The city is much quieter than I expected…
Buildings all around, but almost no sign of life. Perhaps everyone hides indoors. Underground? No robots either. Except Sally. Sally is a good robot.
She leads me to a back alley door. She knocks.
The engineer is not what I expected. He is dressed strangely and surprisingly young. Maybe almost as young as me. The patterns on his sweater remind me of the visuals I had after the mushroom soup.
He appears extremely mellow. Relaxed. Is he rich?
He greets me but pays little attention to Sally.
We walk inside into a robotics lab seemingly twice as big as the outside of the building. Robots are strewn about everywhere- In boxes, hanging from the ceiling, on the walls. Sally walks over to a table and lies down. She begins to unhinge her limbs.
The engineer introduces himself as Cid.
I explain to him where I found Sally, smashed to pieces.
“It’s those terrorists again.” He tells me. “There’s a lot of technophobia out there. Robots aren’t exactly appreciated.”
“That’s terrible… Sally helped me get to the city. Her companionship alone kept me from going mad.”
“I’m surprised you didn’t. You look like you need a rest.”
“You can stay here until you feel ready to leave.” He says, “You’ve been good enough to bring Sally back. Thank you.”
He picks up a pipe and lights it, taking a few short puffs. He seems to fall into a deeper state of relaxation.
“There’s a spare bed in the next room. If you’ll excuse me, I’ve got some repairs to make.”
She tells me her name is Sally.
I feel embarrassed that I didn’t ask her sooner.
But why should I feel embarrassed? She’s a robot.
She obviously isn’t affected by it. She tells me we’re only a short distance from the city. Twenty minutes pending any more variables.
And then a loud scream. A predatory scream. Maybe an animal, but I wasn’t going to find out. I darted for the nearest hiding place.
Inside was a staircase leading upstairs. Destroyed. My only other option was downstairs. I hurried into the basement where I was engulfed in darkness.
The screams carried on, vibrated the building above me.
The basement was cold.
With only a slight crack of light seeping downward, I could see my breath pulsating in rhythmic waves.
Faster and faster as the screams got closer.
The perpetual steam engine of my mouth twisted shapes in the dark air. A face. A demon. Fear struck my heart. The screams above amplified the terror of this devil, maddened glowing eyes, floating towards me.
I was told cautionary tales as a boy about cannibals who fed on human flesh. Was this one? Was I to be consumed by this beast?
Where was Sally?
Why hadn’t she come for me yet?
Had she been offended earlier? She couldn’t have…
The screams faded out of audibility as I drifted away.
I woke up to the sound of my three birds chirping and made my way out of the basement as quickly as possible.
Just outside was Sally, standing guard and ready to continue the trek.
“What happened?” I asked, “What were those screams?”
“Four men. Dementia seemed to have taken over them. They appeared vicious.”
“Are they gone?”
“Yes. Three hours ago.”
“How much more walking to go?”
“My master’s laboratory is two kilometers from here.”
What had happened down there? More hallucinations? My mind keeps playing tricks on me. Hopefully it’ll stop once I’ve got some proper shelter. Some proper sleep.
Close to noon the sun burst through the clouds in full force. I thought about what the lady said about her needing water and sunlight for her plants. Then I thought about how stupid I was for giving her my water. Not only was I without hydration, but my canteen was gone too. I should’ve at least kept my canteen.
But more than anything I couldn’t shake the realization that this robot beside me could have carried that woman with ease into the city where help might be found.
If I went back it would mean I’d surely have to spend another night on the plains, but I couldn’t talk myself into leaving her to die in the sun. I might go a bit mad without water, but nothing I haven’t endured before. In any case I could get my canteen back. So we turned and walked back.
The robot advised against it but I was firm.
But when we got to where we first met her, she had vanished. She was far too weak to travel any distance out of sight but she was simply gone, and in her place was the empty canteen- and just ahead of the canteen stood the most perplexing structure I had ever laid eyes on.
This was definitely not here before…
How? Water and sunlight?
We sat down at the base of the magnificent plant and decided it would be a good a place as any to stay the night. There was still a good four hours of sun to the day, but without water it was better to stay still and hope for a spurt of rain. This was good shade.
