Micro-fiction 099 – Machines Discarded I (Post-Apocalypse series)

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By Jake jackson and Jake Jackson. Discovered by Player FM and our community — copyright is owned by the publisher, not Player FM, and audio is streamed directly from their servers. Hit the Subscribe button to track updates in Player FM, or paste the feed URL into other podcast apps.

In a world that’s turned against itself, and destroyed all thinking machines Karima stumbles across a robot, and is followed in the dark…

Machines Discarded. Part One.

Today she discovered a discarded metal creature.

It was a safe time to walk along the twilight lane, relatively, at least. As she stepped silently to fetch water from the pump in the next farm Karima watched for signs of movement along the edge of the fields. She was strong, encouraged by her now absent parents to look after herself, to know when to fight, to run, to hide. She knew how to cook without leaving a trace in the air, to clean her clothes in the river, to be wary of the people she met. Those parents had left when she was young, taking her sister with them, on a trip to the city from which they had never returned.

The golden sunset would herald a peaceful night in more joyful times, but in her short life she had seen everything descend, with the destruction of the robots, then all machines as the economy collapsed, swiftly followed by society. She knew she was too young to understand what had happened so she sat in the old parks, the benches on the roadside, and leaned against the corners of the streets in the nearest town. She didn’t invite discussion, kept her eyes down, smoothed her hair and dressed in neutral hues, but she listened to everyone, tried to piece together what had happened and learn how others survived. She’d heard so many stories of the rebellion of people against the machines, destroying what had been created to help them, when it was discovered the machines were a threat after all.

But today she discovered a discarded metal creature.

She tripped over something in the gathering shadows of the lane. A copse of trees, bent with the effort of age distracted her with their branches silhouetted like arms, their twigs crooked like old fingers. She stopped herself falling and sprang back up, holding her breath still, checking for other sounds.

“Just the myna birds.” She muttered to herself. “But what’s this?” She kicked gently in front of her and felt the unyielding resistance of some sort of metal.

“Maybe I can make something with that, or sell it.” She knelt down and tugged at the solid form. She found herself hauling a long, straggling bundle of metal parts, limbs, a torso, and final a broken head. It was one of the old service robots, left to rust in the vegetation, cast aside or dumped, who knows.

“Great for parts though.” She smiled for the first time in days. She had a few friends, or associates as she called them, and they all looked out for spare metal to sell or make useful. Some had even tried to jack them into life.

In dire need of the water she contemplated covering it up and leaving it, but sighed, “I’ll have to bring it with me to the farm, I don’t want to lose it.” She shifted her water can into the crook of her arm and lifted the dented, scratched carcass. It was surprisingly light.

“Well I don’t fancy dragging it.” So she shuffled the abandoned creature onto her back like a rucksack, its legs dangling down, its shattered head lolling to the side.

But today she discovered a discarded metal creature.

With the sun now disappeared she reached the farm and felt strangely comforted by the presence of her broken companion. She strode up the winding path to the farm, quietly opening the cap from her can. Everyone from the local area used this well, the only one for miles guaranteed not to be poisoned, for now. Often she had to wait, noting others hesitating by the corners of the farm buildings, or peering out from the depths of haylofts. But tonight there seemed to be no-one else.

She shrugged her companion further up on her back and headed for the well. It took only a few moments to fill the can from the noisy tap, its old plumbing complaining noisily throughout. Usually this was when she was most anxious, for the noise could be heard from all around, but it was so familiar, like the birds and the winds, it seemed natural to everyone else but the one close by. She replaced the cap and stood up. The silence amplified by the lack of noise from the pump. She was sure that someone else was here now, probably waiting for her to leave, but certainly watching.

She shunted off, heaving the water and her metal companion, weaving down the path, back to her home just a few miles down the lane. She knew the route well enough, she could almost close her eyes, but the feathered light of the moon, struggling to peer through the sulphurous skies contrived to help.

As she reached the path to her home with its white painted panels a clarion call from the distance, she was sure that she’d been followed.

But today she discovered a discarded metal creature.

She pushed open her front door and allowed the can of water to drop. Weariness overcoming her she headed for the other side of the main room and tipped her companion onto the table.

“Oh.” She breathed heavily. “I hope you’re worth the effort.” She regarded the jumble of metal rods and plates which were joined by a series of small steel pipes, and a tangle of nodes. She saw the head had been partially blown off, with no face, just the command core left, some shielding plates hanging out of place. There were plenty of parts she could re-purpose, and whatever she couldn’t she would trade at the market.

“Hah, you’ll keep me going for weeks. I should name you, Lindiwe maybe, long awaited.” But she shook her head, how could she name something she would dismantle over the next few days. She turned away and reached for the back door to turn on the generator.

She stopped. There was a different quality to the sound in the air outside. She waited for a moment, but felt nothing more, and stepped out cautiously. Soon the generator, covered in baffles to reduce the noise, settled into a satisfying purr. Karima knew to be thankful these old-fashioned machines had survived the cull of the robots, because they didn’t need a micro-chip to function.

She was exhausted, but decided to make some preparations and laid out her tools. She grabbed a tin of soup from a cupboard and drained it, casting it onto the top of the trash nearby where it sat precariously.

She reached for her electric screwdriver, plugged it into the main circuit to charge.

“Hi there?” A voice spoke boldly from the dark direction of the door.

Karima whirled around, grabbing a blade from her toolkit. “What the hell are you doing in here?”

“Whooh, hold on,” the man stepped tentatively from the shadows and held out his arms, a small pistol in his right hand was face down, his head was obscured by a wide hat but she could feel the grin in the dark.

Karima knew the him to be a self-appointed local law man, a policeman someone nobody trusted, “do you usually march into people’s homes?”

“Oh, is this your home? I saw lights suddenly on and came over.”

“So you were watching?”

“Of course, that’s what I do, that’s my job,” his hands were still out but he leaned forward. “You’re so young to be on your own.”

“Were you following me?”

“What if I was? You might be doing something you shouldn’t be.”

“Don’t be ridiculous. Get out of my house.”

“You’re pretty feisty for someone who lives alone.” The man took a step closer.

Karima reached for the screwdriver from its charge point, “Look just leave, I have work to do.” She pressed the instrument into the neck of the metal creature on the table before her.

“Yes, I see that.” He took another step.

Karima might have been frightened, but today she discovered a discarded metal creature, and the tiny charge in her screwdriver kick-started a reaction in the command core, red lights pulsed at the top of what should have been the head, and suddenly a white light burst across the blank wall opposite, projecting erratic scenes of life, with people and robots fighting in the air.

“Oh my God, what is that?” Karima shouted.

“Turn it off! The lawman bellowed, raising his gun and ran forward...

[Continued in episode 100]

Part of a new series of micro-fiction stories, released as These Fantastic Worlds SF & Fantasy Fiction Podcast on iTunes, Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Spotify, Vurbl and Stitcher and more. Also on this blog, These Fantastic Worlds.

Text, image, audio © 2021 Jake Jackson, thesefantasticworlds.com. Thanks to Frances Bodiam and Elise Wells, Logic ProX, Sound Studio, the Twisted Wave Recorder App, and Scrivener.

More Tales, More Audio

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And a carousel of 10 audio stories from the podcast with information about submissions.

Here's a related post, 5 Steps to the SF and Fantasy Podcasts.

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