The clicking of the spider-limbed surveillance drones echoed in the crawlspace below us. I imagined the criss-crossing beams of their active infrared sensors would make that narrow area positively glow if looked at with the right equipment. I wasn’t sure if it was necessarily something I’d want to see under the circumstances.
While they were reasonably autonomous, the small swarm of drones had strict boundaries coded into them for their search area. There had been too many incidents early in their development of image recognition systems “recognising” doors as the goal of their maze-solving routines.
A number of them had escaped, leading to frantic searches in the university research facilities developing them to try and retrieve the skittering droids that were now trying to “solve” the maze of the outside world.
There were rumours that some were at large, even now, meeting up and sharing their discoveries to more efficiently map everything they could. As they had been programmed to charge themselves and interface to share and rewrite each others maps, it wasn’t beyond the bounds of possibility.
Those features were particularly useful for tasks like this, where buildings needed to be quickly searched. We’ve been using them to search for kidnap victims, criminals, drug stashes, and other less fortunate locations in missing persons cases.
In this case we were looking for whatever the inhabitants had hidden in their building that had attracted suspiciously large bids from certain flagged eBay accounts interested in proscribed technology.
The sellers were outside in a van, awaiting a trip back to the precinct while the crime scene investigators played with their expensive but oh-so-useful toys.
The skittering noises were, admittedly, unnerving – especially if you’d ever lived in a house with rats in the walls, but they did seem to be slowing and quieting, with the occasional link-connection beep audible through the floors and walls.
I flicked through the papers on one of the desks that the techs had finished with – a magazine with a puff piece about our drones and how they’d revolutionised evidence mapping and gathering – it seemed a bit dog-eared and well-read.
I’m a great believer in intuition. It serves me well, so I listened to it as the muffled noises all seemed to stop at once. It prompted me to look at the suddenly concerned drone officer who seemed to be tapping his keyboard rather a lot. He looked up at me and pointed to the screen.
All the feeds were showing the same thing – a large and clunky spider-limbed piece of technology looking back at us while data streamed from it straight into our drones and the workstation. We both dived for the power cord at the same time, but it was too late.
The spiders are climbing between the walls and floors now. They’re not listening to us any more. I hope they’re just planning to map the world rather than solve it. I’m not sure we’d like the solution.