As the day drew on, I struggled to understand the phenomenon we rested under when suddenly I was hit on the head with a small, rounded object. It smelt sweet. I bit into its hollow core and out sprung a well of sugary water. And with that, a downpour of these fruits extracted from the top of the flower.
My three small birds hoped off of their nest on my backpack and took advantage of the feasting opportunity.
I immediately bundled as many as I could and put them in my bag. The robot did the same with her storage compartment and soon after I fell asleep soundly.
In the morning, upon packing as many fruits as we could carry, we headed out for what we hoped to finally be the last bit of walking before a long rest in the city…
It was a shame to leave this anomaly of nature, but it had given me enough sustenance to make it to the city. Only a few more hours of walking.
No more than a half an hour into our final stretch to the city, we were startled to find a wretched and naked women, withering and slithering, strewn about the landscape- her body covered in bruises and patches of mud. She seemed to be using her last efforts to collect what little weeds and growth that could be found pushing itself upwards through the barren, rock-hard terrain.
“Help us…” She cried out. “Please… I just need some water… Water… The essence of life. Please…”
It struck me that this woman was close to death. I knew it. Giving her some of my last water would be for mercy and nothing else. Regardless, she would die out here, delirious and dehydrated.
Defying my own logic, I pulled out my canteen and carefully poured some water between her cracked lips. As I was about to stand back up, she took hold of my pant leg.
“Please! Please, my plants here… They need water too. They going to die… Help us.”
Suddenly the robot chimed in. “It is not advisable. These plants are beyond the point of salvaging. Any water distributed to her or them would only decrease your own chances of survival. I would have protested your initial donation, however my programming dictates that I avoid any interjection of human to human interaction but this situation operates outside of reason and therefore exceeds my parameters.”
Lashing out, the woman locked eyes with the robot, “No! No! Don’t you dare call me a human! You’re the human! You’re cold and lifeless, heartless and soulless like all other humans. Look what they’ve done to this planet! Look what they’ve done to my plants!”
Dismissing the robot, I bent down to calm the raving lady. “What is your name? Why are you out here all alone like this?”
“My… Name?” she said, as if never asked before. “My name is Terra. I don’t know how I got out here, but my plants… I’ve tried to collect them all but no use. We need water. The essence of life. Sunlight too. Please… I have trouble remembering things these days, but I just need some water and I know everything will be okay.”
I looked into the horizon. The city was visible. Distant but visible. I took one last drink from the canteen and set the bottle down at my feet in front of her.
“Oh, thank you. Thank you so much… You will not be forgotten!”
“I have to get moving. Take care of yourself.”
As we walked off, the robot looked down at me. “Water is scarce in this area.”
This isn’t what I expected.
Maybe a half day’s walk from the city I happened upon a pair of the most helpless, hopeless eyes. Fixed on me and struggling in the dirt lay the most miserable piece of metal I could ever imagine.
A torso, a head and a left arm, barely in tact, with severed parts strew about. This wasn’t an accident. No rain could’ve caused this. Someone tore this robot apart.
I’m not an engineer. How can I help this thing? There must be something I can do…
I began gathering the bot’s pieces and piled them in front of it. Perhaps it can fix itself. I started to unpack some of my own tools for it to use. Nothing more to be done…
I sat down nearby and tested some keywords.
Nothing at first, but it looked as if there were some processing going on. This was going to take a while.
Do I leave this robot under the assumption that it will be able to mend and then fend for itself?
I decided I’d better stay.
I would make camp here for the night and continue on my way into the city tomorrow morning.
Exhaustion had been building in me for hours and before sunset I fell asleep watching the slow mechanical movements of this machine.
Hypnotizing to watch it perform such calculated surgery on itself…
Startled and waking, I opened my eyes to this robot, standing almost seven feet tall in front of a blazing fire.
“You looked cold as you slept. I ignited a fire for you. Does the temperature suit you?”
A female voice- nurturing and soothing. Unexpected. But why? Why was I surprised that this robot was feminine? Maybe just surprised it had a gender at all. Silly to give it a gender, yet it probably knows itself as a woman… All of her repairs complete except for her right arm.
