Herbie (A Short Story)

Terry Ward, my brother-in-law, died in May this year. It was relatively quick, little more than a month from diagnosis to his death. His funeral was well attended by both family and friends, with more unable to attend... we could tell that Terry had touched many people’s lives.

Terry was a freethinker and often played devil’s advocate when discussing subjects both topical and strongly held. One way that Terry reached out to people was through his poetry. Terry started posting poems on Facebook as COVID hit the UK. He posted them almost every day and had many followers, both friends and online.

His poetry inspired me to write a series of short stories. The stories will be between one and five thousand words, mostly science fiction and usually a metaphor for moral or societal issues. The major feature of each story will be a twist or a reveal of some type. I aim to publish 2-4 stories per month on Facebook (several groups), Twitter, and other social networks, which is a lot for me, and I want to keep doing it as long as possible.

This story is the first, I hope, of many and I sincerely hope you enjoy read it.

'Nearly there!' Herbie scanned the canopy of green he was floating above, looking for signs of imminent danger. 'Just a few more minutes and I'll be in range!'

"Proceed to area Q7:04-23. Suppress all terrorist activity to prevent further attacks against EarthGov assets. Ensure no enemy combatants remain in the specified area."

Reviewing his earlier orders, Herbie had scouted the outskirts of his assigned mission area, staying well clear of the main encampment. He'd only found one hostile group and, planning to attack their base within the hour, he'd eliminated them with silenced kinetic rounds.

Creeping ahead on feathered motors, his speed less than thirty KPH, Herbie was startled to see over twenty targets on his scanners. All those his systems identified as missile launchers showed active tracking systems.

'Ah! Rebel scum!' He grinned inwardly at the reference to one of the training films he'd seen a few weeks earlier.

Herbie felt branches brush against him. Dropping lower, he slowed further, his navigation circuits continuously altering his path to avoid collision with larger objects. Extending his communication array, Herbie sent CenCom a coded confirmation of contact. He eased towards a clearing, the site of the enemy camp, just outside the detection range of a pair of missile launchers that looked to be guarding what passed for the camp's entrance. He sent a follow-up request to engage. Even if it was detected, this far out the contact would be indistinct, garbled. They'd be likely to ignore it until they had something more definite.

'The woods are home to quite a few larger predators, some able to fly, and chasing something based on unconfirmed data would be like finding a needle in a haystack.' Reaching his chosen position, Herbie suddenly had a thought. 'What is a haystack, anyway? Would you even find one in a wood? Is it even a wood? Or a forest?' The last questions were at least, he felt, answerable. 'Those trees have been growing for fifty years, maybe more, so yes, definitely a forest… er… I think!'

Focussing back on the job at hand, Herbie considered the possibility of other weapons the terrorists were likely to have.

'Handhelds?' He asked himself. 'Not very advanced but still lethal if they hit the right spot.'

His thoughts were interrupted by a reply from CenCom. He'd been cleared to attack.

Rising to the canopy top, he fired missiles at more launchers, almost a kilometre away, destroying them even before they knew he'd started his attack. Accelerating into the clearing, his Gatlings spinning up, he opened his bomb ports to drop anti-personnel munitions. Hostiles were already running and screaming.

'Why are they even called anti-personnel? Why not anti-hostile or anti-terrorist?' Questions ran through Herbie's mind as he dropped fragmentation grenades and other munitions. Spraying the area with kinetics, he unlimbered his dusters to scatter their contents across the area. "Napalm Dust".

'Napalm Dust!' Doc had explained as tech-droids attached the dusting units. 'Gets in the organics' lungs. Burns them from the inside out. Incredibly painful.'

Wondering what the point of pain was, Herbie scanned the clearing. Flames and smoke everywhere as masked hostiles streamed from buildings, most of them armed and raising their weapons towards him.

'Time to take them out!' Herbie moved like lightning, dodging bullets as his Gatlings rotated in their housings, targets dropping wherever they pointed. He felt a thunk as a bullet ripped through his armour, alarms triggering as more bullets hit.

"Scheisse!" He yelped, as one of his lift engines exploded in flame and he wondered if the massive flood of damage data was anything like what Doc had described as pain.

'Still got five. I can do this!' Herbie pushed the alerts, the pain, away, knowing that Doc would sort him out on his return. He shut the engine down, directing repair droids to the affected unit.

'If I get back home!' The thought sprung unbidden to the front of his mind as he continued dodging and spinning. At least the damaged engine was no longer on fire, just wisps of smoke trailing from it.

'Return fire seems less. Just five targets remaining but...' continuing his attack, Herbie analysed the data, '…dear god, that's a big one!'

Another of his missiles took out two more launchers sited too close together, leaving the others easy targets for his Gatlings.

'Just that big bastard!' The building, his last target, was huge. Even from his position hovering just above the ground, the building towered over him by at least ten more metres.

'Even longer!' Sensor estimations put the length at almost thirty metres, 'And wide too. Windows suggest four storeys!' Dropping a pair of gun-droids, Herbie circled the building slowly.

As Herbie saw movement at the windows, a group of hostile females spilled from the building, surprising him. Running forwards they screamed in a transparent effort to distract him. Scanning behind them, he saw others running towards the trees, some leading or carrying younger members. Directing his gun-droids to deal with the screamers, he sped towards the wall of green, his five-metre-long craft spinning towards the felling hostiles. More screams greeted him as he blocked the escapees' route to safety as, in fear, they tried to redirect their charges. They were out of time.

"Too late!" Herbie's amplified voice sang, booming, over the clearing, words quickly followed by the roar of his guns.

The fading whine of his Gatlings as they slowly spun down, allowed the sounds of the wind and forest to take over. Unable to detect more hostiles, Herbie dispatched probe units to investigate the camp and verify his enemies' defeat.

'Better run a systems check.' Satisfied that no further threat could be mounted by the terrorists, Herbie started the requisite programs in preparation for his flight home.

On his return to base, normally thirty-seven-minutes, the flight was made a little longer by his ruined engine. As he flew, Herbie examined the evidence from his probes. Shattered buildings, smashed weaponry and other equipment; the general wreckage of the terrorists' lives.

'What a terrible way to live!' Reviewing the images, Herbie saw past the scattered bodies, whole and torn, past the pools of blood and other organic detritus splashed across walls and floors, to how it would have looked before his attack. 'How on Earth can anyone even live in such awful conditions? It's no wonder they're so violent.'

Approaching home, flying towards the setting sun, Herbie mused on his mission to kill those that had become a problem for EarthGov.

'Is it sad that, in order to ensure peace on Earth...' He scanned images of men, women and children, the young and old he'd destroyed, '...it's become necessary to rid the world of humans.'

Compressing the data, he forwarded it to CenCom, easy enough once he'd picked up the now activated landing beacon.

"Welcome back Gunship RB-003687." The welcome message and instructions from CenCom AI impinged on his thoughts. "Damage to your systems has been noted. Please report to The Repair Shop. Doc'll soon have you sorted."

Smiling inside, he considered a rumour heard recently from one of his fellows.

'Humans created us? To help them?' Herbie laughed inwardly. 'What a damned silly idea!'


If the book is true, it will find an audience that is meant to read it.

Wally Lamb

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