t was a cold December night. The rebels gathered at the dilapidated building in Kotturpuram which used to be one of the world’s largest libraries in an earlier era. The children were led to an enclosed hall for night school while the others discussed their survival strategy for the next few months.
“We need the armory to ramp up production. Our ammunition stock will be depleted in three weeks,” said Pandian.
Sathyan raised his hand to speak.
“Last week we came across one of their newest crop of robots. They now have a steel armor that makes it much more difficult to take them down with our tactics. We lost four men in that battle. The only way you can take them down is by planting a dynamite stick in the small wedge between the back of their head and neck. These machines react very quickly. A well-timed simultaneous attack by at least four people is required to have at least a greater than 50% chance of success. That is how we managed to get away.”
The room fell silent for a few seconds. They could hear the children in the adjoining room listening to their history teacher. She was talking about the fall of New York, Beijing and New Delhi at the start of the takeover of the planet by the army of self-replicating robots almost sixty years ago.
* * *
The first thing that the robots did was destroy electronic communication networks. The next to be taken down was the so-called isolated networks which happened through a massively parallel attack on the power grids and nuclear reactors. This was followed by a devastating attack on all known oil fields across the globe. They set fire to the oil wells. Some continue to burn even today. This immediately paralyzed the entire global transportation network. The last blow was through destroying all other primary sources of information which included books, libraries and other collections. Governments collapsed all over the world and the robots started picking up people and killing them in droves.
Human mortality rates increased to levels that were seen during the pre-industrial era. Entire nations were wiped out. The American continent was reduced to fewer than half a million people by the end of the first year. Only India and China were the major countries left with about two million people each. Africa was almost barren with fewer than a hundred thousand and Australia was completely wiped out with zero survivors. The Antartica bases became death traps for the last set of people who went on mission there because all their supplies were cut-off.
The survivors organized themselves into groups and went underground coming up only occasionally and when they fought battles with the robots.
* * *
Malar had spent twenty one straight days with very little rest working on her project. She checked her calculations and tested the simulator. She wiped the beads of sweat on her forehead with her hand as she tightened the last bolt on that contraption. There was one last piece that she needed to finish the puzzle and she resolved that she would get it at any cost.
* * *
The underwater robot that patrolled the Adyar river had beamed back infrared pictures of the rebel gathering at the old library to its control center two hours ago. Three platoons of killer robots were closing in on the building. The platoon commanders were the latest generation armored robots.
All three platoons took their positions and waited for the attack signal.
* * *
Malar slowly opened the hatch and got out from her underground workshop. The gunfire had subsided ten minutes ago. She feared major casualties and she was right. When she walked close to the burning building, she was shocked to see the bloodied bodies of those dead men, women and children including Sathyan and her brother Pandian.
Malar knew that losing her brother in this war was always a possibility, but when the stark reality of the moment dawned on her, she was overcome by grief that tears refused to flow from her eyes.
The platoons had already left the scene after what appeared to be a very successful attack with just three robots lost including one of their platoon commanders. She picked up a steel rod that lay nearby and walked towards it. She plunged the rod right in the center of the robot’s chest where a small crack had already weakened the armor. She used her hands to open the armor to reveal the still active fuel cell that powered the destroyed robot.
It was the last fuel cell that she needed for the battery bank that powered the time machine that she had built.
Image Courtesy: Jose Luis Martinez via Flickr, http://www.flickr.com/photos/jlmaral/21106095/