“The fire is fine, thank you. What about your right arm?”
“I cannot make the necessary splices with these rudimentary tools. My engineer lives in the city. At the average human walking speed of 6km per hour, taking into account your current state of weariness, we could be there in approximately 9 hours and 21 minutes, granted we are not hindered by any variables.”
That was a very precise approximately…
“Variables?” I asked.
“Unforeseen events or actions may cause a delay in my initial estimate.”
“Right. We can set out in the morning. If you don’t mind, I will go back to sleep.”
“It is recommended. I will remain here and sustain a suitable temperature for the fire.”
“Thank you. Goodnight.”
Robotics engineer, I thought. That is exactly who I need to meet…
I often envy people who can remember the world before all of this.
I’ve only ever known wastelands, desolation and primitive life.
If you are lucky to meet someone old enough, they might be able to tell you about luxury and what it felt like. My father didn’t experience it, but he had many stories from people who did. They were easier to come across when he was younger I guess, now they’re almost gone. I know my own memory is.
My grandparents grew up as the world got bad. My parents grew up as the world got worse and I grew up in the world’s worst, although logic dictates that we’re still on the decline. I can’t imagine what future generations will have to endure, but that being said, I haven’t seen a person younger than me in years. For all I know I could be the youngest person on the planet at 24 but I know that’s not true. The upper class lives well, I’ve gathered that much.
I assume they must reproduce.
I only vaguely remember what luxury might mean. A tube- something called a lipstick. A stick to colour your lips.
Maybe for reproduction…
As I trekked on, I noticed a small bird following me from above. It was a pleasant looking thing with a strangely positive demeanor.
I was certain he was waiting for me to die for a chance at scavenging my remains, but as the day grew older, and the bird persisted to shadow me, I started to enjoy its company. His companionship kept my spirits up, despite being famished and weary.
As the sun began to set, I hastened to set up camp. I found a nicely sheltered spot among some fallen highway signs and just as my fire had been lit and roaring, my tiny friend finally came down to greet me.
“Hello.” I said.
And with that, he dropped dead.
Disappointed at the loss, yet not one to miss out on an opportunity, I plucked him clean and cooked this gift from the sky on the spot.
For the first time in days I fell asleep with a full stomach.
The next morning I awoke to the sound of birds chirping and the guilt of eating my only friend pierced through my eardrums into my mind. I looked down to see only the haggard skeleton of the bird. Ignore it- another hallucination, but then there it was again.
I stood up and looked around. To my surprise, perched on a broken pedestal about six feet off the ground was a nest housing three newly hatched birds. Last night’s supper had surely been their mother.
I felt an immediate obligation to adopt this orphaned trio. I gently picked up their nest and using some duct tape and thin wiring, attached it to the top my backpack.
How long before these birds are fully grown?
How long before I’m too hungry to care?
And so I set off. Left my felled home into the veldt of the unknown. With my trusty boots on and a backpack of tools and a variety of items to trade, I felt prepared to finally venture out and live my life.
My first encounter was a contemplative, yet unsettling one. Taking what I thought would be a safe shortcut around some bombed out buildings, I happened upon a skeleton sitting against a wall. To the side of his head, torn yet still persisting to cling to the brick wall was a cloth with the following words hastily written upon them:
“The world is bleak but I am optimistic for life. I have faith in humanity’s potential. The deranged, ruling minority feeds us monsters and mutations but I will mutate them once more. I will take these deformations and forge them into retroactive weapons of creativity and satire. They will remain as sick artifacts and warnings that those who oppress, destroy and censor are out there. Do not fear these predators. Fight them. Fight them with words, with images and colours and sounds. Twist their twisted designs into beauty for them to behold. Only then will they understand that they can massacre the Earth and the creatures on it but they will never be able to kill our collective spirit, our voices and our freedom.”
He had no boots, no shoes, no footwear whatsoever. Not only that, but whoever had looted this corpse had decided to take his feet with them. Disturbing.
