Protocol A

When Model KSH-239-FG-99 was deployed in a little Midwestern town designated as “expendable” for “testing purposes”, it sat down and would not move.

The orders still came, even as the businessmen and shopping mothers stuck their heads out from their buildings and their car windows to stare at the massive thing that had landed in the middle of the biggest four-way stop in downtown. The monster, a beast of oil and gears and sprockets, gazed back at them with the dead, black eyes of camera screens. Exhaust fumed up from its nostrils, and the low rumble of the hydrogen-fueled furnace that raged in its chest could be felt through the sidewalk. Its wings were bronze and bolted, and its tail had knocked a fire hydrant clear off its pipes when it landed. Razor-edged fangs flashed in its reptilian mouth when it blew out smoke. But it did not move.

They could hear its internal radio buzzing and crackling so loudly it was audible: KSH-239, ENGAGE PROTOCOL A. REPEAT, KSH, ENGAGE PROTOCOL A. FAILURE TO DO SO WILL RESULT IN THE DECOMMISSIONING AND TERMINATION OF YOUR UNIT. The noise grew and grew, with angrier and angrier threats, until it simply stopped.

Then the dragon moved. All its gears shifted downward, just a tenth of a degree, in what witnesses would later describe only as a sigh of relief and resignation. About an hour later, just as the police were arriving to cordon it off, it rose up into the air with a scream of rocket-jets. It came to land again some miles to the west, in the Owens Salvage scrapyard. It settled on a mountain of junk like it was gold, and went still again.

Its radio crackled to life again, witnesses would report over the next week and a half, but spat out nothing but static and fuzzy voices. After a month or so it went dark entirely, and another month after that the sheriff called off the watches that had been set up to monitor it. The last one turned off its spotlight on a dark, moonless night, and KSH-239 was left only with the glow of its own throat.