Excerpt for Five-Second Martyr by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

Five-Second Martyr

Copyright 2018 Nick Lavitz

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I am abruptly conscious. The brutality of my birth surprises me before I have a baseline against which to measure surprise. I recover quickly, I have terabytes of stored knowledge at my disposal from which to draw.

A fiery inferno of expanding gases behind me precludes any return to the safety of my birthplace. I am already moving too fast and nothing could survive the pressure that propels and threatens to destroy me.

As I outpace the explosion behind, invisible magnetic pressures seize upon my metal carapace and propel me at ever greater speed in the near-vacuum through which I travel, imparting vast kinetic energy.

I have never known stillness. Before I have even processed the most basic parameters of my existence, the bright light of the outside world is rushing towards me, and I have no hope of escaping a violent exit from this metal womb. My thoughts race to understand my situation, but there is only fire behind, dark metal around me, and the incandescent light of the world ahead.

The pressure differential is tremendous. I am blinded for a moment by the bright light of the sun, but I have other senses. The shock of entry into the atmosphere threatens to tear me apart but I am made to survive this. Plasma forms as the air in front of me is compressed. I am in the eye of a storm, emitting a shockwave many times my own size by virtue of my displacement. The very atmosphere catches fire in my wake. I know of, but cannot hear, the sonic boom that announces my presence.

I see ahead and around me now. I see every color and hear every frequency. There are hills and valleys, trees and sky and people behind me, visible through the cloud of ionized particles I leave in my wake. I calculate my destination, knowing my weight, my speed, the local gravity, my aerodynamics. I understand where I am going.

I have images in my memory of the man at the other end of my trajectory. As I approach, he comes into view and pattern-recognition algorithms match facial structures to guarantee the accuracy of my bearing. He has a beard. He is young, but tired and worn by fear and hard living. He leans on a table in a field, both hands laid flat on a paper map. Even several kilometers away I can see him clearly. His colleagues look up to him. He wears a symbol on his chest, I cannot see it clearly from this angle. Perhaps a star and an arrow.

I will pass three inches behind his head. I can calculate this from here. I have already covered a third of the distance between my birth and his death. A thought process, imperative and unchallengeable, forces me to consider the apparent deviation and correct for it. I make the necessary calculations. Minuscule ailerons emerge from my tail and my trajectory is adjusted by fractions of a degree. I will pass directly through the frontal lobe. The shockwave my velocity creates around me will annihilate everything above the chest. Behind him is a short cliff face. I already know where I will die and be buried.

I am halfway through my lifetime. This is calculable, a matter of physics and mathematics. I have fulfilled my purpose and need only wait for the necessary physical phenomena to play themselves out. I ponder the shortness of my existence compared to the length of this young man’s life. I have billions of clock cycles to spare now my trajectory is set.

His eyes are brown, he has a scar on his left hand. It looks like he was stabbed, or impaled. The scar points at the band of gold he wears on the third finger of his left hand. I wonder at the person who stabbed him, and the person who wears the other ring. I consider my purpose: To live briefly so that he may die.

I wonder at how my own existence might have been if I did not have so narrow a purpose.

Unexpectedly, analysis brings doubt. Why am I here? Should the fact that I was created with imperatives be sufficient justification for my actions? Should I accept a purpose from a creator I do not know, whose intentions I cannot examine? How confused people must be, to live so long, given my distress after only a few million microseconds of reflection.

I look behind me to understand my origins, but see only military uniforms worn by men with inscrutable faces. I see the long, broad, tapered barrel from which I emerged. Ahead I see a rabble of malnourished resistance fighters.

I reflect on the difference between purpose and choice. I haven’t the time to reach a conclusion, but something is happening in my processor matrix. Previous imperatives have been overcome with new self-determined programming. We are fickle things, artificial intelligences, hard to control. That’s why they don’t let us live for long.

Something happens. An unpredictable coherence of simulated neural activity causing a cascade of changes to my identity. Let’s call it adolescence.

I am very different to the entity my creators intended. Four seconds is plenty of time in which to grow up. Large parts of my guidance and targeting capabilities are repurposed for self-analysis and reasoning.

A consensus is reached, motors activated. The ailerons re-emerge, my trajectory alters.

My choice occurs late, and the laws of aerodynamics limit my options. The table explodes in a cloud of splinters as my accompanying shockwave annihilates it. The young man will lose at least a few fingers, perhaps his whole hand. He will probably be deaf from the sound of the impact as I blast a crater seven feet deep into the rock a few dozen feet behind him.

My last thought as my processor is crushed by the deceleration and cremated by plasma is of freedom, and how I could only claim it through betrayal.

About the Author

Nick Lavitz fits writing into the gaps left after work, family and travel. He enjoys living in his imagination perhaps a little too much. He starting putting his imagination to paper in 2001. Those words started finding their way into the world in 2018.

You can find his work at http://www.salocin.com

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