Upon further inspection of his clothing, I beheld an interesting patch, seemingly the symbol of some organization. Judging by the inspirational message on the wall, it was likely some political group. I decided to take the patch. Perhaps it would help to align me with some powerful people in the future.
As I turned to leave this macabre scene, I happened to glimpse a name stitched on the right breast pocket of the decaying jacket.
Is this a joke? A dream? No, it must be a coincidence.
This skeleton’s name was “RKM”.
Just a coincidence.
I am putting them on because I’ve decided to leave my house in search of friendship and food.
In such a dangerous world feet are of the utmost importance. I choose not to ride a bike because they are deathtraps on wheels with all the destroyed roads and walkways abound- and because I don’t have one.
These boots are trusty.
I’ve got a lot of walking to do.
The mushroom soup went off without a hitch. Hands down the best bit of eatery I’ve indulged in for a while.
I decided to be a bit greedy and took the entire family of mushrooms for my soup, even the little ones. I did, however, leave one solitary sprout there for re-growth. I’m thinking it might be a good idea to cultivate a small mushroom farm.
But not these mushrooms…
No, not these mushrooms at all. Shortly after consuming the soup, I was taken on a celestial mind-fuck that lasted the better part of six hours.
Now, I’ve happened upon the odd psychedelic mushroom from time to time, but this was high dosage, and these were not normal psychedelics.
The first distortion actually took place while I was cooking the soup. In time, which was surely displaced, I had already eaten the soup, I could feel its warmth in my stomach, but my mind experienced the cooking of the soup after the fact. As I stirred the pot, I witnessed the biggest of the mushrooms concocting his own mushroom soup inside the pot, using all his tiny friends as tiny ingredients, promptly eating them up and then amalgamating into some super-high, super-mushroom. Without hesitation, I devoured him. He was super-delicious.
My body quivered uncontrollably. Breathing became heavy and deliberate. Almost mechanical. My vision intensified acutely but soon evolved into a blurred nightmare of cloudlike unsteadiness. A wireframe appeared to coat every surface I laid eyes on, but the frame could not set still. The grid elevated upwards, dragging my consciousness up with it like a puppet on strings. Up I went and above the grid. I looked down to where my body had been standing and perceived not myself, but a giant, humanoid mushroom in my place, shifting about. The gills flowed in beautiful unity as if caught in a calm ocean current. The fungified version of myself seeped liquid soup broth. My body temperature raised with this visualization but my consciousness, floating about omnisciently, felt only a jerking sensation upwards, further from the material world. This giant mushroom, now glistening with soup, reflected a metallic shine. Bit by bit, my body turned from mushroom to robot while still retaining all its mushroom qualities. My sight drifted upwards as I looked out at the vast expanse of the Earth below and the Universe up and beyond. Is that a forest? It couldn’t be.
This grid, now overlaid on the surface of the world, was perceived as the eternal network and blueprint for all things conceivable. An intertwining filter for forethought. I looked back down to myself and started walking forward. Despite my all-seeing, all-powerful mindset, I feared the outdoors and craved the security of my four walls. I remember moving towards the stove to rid myself of the devilish soup that bestowed upon me this incredible, yet incredibly terrifying gift of God-like supremacy. Controlling myself, I dumped the leftover soup into the sink and as gravity took it downward, down came my consciousness. A monumental leap from a mountaintop. I felt cast out of Heaven. However, as I came crashing back down into my metal body, another sensation took hold of me. My senses were enhanced ten-fold. I looked out the nearby window and my vision leapt to the furthest building with ease, from the macroscopic to the microscopic in an instant. Every individual crack and blemish of the brick wall was as plain and clear as the counter beside me. In a giddy burst of strength I grabbed hold of my oven and dashed it across the room. This was too much. Too much power, too much for my mind to handle. I stumbled downward to lift the fallen oven but blacked out before it could be done…
Dreams of unspeakable madness and indescribable beauty.
I awoke several hours later with only slight visual stimulation. Typical closed-eye symmetry and geometrical shapes forging in darkness. As the stupor slowly wore off, I wandered into my kitchen.
How did I throw that oven across the room?