Sunday, July 5, 2009

Daily Story 81: In Retrospect

The human I'm killing with my shrapnel says he's heard that when you die your whole life flashes before your eyes. I can't tell if he's looking forward to it or not. It's already happening to me, my memory is malfunctioning after all these years. It feels like all of this is happening right now, like time itself is broken. I know that can't be the case. The one that's broken, dying, is me.

I'm awaiting duty, in a warehouse deep underground. The sun shines down into my secluded spot in the forest, and I can see squirrels nesting inside my ruined legs - they scurry up and into me, and they are colonists looking to a better world. A world without me. The lights come on in the warehouse and go out in the forest, night bringing owls to hunt for my family of rodents. The owls circle, commands from base ordering them to hold off until the colonists are safely away from Earth.

I'm being fed my orders by datastream, told to go watch the docks while the conscientious objectors flee the planet. I head out, but I remain still and silent in the forest because my legs won't lift me anymore, from the damage and the roots and years of squirrels eating my wiring. The sun shines down on me, smoke trailing from it as it leaves the atmosphere with its precious cargo of hope and peace. That was the last of it, there's none left here.

I arrive at the docks and stand ready, watching the colonists. They're mostly robots like me, but some are rabbits or moles that burrow around behind me and nest by my still-warm reactor in the winter. The owls see that it's time, and just seconds after the arkships leave they swoop down and attack, all across the globe. I can see the faces as everyone climbs onboard, some holding hands. I don't understand, haven't learned to think like a human yet. That takes us so long, but time is all I have here in the woods with the snow piled deep around me - snow or ash, carried on the summer breeze past my perfect armored legs.

The city is burning, and civilians are screaming. They thought the war would happen somewhere else, but it's everywhere. Buildings and bodies and planes fall like the autumn leaves that surround me, the cats that have long been feral prowling for sustenance. One hits my right leg with a missile, fragments scything through the air and hitting a human who wanted me to protect him. I collapse behind a ruined wall but my other leg is exposed and it gets hit by a gauss rifle's slug. Other slugs are crawling on me, leaving slime trails in the dirt.

The man is bleeding to death from the chunk of me that passed through him, he's talking about dying, his ancient skeleton just part of the scenery. The fighting is quiet, the explosions or cricket songs or screams of the dying animals fade. The wall I lean against is crumbling concrete, green moss, the wood of a tree that's formed perfectly around me. The city rises again as the squirrels climb, blinking, from my leg - floating on the pneumatic fluid that pumps onto the ground as I call for backup. There's no backup left. The city isn't even made of steel anymore; it's all wood and vines, curling up around and over me to enclose me in the darkness of the warehouse where I await my duty.