by Chesney Parker
In a bomb proof bunker, deep beneath the Rocky Mountains, the Continuous Online Universal Nuclear Terminator (known by its acronym, “COUNT”) was in its highest state of electronic alertness.
General Carpenter stubbed his cigar out and blew a cloud of pungent blue smoke across the table. “I don’t give a damn about your technology. If I don’t have full control over the missile defence system, we’re done for.”
Toby Cantright, scientific adviser to the President, clenched his fists convulsively. “And how the hell are you going to make two hundred and fifty thousand decisions every second? Because, that’s what the COUNT will be doing during an all-out attack.”
“He’s got you there Jack,” said the President. “I mean, look at the situation.” He waved his hand at the enormous screen which filled the entire wall at the end of the War Room. It showed the antagonistic deployment of ships, submarines, aircraft and ground-based missile stations, all spread out across Asia and the Pacific.
“I know all that, sir, but I just don’t trust that… that… thing up there.” The General pointed an unlit cigar at the large black machine that purred quietly on the dais at the opposite end of the room. “It hasn’t even been tested on a real situation yet.”
“For God’s sake!” said Cantright, thumping his fist on the table. “We’ve been through all this before! The COUNT has been programmed with everything we know about every war that was ever fought and it’s been monitoring this current situation through the satellite network for months. It knows exactly how to retaliate. And don’t forget, there’s an overriding command that forces the COUNT to find the optimum solution for the survival of the human race. But above all that, it’s intelligent!”
“Yeah, sure,” said the General, lighting his cigar. “But it’s artificial intelligence. Seems to me we’d be better off with the real thing.” He blew smoke directly across the table at Cantright, then continued in his slow Texas drawl. “I mean, artificial tits are no match for real flesh, are they?” A slow smile spread across his face as his fingers made gentle squeezing motions.
Cantright was quite red by now and could hardly contain his anger. “Well I know damn well which intelligent entity I’d rather have deciding how to handle five hundred incoming Chinese missiles. At least the COUNT wouldn’t be distracted by every skirt that walked past the door!”
Before the General could respond, the wall display suddenly flashed a warning. The COUNT’s artificial voice boomed out across the room, “ATTENTION! ATTENTION! MISSILE LAUNCH! SOURCES: MAINLAND CHINA, LAOS, CAMBODIA, VIETNAM, NORTH KOREA, PLUS 57 PACIFIC BASED SUBMARINES.” Hundreds of red stars appeared on the display, each with a small yellow line indicating its direction — towards the United States.
The President did not wait for further staff advice or debate. He made the decision that only he was empowered to make. He removed the special key from his pocket and quickly activated the large red switch in front him. In doing so, he immediately transferred control of the entire U.S. missile defence system to the COUNT, which went into immediate — and irrevocable — action.
Two hours later, when things had calmed down a little, the President stood in front of the wall display, looking in amazement at the scene which confronted him. General Carpenter stood beside him, the coloured lights from the screen highlighting his angry features.
A dishevelled Toby Cantright walked up to them and said, “Sir, I think I know what happened.” He stood beside them, nervously shuffling his papers for several seconds.
“Well, get on with it, then!” said the President.
“It seems the COUNT decided the optimum solution was to destroy all nuclear capability on the planet. And, since it knew the location of all the reactors, stockpiles and nuclear arsenals across the planet, as well as having control of our entire weapons delivery system, the rest was… easy.”
The General’s jaw dropped. “You mean there are no nuclear weapons or facilities left? Anywhere? Ours or theirs?”
“None at all, anywhere on Earth.”
“What sort of cock-eyed solution is that?” said the General, glaring at Cantright. “In a couple of years we’ll be back where we started, but in the meantime, fifty percent of the domestic power stations around the world have been destroyed and millions of people have been killed!”
Toby, in angry defence of his beloved machine, said, “Yeah, but it’s the thought that counts.”
“Maybe so,” said the General with a small triumphant grin, as he lit another cigar. “But it was a stupid thought, and it’s the COUNT that thought!”