed. He'd definitely be helpful, and had more experience than I did fighting at night.

I arrived outside to see Dr. Martoli fumbling with his keys, and driving off. Since I had no method of defending myself now that I was outside, I ignored him for the time being and got out a few other weapons of my own. I grabbed a compact P90 submachinegun, with a magazine full of enough armor-piercing bullets to shred that robot if it came too close again, and two heavy but dependable automatics, an HK SOCOM pistol, an old Mauser C96, and a trench knife for good measure. With enough small arms to start a war, I retreated back well-lit exterior of the building where I could see the lights from Martoli's car from a safe distance. His lights rounded the bend and headed for the main road, like a ship gliding over a dark sea.

I tried calling Justin again, but had no response. Chances are, he had left his phone off and was on his way over here now. I turned on the sonar emitters on my hat, and the receivers in my glove. I moved my free hand in the air back and forth as if I was waxing a car. The small vibrators in the glove went off whenever they detected rapid movement or shifting of grass. Since the robot couldn't easily be detected on thermal vision, I had to feel out its possible position sonar and vibration-enabled senses. I grasped the darkness, feeling around and groping at the field around me, hoping to find something by vibration alone. Despite the obvious applications for perverted recreation, the sonar sensory setup was still technically school property, and had to be treated with some degree of respect. I could see Martoli's lights getting dimmer and dimmer, his car taking him away from the battle between me and his insane experiment.

Eventually, every vibrator in the glove went off at once, shaking my hand like I had just got an electric shock. I saw a shape moving through some nearby grass, tall, dark, and faster than that robot. The figure was vaguely humanoid, and ran on all fours, like some misshapen horse galloping across a prairie. I could see the shape clamber onto Martoli's car, and the lights erratically swerve as the driver tried to shake the pursuer off. I heard the figure let out a wolf cry, followed by two gunshots, each blast like a cannon. Each gunshot illuminated the figure standing on the hood, blasting the engine block. The car had stopped dead, what was left of the engine block was smoldering slag, and I knew who the creature was. When fighting the occult, there was one ally who was even better to have than a crazy survivalist. That was a werewolf survivalist with holding a smoking pair of sawn-off automatic Browning Auto-5 shotguns on the hood of Dr. Martoli's car. Justin Case had modified his shotguns to be held by his clawed hands, and towered over a quivering Martoli. The postdoc, now in a genuine panic, got out of his car and ran as far and fast from his car as he could.

Scared witless, he darted into the closest field when my glove began going crazy. I assume the infrared signature of a man running screaming from his smoking car with a werewolf holding a pair of shotguns was unique enough it brought out our mechanical friend. Looking closer, I could see something was depressing nearby stalks of grass. Martoli vanished beneath the grain sea as an unseen force yanked him under. I was too far away to do anything, but I could see Justin springing into action. The werewolf ran into the grassy area after him, and leapt onto some unseen platform.

I saw his guns blast like firecrackers in the night, the muscular form absorbing the massive recoil with ease. I presumed, hoped really, that he was standing on top of that flesh eating robot, emptying slugs and buck into its weakest point. After the fireworks stopped, Justin Case let out a triumphant howl, and vanished back into the forest.

I approached the site he was at cautiously, keeping my P90 up and ready to unleash a volley of lead at the abomination if it still moved. I saw the car was completely trashed, smoke still billowing out of it like a chimney in the winter. I cautiously went into the field, and found Dr. Martoli battered and unconscious. The robotic crawl was wrapped around his ankle, leaving a nice red mark when I removed it. The robot was destroyed beyond recognition, and I had a hard time recognizing it as the abomination machine that almost killed and ate me. I could see hints of strange sigils etched into the body, the remnants of the thaumaturgical protection around the machine. Suddenly, the arm moved, and I jumped back. I emptied my P90 into the body of the machine from above, followed up by a barrage of shells from my automatics. Whatever fight the crippled machine had left in it was no more. Since the machine was now obliterated by gunfire, it was no longer animated nor functional. I breathed a sigh of relief, and called up Debbie.

