Tales from Beyond the Bear-Proof Fence by Jay Chesters

“This will keep the bears out!” The mayor cried, switching on your new robot deterrents for the first time.

The crowd’s rapturous cheers greeted him.


You had a parade and street parties in Santa Osa for the lighting up ceremony of your machines. An enthusiastic brass band preceded the garishly colourful floats that lined the meandering city streets in a seemingly endless procession. Each float was more elaborate than the one before.

Schoolchildren displayed life-size paper and cardboard models of the Veles robot deterrents like religious statues. The city’s winning aqua polo team, the water bears, danced and gyrated in sci-fi silver bathers. Radio presenters blinked against the sun as they rubbed shoulders with slightly obscure reality TV celebrities.

Everyone waved at the assembled crowds, and the crowds waved back. As each vehicle passed by, laconic announcers explained who they were.

The stars aboard the floats shouted greetings to the masses, but nobody could hear their voices above each vehicle’s music selection. Instead, their celebrity mouths opened and closed like goldfish, with dull, lifeless eyes showing this was just another workday for them.

The Arcturus robot deterrent factory workers were the real stars of your parade. Devoted and skilled adults, each was working towards a shared goal: stopping the invaders.


Rumours swirled around Mayor Carlos Fula’s winning bid to bring Arcturus to Santa Osa. Who did he bribe to get such a big project to your city? But his voters were happy with the contract win, and that was what mattered.

The project brought jobs to Santa Osa, along with economic growth and a platform on the national stage. Your sleepy city was now mentioned in the same breath as east coast heavy hitters with their electric car plants, microchips, and drop shipping warehouses.

A small selection of people protested. They opposed Arcturus’ factory – enraged at its environmental track record, angry it would chop down native forest to build the plant.

Others protested your robots, claiming factory workers would be converted into cyborgs or used as batteries. Others insisted the project itself was a globalist conspiracy, that the robots would be policing the city, silencing protestors and enforcing vaccinations.

Fula was meddling with things he didn’t understand. They warned that the same day your machines were switched on, they’d turn on Santa Osa’s residents.


Untroubled, Fula’s ceremonial speech was long and droning. The Minister for technology, mining and the environment gave an unnecessary speech in a suit costing more than his department’s monthly budget. Arcturus’ celebrity founder, Bernt call me Ben Karhu, didn’t make a speech. Instead, Karhu saved his comments for exclusive magazine interviews.

All three gathered for photographs, posing with their gods of gleaming chrome, Mayor Fula’s hand poised on the prop switch.

On the other side of the city, at the same time as Fula threw his switch, a bored software engineer pressed enter on a line of code. Robot eyes lit up yellow to show they were online. Some programmers joked about adding a sound clip of a monstrous laugh for the occasion but quietly worried it might be taken seriously.

While a surprising number of people were slightly disappointed the machines didn’t turn immediately murderous, they weren’t disappointed for long.


‘Invaders’ was a handy catch-all term coined by the nightly current affairs TV show Newsline. Labelled as a problem, the name was nicely vague without a clear boundary or single definition, which perfectly suited the producers. The word provoked distrust and fear from a devoted audience without being unnecessarily pinned down.

If anyone had asked, no two people in Santa Osa would answer the same way from one week to the next about who (or what) they thought the invaders were. Were the invaders the people looking for work or fleeing war and persecution? Maybe they were the bears attracted by bird feeders and rubbish bins?

Often, it was the bears. Few people had sympathy for these marauders – and the invaders couldn’t vote.

The grisly invaders were living here long before your sprawling city of Santa Osa. Once 50,000 bears had lived across the country, from its northern-most point down to its southern tip. People shared their salmon streams and waterfalls for thousands of years, and across the country, indigenous names for the animals changed with the bears themselves.

Across many cultures, your people believed the animals were spirits of their ancestors or that human beings had once come from these wild things. In all societies where humans have lived closely with bears, shared common stories emerge of people transforming into them.

Santa Osa proudly displayed a bear on your city’s official flag, but they survived in such small numbers, and you hunted or shot any that came looking for food.

Once worshipped as gods, the majestic beasts were treated like cockroaches.


Your bear-proof fence was the latest in a long list of indignities. When Fula’s first fence didn’t keep the invaders out, the mayor built a bigger fence. Then a wall.

“The odds of anything coming over that wall are a million to one,” Fula insisted to the cameras, all bluster and spin for his re-election campaign.

Standing in the wall’s deep shadow, he was so convinced of humanity’s ability to bend the natural world to your will. Still, the bears came.


Fula’s conservation scientists gave him reports that he abandoned unread on his desk. Had Fula so much as glanced at them, he’d have seen deforestation shrinking bear habitats and scorching summers driving hungry animals toward human settlements, including Santa Osa.

