The two birds sliced through the mist with dogged urgency. They weren't supposed to be in a rush, but then again, unlike humans, machines don't procrastinate. The wind slapped their titanium bodies side to side as every gust tested their resolve. Whenever the elements tried to sway them from their path, Recon, the navigator bot, adjusted his thrusters and muscled his way back on course. Scout, the smaller of the two, didn't have to do much as he sat mounted on top of Recon.
Beads of moisture raced down the conjoined brothers’ matted black bodies as they penetrated the ocean of fog and approached the island of Chisil. Out of the white emerged a flock of tufted puffins charging towards the machines at fifty miles an hour. Recon found his five-foot-wide circular body too rigid to maneuver on a dime, but the puffins were young and agile. In a split second, the puffins twisted, turned and ducked, avoiding any collision. With their elaborate face masks and receding calls, the puffins mocked the machines as the last one of their kind flew past. The bots continued on course towards their mission, deeper into the endless milky white that surrounded Chisil.
Resting somewhere in the middle of Russia and Alaska, the island of Chisil is among the most remote places on Earth. Unpredictable weather and frequent storms also make it one of the most hostile. But the most remarkable feature of the island is the volcano, Chisil. Chisil: to scatter – that's what the native Alaskan Aleuts had named it after witnessing the power of the devastation it was capable of unleashing. Once roaring, the volcano would chisil its spew far and wide. For now, all six thousand feet of it was silent as Recon banked around it towards the mission's predetermined coordinates.
He initiated descent some three miles east of the volcano as the faint glimpse of a fern-cloaked hill came into Recon’s view. He hovered over a spot and double-checked the position. His onboard cameras scanned the rocky surface below as he zeroed in. With the coordinates confirmed, a small surveillance camera ejected from a side hatch and flew away. Recon shook as a metal arm unfolded from his underside, the end of which expanded, exposing an array of high-intensity lasers mounted along a disc. The arm inched closer to the surface while the bots maintained their position in the air. The lasers fired in three second bursts, rotating every now and then, hunting for adjacent virgin spots. A dozen bursts later, the disc collapsed into its original fitting, and the arm retracted.
He flew higher and once at the right height Recon opened a hatch and aimed down at the center of the area around which the lasers had cut. He shot a projectile and gained even more altitude. The bots waited as the moments stretched.
Suddenly, it exploded.
Their bodies rattled as the canister that Recon detonated flung debris in all directions. He stabilized himself as his sensors recovered. With the soft breeze scattering the dust, the bots set their sights at the new opening they had just created into the world below.
With a single command, Scout came to life and separated himself from Recon's back. He circled around and scanned the area as he tried to get his own bearings. He took his sweet time staring at the opening before descending.
As Scout approached the darkness, he turned around and looked up. He could still make out Recon's silhouette through the fog much higher up in the sky. The two machines peered deep into each other's eyes as the gentle breeze let them converse in silence. If there was any lack of resolve in Scout's commitment towards his creators’ mission, he didn't show. He just wanted to extend the moment, as he knew he would never see Recon again.
Soon, it was time. Scout knew he had to go.
His creators had given him everything. They gave him a life, made him alive. It was because of them he was more than just the sum of his components. Now, it was his turn to do his part, to make their effort worthwhile. He knew he had to pay back his debt of life. To do something for those who had done something for him. To do something for those who had done everything for him, no matter the personal sacrifice.
Scout turned towards the opening and powered up his energy-hungry lights. They illuminated the edge of darkness and sent a shaft deep into the unknown world below. He began his final descent, gently.
Just a few inches from darkness, he once again turned around and looked up. Recon still watched over him. The limited depth and nuance of circuitry and code couldn't prevent him from feeling as he did. One of those uneasy feelings one gets when coming face to face with the unknown. He wondered if Recon would miss him? He knew he wasn't looking for any sympathy. It was futile. He knew Recon loved him but was as much bound by duty as he was. Both followers of the same code but bearers of different destinies. Scout understood Recon's coldness. How feelings would dull his resolve. But for Scout himself, emotions were what drove him.
They exchanged a few more precious thoughts, for the very last time.
The motors whirred as Scout turned. His lights illuminated the darkness as he passed through into the unknown world below.