Dr. Martoli spent the night in the campus police station, and was charged the following morning. I do think Dr. Martoli is a decent guy, if a bit rash and paranoid at times. It was only due to my suggestions that Debbie didn't try to have him fired entirely. Having helped fix his mistake, he owed me, and I wasn't about to let a useful contact like him go so easily. He had a lot to answer for, and would atone by helping me. Debbie was content to also hit him with a parking ticket and fines for property damage. The official story we gave was he had fallen asleep behind the wheel, and hit an experimental robotic lawn mower that had gone missing earlier. The story was easily forgotten and buried, since it was reduced to a short paragraph within the school's trash rag of a paper. It honestly doesn't make much sense to me, but at least it's over.

Having friends you can trust is always a good thing. I've got a police officer, a survivalist werewolf, and a mad scientist and wizard I know I can call on when things get rough. Troubleshooting reality always brings interesting people together, and that's why I prefer to stick with the tools and people I know.


Technical Notes: Included in this post are the following guns: Steyr AUG A3, Glock 21, Mauser C96, FN P90, HK SOCOM (a heavily modified USP in .45 ACP), HK USP Compact, Browning Auto-5, Metalstorm MAUL, and Chiappa Rhino.

-The sonar hat and glove arrangement is based on the work of Dr. Kevin Warwick. Sonar sensors are able to detect large objects, and translate that into vibration in the gloves. The bigger the object, the more vibration in the glove. An improved version is supposed to utilize infrared sensors, with obvious applications for nighttime combat.

-Flesh eating robots (known as gastrobots) are a real technology, utilizing a tank of bacteria and microbes that break down organic matter into electrical energy, similar to work done at the University of Florida. There are rumors such a technology is being used for military service in a recon drone called the EATR, although it would eat dead foliage and fabric (much easy to find and digest than meat). The advantages are it is able to stay in the field longer than a drone relying on fuel or batteries. They do not hunt people (that I know of). Scientists in the UK did invent a device known as SlugBot, able to hunt and "digest" slugs for food. The SlugBot operates differently than the robot in this story. SlugBot hunts slugs and deposits them into a stationary "recharge point." This one hunts and digests its prey in real time, while performing physiological analysis on their bodies to determine nutrient potential.

-Animats are simulated animals, robots utilizing either cultured neural tissue or simulated predator behavior to mimic behavior in ecologies. The robot in this story was technically an animat modeled after a solitary ambush predator like a cheetah, where it would hide and sprint after prey to bring it down. Having been optimized to attack rabbits over short distances, it was unable to chase a human at top speed for long.

-The robot itself incorporated Kabbalistic golemetry in a number of ways. A conventional onboard processor replicating an accurate neural model of a cheetah or comparable predator would likely be beyond the energy capacity for a large platform with several smaller motors. It would need to be able to integrate hardware drivers for the wheels and mobility, speed, use of appendages, vision, navigation, identification of prey, and attack strategies.

-The hardware and software complexity is considerable compared to modern robotics, so golemetry was used to give it more autonomy and reduce energy requirements. The lowered powered requirements power meant that the body did not have as much thermal signature as it would otherwise, since modern electronics often require energy consuming fans for heat dissipation. Even with less energy expended on computation, the device still required more energy than rabbits and small mammalian prey could provide, so it went after larger prey.

-Protective wards were also drawn on the machine to prevent it from being damaged. The wards function by altering the probabilities of potential harm vectors. A motorist is more likely to slam on the brakes to allow it enough time to escape. The wards do not provide invincibility to gunfire. A farmer taking potshots at it under poor visibility is much less likely to hit due to the wards, while several point blank shots are much harder to dodge. The rims of the craft were the most hardened by conventional means and wards, as were the cameras, sensors, and appendages, so the top was a weaker point.