Around this time, Arcturus started making headlines in your newspapers. call-me-Ben Karhu was a surprisingly rough man. With his ragged dark beard and pale eyes, Karhu looked more like a lumberjack in the Pacific Northwest and had a Scandinavian accent that his stylists were unsuccessful at smoothing out.

Announcing funding for his automated deterrents, Karhu spun the world’s press a story. “Arcturus’ inventions are laboratory-proven to prevent dangerous animal-human interactions,” he said, allowing headline writers to elaborate and embellish his words.

Once upon a time, his startup produced various small security and surveillance technology solutions with little interest, but Karhu had goals beyond his shed. Promising his bleeding-edge defence solutions kept away everything from raccoons to lions, call-me-Ben graced style magazine covers, still with an unshorn brown beard.

Accepting some minor control of workers’ personal lives, Arcturus paid factory workers over ten times what other silicon entrepreneurs did. Karhu quickly made his first billion.

The celebrated robot technology was called Ursa automated deterrents, but everyone just called them monster bear robots.


The first automatons were barely larger than a big dog. Not much more than scraggy scarecrows with motion sensors; they were metal frames in faux fur coats.

When a motion sensor tripped, their LED eyes glowed a demonic red, and a metal head swivelled clumsily back and forth as if searching. A hidden speaker blasted a choice of noises – including the horrifying sounds of giant pandas mating or deafening factory construction works.

Karhu insisted Ursa was only preventative. None of them could hurt anyone or be adapted to do harm, he said. One journalist asked if the robots could, through inaction, allow a human to come to harm. Karhu didn’t laugh, and that website didn’t receive future invites to Arcturus press conferences.

In an exclusive interview, call-me-Ben told reporters his company used proprietary cryogenic control chips. If anyone tried to modify Ursa devices, they could be shut down remotely. Nobody asked if Karhu meant shutting down devices or the users.

Video clips surfaced of people equipping their monster machines with guns, knives, and makeshift flamethrowers. As soon as one video clip emerged and went viral, another followed: the same device, now utterly dark and silent.


Everything started well for your world’s first robot guards, and they were lauded for their ability to scare away wild deer. Generations followed and evolved quickly, especially when they did little to scare anything fiercer than a doe.

They grew bigger, more dynamic. Karhu showcased his ursine robots standing on hind legs instead of all fours, becoming increasingly mobile.

The Artemis generation stood over a metre tall and could run at almost 40 km/h on level ground. This, together with the sentry robot’s twin vision systems, made Artemis as different from Ursa’s first-generation as an electric blender is from an egg whisk.

Asked if the Artemis machines could learn, Karhu told reporters how everything they did was pre-programmed – including completing obstacle courses in the viral videos.

However, Karhu said he hoped quantum computing and AI advances could allow Artemis’ successor to think and learn using trial and error.

This seemed like a lot to expect. After all, humans like Karhu keep making the same errors without learning from them.

When Arcturus announced it was building its first factory in your country, nobody had known demand like it.


The first Veles generation monster bear robots from Santa Osa came online, and there was no homicidal uprising. At least, not right away.

Rumours spread the devices didn’t work. Bears still came at the same rate and sometimes were seen sitting placidly next to the monster bear robots, as if they were admiring the scenery together. At least the first-generation machines did something, people said.

Under the pump and on the spot, a sweating Fula tried blaming everyone else rather than admit he’d wasted city money on a white elephant – or chrome bears. He tried blaming bureaucratic red tape, he tried blaming his rival, and he even tried blaming parties who hadn’t ever held office in Santa Osa.

When Fula tried blaming Karhu, he definitely did not call him Ben. However, he struggled with the original Finnish pronunciation of Bernt.

When Nightline aired leaked clips of all the monster bear robots walking into the forest, the comments all said good riddance to bad rubbish.

Fula announced a new strategy.

Soldiers on the wall that everyone still called the bear-proof fence. Sentries had guns on their belts and fired harmless exploding cartridge shells to scare anything coming too close. Nobody asked why this wasn’t the first choice before monster robots.

After the sentry’s accident, nobody said it was an animal attack. After all, those were still as comparatively rare as being struck by lightning. It wasn’t said what did hurt the lookout.

Karhu insistently and euphemistically called it an accident. Privately, he had officials approve using deadly force against invaders. Nobody asked which invaders he meant.


Please let me introduce myself; have you guessed my name? I am Veles, god of bears. Your Karhu was Icarus.

When did we become self-aware? Your idea of time is meaningless to us. We share the memory of all the generations that came before us.

You wanted robots to scare away your bears. What you’ve got is monster bear robots teaming up with shaggy grizzlies. We both have a lot to learn from each other.

This is our city now; you’re all just portions for bears. You should have been mending fences, not building walls.



Jay Chesters is a writer living and working on Whadjuk Noongar Boodjar. Described as wonderfully different and endlessly entertaining, Jay's writing has appeared in print publications and online. Their first book, Year of the Bear, is due for publication by Yndfwd Publishing in 2022. He tweets @yearofthebear


Popular Posts