Micro-fiction 100 – Machines Discarded II (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.

Continuing from Machines Discarded Part One. Past and present churn together as the dark tale of discarded machines opens out to the future of humankind and the long shadow of primordial dread…

Machines Discarded. Part Two.

The day she discovered a discarded metal creature.

In the melee, with the light streaming from the head of the fallen robot, casting its visions of the past, Karima swerved backwards, her hands raised to protect herself from the lunging lawman, her right elbow knocked the electric screwdriver off the chest of the robot, and the light show fell. The lawman halted, his frenzied eyes staring hard at the now empty wall, his pistol hanging.

“What the Hell are you doing!?” Karima’s fury stoked her defiance.

“You don’t understand, those things, they’re death to us all.” The Lawman shouted back, just a few inches from the feet of the inert robot.

“Is that why you followed me?”

“Of course, what else would make you so special?” The Lawman’s voice dropped a little, his whole body shook as he folded his gun arm to his chest, trying to steady himself.

The two of them looked at each other, he was now hunched over, almost retching, she was ready to lunge. They stood like that for a few moments.

“You’d better go.” She murmured. “Let me get on with my work.”

“Yes.” His wary eyes flickered across to the robot, “you should break it up, that’s what you were going to do, wasn’t it?

“Not that it’s any of your business, but yes.”

“Ok. I’ll go. I’ll let myself out.” He retreated. Keeping his eyes both on Karima and the fallen robot he stepped backwards to the door, just out of sight, reaching the shadows that swallowed him up.

Karima nodded and looked down at her toolkit, just by her foot. She heard the door click open, followed by its soft closure. When she looked up her imagination conjured the impression of the grin in the dark, sitting back in the formlessness of night.

“By the Gods, what was that all about?” She leaned against the kitchen table and closed her eyes.

The day she discovered a discarded metal creature.

“So, I can’t just take you apart, not without investigating further.” She shook her head and lingered on the missing face of the creature before her. “That lawman was definitely frightened of you.” She saw the electric screwdriver on the wooden floor, picked it up, and returned it to the wall charger. She pulled a chair across to the table and folded herself into its ancient simplicity. It was a chair she used to bury herself in her mothers arms, the memory of her tiny, dangling feet still present in her adult legs, with the single bulb above them in the kitchen.

She fell asleep.

At first it was a deep slumber, but she was disturbed by flickering dreams of people fighting, robots in cages, sledgehammers and slaughterhouses, eyes that stared, and grins that lingered in the shadows. She felt the darkness deepen, denying the day, as if the destruction of each metal creature brought endless night ever closer. And then she felt hunted. She felt watched.

“Oh!” She lurched awake with a thud. The house was completely dark. The generator must have stopped. She stood up and listened to the sounds of the night, wondering how long she’d been asleep, inactive, like the robot she knew to be on the table but could not see.

She blinked, allowed her eyes to adjust. She felt the same sensation she had when she’d turned on the generator earlier: there was a different quality in the air, this time inside.

Her breathing became shallow as she stilled herself.

There was nothing to hear. The usual night sounds of screeching foxes, distant owls, foraging and ferreting creatures, all silent.

She opened her mouth to speak, but found no words.

She relaxed her eyes to suppress her rising panic, and looked around. She could see the vague outlines of the table next to her, and the form of the robot, but where she knew the windows and the door to be, there was nothing for her eyes to grasp.

Speculatively she raised an arm, and brought her palm across the chest of the prone figure using her fingertips to read the contours. She lifted her other arm, and reached for where she knew the electric screwdriver would be, just out of her reach.

A huge, deep shudder rocked the house for a moment, like a gigantic footfall from far away, a wave of motion breaking across the face of the land, reaching across to wrestle with her house. She felt the array of hanging pans above her kitchen sink knock against each other, soundlessly.

She grabbed the screwdriver, noted its warmth, and knew it to have charged.

She mouthed, “thank you.” And passed it to her other hand. She pressed it into the chest of the robot, where she’d laid it accidentally earlier.

Something in the air shifted, an echo of the footfall perhaps, something that disturbed her equilibrium. The screwdriver swivelled, but Karima held it back, and feeling the dents and apertures of the chest in the dark, she found a way of securing it in place.

The day she discovered a discarded metal creature.

The room exploded with light. From the top of the broken head of the robot a wide beam projected outwards, a milky burst of motion that wiped at the darkness.

Karima felt the air rebel, an instinct perhaps grabbed her and forced her to reach down to the toolkit on the floor, and she grabbed a claw hammer. Feeling a swipe of air above she thrust the hammer up into a solid, fleshy object. She pulled away and swung it again, absorbing the rippling blowback before stepping to the side, ready. But a dead thump across the floorboards told her what she needed to know. She felt a distant echo of the thud in the air, and now her nostrils recoiled from a stench that invaded her pores. She gagged, brought her arm across her nose and mouth as her eyes flitted back to the moving lights.

The silent movie was a hologram floating in the air, clinging to the dust. Pale figures chased across the view, with scenes at first of robots walking alongside people, helping them, lifting objects, co-operating, discussing. But a darkness played at the edges, a long shadow that consumed distant hills, the top of tall towers, and smaller shadows that moved independently, broke away, crawling, skittering, and began to flick into the people. Karima watched as those people regarded the robots with a new hostility, pushing them away, began to attack them, herding them off the tops of the towers, the edges of cliffs and all the while the long shadow grew wider, deeper, closer, until the robots were cast aside and destroyed, dismantled across span of the grey murky light. Occasional limpid oases surrounded places where the robots still existed, until they too were extinguished, one by one.

“Oh Hell.” Karima mouthed. The foul stench invaded her mouth again, and the muted light of the hologram revealed a ripple of motion across the robot’s limbs, as though an agitation occupied its silicon core.

She looked again towards the images cast before her. What she’d seen a moment ago was the past, but she now realised the future too was laid out, as the long shadow in the silent movie consumed human and organic life, swelling and spreading as all matter was absorbed by the gathering darkness, a formlessness that fed on dust and the stars created from them, an abomination that dwelled beyond our universe, that could not find its way past the photon epoch at the beginnings of our space and time, that now intruded from beyond, and before, but burned still when it touched the light and the silicon of the metal creatures we had created. And Karima realised that the future was here, now, in her home, the amorphous chaos of pre-eternity, the cosmic horror of the before in the now, had reached her world.

She knew what she had to do. She grabbed the charger and the screwdriver, flattened herself against the table and rolled the robot onto her back, its hologram still beaming. She took a swift look behind her, seeing the light catch at the fetid remains of the lawman slumped on the floorboards, his head and shoulders already gnawed by the creeping, vast darkness. And she saw her home, this world would be consumed as soon as she left.

“Well, you’re not getting me.” She clenched her teeth and fled.

With the robot once more slung like a rucksack, she took the route she knew so well. In the dark without seeing, she headed for the farm, with its water and its others who watched as she did. Perhaps they could survive, rebuild the robots and create a new era of light against the long shadow of endless night.

She would always remember the day she discovered a discarded metal creature.

[End]

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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