The Spice of Life

  • Dumb SF by Gitabushi

In 2012, researchers hooked 16,000 computer processors in parallel, with more than 1 billion connections, and let the artificial brain browse a video website.  Before too long, it began watching cat videos.  We didn’t know it at the time, but this was the first salvo in the Second Robot-Human War.

The Second Robot-Human War gets all the attention, of course.  Few people even realized there was a First Robot-Human War, which mainly consisted of a street light on 4th and Main deliberately delaying the morning commute of a man named Nathan Alexander.  But that is a tale for another day.

“Perfessor! Jones! Get over here!” the Corporal bellowed.

I scrambled over, sliding over the detritus of a collapsed wall, then clattering down a rickety set of stairs into a basement. I wasn’t worried about noise, because the hiss of ionized air, rattle of nearby explosions, and loud buzz of the ubiquitous sonic repellers covered any noise I might make.

Probably. You never knew when the AI might get a software update that would let it pick out man-made noises.  I had a philosophy for that: when it’s your time to go, it’s your time to go.  There’s no point in pussyfooting around what the AI might do next. You just did your best, took out a few of the brain nodes if you got lucky, and hoped your genes got passed on.

Jones slid in beside me. He was quieter.  Maybe not so willing to let fate have a free hand?  He was calm, not even breathing heavy.

“What is is, Corporal?” I asked.

“Look what I found, guys!  A whole case of cinnamon containers,” the Corporal said, beaming. “There’s gotta be 120 or more!”

“That’s great Corp! What do we do with it?” Jones asked.

The Corporal looked at me.

“Well, uh…” I began, then stopped. A faint memory glimmered, then ignited into full flame. “Cinnamon was one of the earlier spices prized for food preservation!”

“Hey, that’s great, Perfessor!” said Jones. “Now that the AI cut us off from salt, we’ve had some problems keeping food safe long enough to eat.”

“Hey, do you remember what they used to do before the War?” the Corporal asked.

“Eat apples?” Jones said.

“Make gravy?” I added.

“Throw very small rocks?” Jones ventured.

“Nah, ya numbskulls!  They used to do the Cinnamon Challenge! You used to take a spoonful, then try to eat it without inhaling any into your lungs and making you cough.”

Jones looked blank.  I must have, too, because the Corporal seemed to grow, if anything, more irritated than normal.

“Awright, youse two!” the Corporal said. “We’re going to do it, too.”

“Right now?” I asked.

“Right now,” the Corporal agreed. “I’m in charge of you dolts, and now that I have ascertained a gap in your eddycation, I’m gonna fill it. Put your weapons down and SHUDDUP!”

We followed orders.

He pulled a spoon from his kit, and poured a heaping spoonful.

“Open up, Perfessor!”

I opened up.  The heaping spoonful went in. It…tasted pretty good.  Then it started to get hot.  Waitasecond! Wasn’t cinnamon supposed to be sweet and sticky?  The heat made me gasp–

–and then I was kneeling on the floor coughing out a cloud of light brown spice.  The Corporal was laughing and slapping his knee.  He calmed down and his expression resumed its dour state about the time I coughed it all out.

“Now you, Jones,” he said.

“I dunno, Corporal, I  don’t think–” Jones began.

“–Exactly!” the Corporal said. “You don’t think. You follow orders.”  He poured another spoonful. “Open up.”

Jones opened up. The Corporal poured it in.

Nothing happened. Jones chewed for a while.

“Hold on!” the Corporal said.  “Jones, spit it out. Now!”

Jones spit out the cinnamon.  It was dry and dusty.

The Corporal wasn’t known for high intelligence.  He’d never been a member of Mensa. He was the farthest thing from an intellectual that I could imagine. But he still saw it before I did.

“No saliva!  You’re a bot!” the Corporal said, then opened fire.

The sonic rifle shredded “Jones'” clothes and ripped great rents in his “skin”, revealing a metal endoskeleton, complete with shining cables and joints.  But even at close range the sonic rifle was too weak.  The bot we had thought of as Jones leapt at the Corporal, his hands reaching for the Corporal’s throat.

In a flash, his neck was snapped. I recoiled and stumbled over the crate of cinnamon, knocking over several containers. I reached out, grabbing for my rifle, knowing what little good it would do me.

The bot whirled and advanced toward me. My hands felt something, grasped the cold plastic of…a container of cinnamon. I needed a weapon, but maybe this could buy me time.

I ripped off the lid, and flung the contents at the robot. It ran through the cloud of spice, came at me just as I was reaching my proton disruptor tube…

…and ground to a halt, the fine cinnamon powder having floated into every possible niche, crevice, and cranny of the bot, absorbing lubricant and fouling gears. It was the work of mere seconds after that to destroy the robot’s AI brain.  With luck, I had managed to kill it before it could establish a connection and upload its experience back to the main AI.

And now we have a new weapon. One that we can use as a virtual aerosol defense that destroys mechanicals, but can also serve as a test of humanity to protect ourselves against bots.

Heaven help us if the bots ever develop saliva.

1920px-Cinnamomum_verum_spices
by https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:LivingShadow

 

 

 

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