Captain Michael Stone, of the 3rd Tactical Intelligence Gathering and Espionage Robot squad stepped out of his tent. His TIGER, Rocky, had been laying on his back on a small tarp laid over the dusty ground, but when he saw Captain Stone, he immediately rolled on to its feet, letting out an inquisitive chirping sound.

“At ease,” the captain said, patting the robot on the head. He chirped again, then sat down. He looked every bit like the giant cat he was named after, aside from the fact that instead of orange and black fur, he had Thermal-Chromatic Adaptive Plating. Even as he looked, the TIGER’s metallic hide shifted from the dull orange color of the ground to a deep green that matched his own uniform.

“To me,” he ordered, and the TIGER fell in beside him as he walked down the rows of tents to the noise that had first caught his attention.

Warrant Officer Emily Lance was standing at ease in front of an angry looking lieutenant. He paced back and force, kicking up orange sand every time he turned around. Ms. Lance’s face was perfectly neutral, patiently enduring the dressing down she was receiving. Only someone who had spent three months serving with her would notice the small tell-tale signs – the way she gripped her hands tightly behind her, for example – that indicated that it was only a lifetime’s worth of military discipline that kept her from telling the lieutenant just how stupid he was being.

Behind her, spread in three neat evenly-spaced rows, were a dozen TIGERs, all laying on their backs. Their sides matched the tarp they were lined up on, which in turn was the same color as the ground, but their bellies were all a solid black. Beside each one, save Ms. Lance’s, a soldier stood at ease, although Stone could feel the tension in them. They were a tight-knit troop, and they were, perhaps a little more fond of their Warrant Officer than was strictly professional.

“Attention!” Staff Sargent Eric Donovan shouted as Stone approached. Like a finely tuned watch, the men turned as one to face him, raising their hands in salute. The lieutenant blinked for one confused moment as Ms. Lance turned away from him, before realizing what was going on and snapping to salute as well.

“At ease,” Captain Stone said, returning the salute. “Sargeant Donovan, could you brief me as to what’s going on?”

“Yes, sir. Ms. Lance and Lieutenant Davis were discussing the operating procedures for the TIGER units, sir. Lieutenant Davis did not agree with Ms. Lance’s analysis.”

Stone was tempted to make a snarky response about how well read Lieutenant must be to know more about the experimental new AI robots than the Warrant Officer responsible for their upkeep. It wouldn’t be professional to insult an officer in front of enlisted men like that, though. He must have spent too much time with his brother and sister over leave for him to even entertain thoughts like that.

“Lieutenant Davis,” he said, “If you have a problem with how I deploy my troops, bring it directly to me. Ms. Lance should only be approached on technical matters, and if that is the case here, I’d strongly recommend you concede to her vast knowledge on the TIGER units.”

Lieutenant Davis’s attempt at a neutral expression was not as good as Ms. Lance’s had been. “Sorry, sir. I merely wanted to know why these expensive scouting drones were just lying here instead of on patrol. The Greenies could attack any day now.”

His TIGER let out a low whistling sound. It wasn’t quite a growl, but it was as close as the TIGER could make, and it served its purpose well enough.

“Let it go, Rocky,” Captain Stone said softly, laying a hand on the robot’s back, then turning to face his warrant officer. “Ms. Lance, did you inform him that TIGERs are not to be deployed until they’re fully charged?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Did you explain that per safety protocols, during shipping they are drained down to standby energy levels?”

“Yes, sir.”

“And how are their power levels right now?”

She pressed several buttons on the command center she wore as a bracer on her left wrist. “With the exception of units three and seven, all of them are between sixty and seventy percent of full power.”

“And units three and seven?”

“Just past fifty percent, sir. They took longer than the others in their initial mapping of the campsite, but they’re on schedule to reach full power within the timetable you gave me.”

“Then it seems this matter is settled. The TIGER units will be ready to begin reconnaissance at eighteen-hundred hours. Did you have any further questions, Lieutenant?”

He glared at Ms. Lance as if she were somehow responsible for this, before giving a sour “No, sir.”

“Then you are dismissed.”

Once the lieutenant had left, Captain Stone turned to face the assembled men. Ms. Lance stepped back beside her own TIGER.

“Sargent Donovan, is there a reason you didn’t fetch me when Lieutenant Davis began to interfere with operations?”

Donovan grinned. “I thought Ms. Lance could handle the situation, sir. Didn’t want to give him the satisfaction, either, sir,” he added.

“I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised that your unit was one of the two that came back late from exploring.”

He laughed. “You know how Belle is. She’s curious. Rocky was out just as long as she was.”

Unit one didn’t have his battery drained before shipping.” He stressed the first two words, but more out of formality than anything else. Robotic unit operators were not supposed to form attachments to their assigned units. At the same time, as part of the new TIGER units’ testing, he had been instructed to encourage his men to do just that. He couldn’t do it openly, though. The troop had given Rocky his nickname, and Captain Stone used it whenever he could pretend he didn’t know his men were listening.

Rocky walked over to where Ms. Lance’s TIGER, unit two (or Crystal as it was all but officially named) and chirped. Crystal opened her eyes and whistled back. She didn’t get up, but turned to look at her operator with such a plaintive look that Captain Stone was once again impressed by the amount of engineering that went into them.

“No,” Ms. Lance said, in the tone of a mother telling a child to eat her vegetables. “You can’t play until you’re finished charging.”

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