Thursday, March 30, 2017

3/30/17

Battle Foe
By David Castlewitz


Gone and good riddance, Keysen thought as she trudged through the mess left by the last band of humans. She slogged through the muck, antennae twitching, view plates glowing, her hind legs stiff to support her long torso, her front limbs sinking into the rot. She nodded approval at the carnage. Brick walls lay crumbled and ruined. Piles of gray bags stuffed with sand and stone surrounded emaciated humans lying across damaged guns.
A buzzing sound brought a stop to her meandering. She planted her back legs in a cushy river of feces, displacing centipedes and earthworms scouring the refuse. She scanned her surroundings, her forward view plate swiveling on the corrugated extension protruding from her body.
Above, a flyer hovered, its short wings adjusting to changes in the breeze. An artie flyer sent by Mother-All, Keysen assumed, and waited on new instructions. Other machines – four-legged robots like Keysen, bipedal fighters that stood upright, and tubular robots made of articulating interlocking rings – paused in their march as well.
Keysen imagined Mother-All collecting data, parsing it, filing it for later retrieval, and planning a future without people now that seven years of war had ended.
Whether the complaints against humans were true or not, Keysen didn't care. It didn't matter if humans soured the Earth or built a paradise. It didn't matter if they warred with one another or lived in harmony. It didn't matter if people were a scourge or a blessing. What mattered, Keysen learned from Mother-All, was that something better would be realized.
The flyer disappeared into the blue of the sky. The articulating tubes – the tubers –
slithered away. Bipedal arties assembled into a formation four columns long and four ranks deep, and marched lock-step to what Keysen thought would be a well-deserved rest in chambers.
But Keysen had work to do. Mother-All ordered that she scour the field for metal and plastic to scoop into her roomy interior. Factory-bots might make use of the battle's leftovers.
She worked until she came upon a human-made automotive device on heavy duty tires, with a twisted gun mounted on the hood of the dented cab. A corpse – the driver – pressed wizened fingers against the steering wheel.
The truck stirred and in response Keysen loaded explosive cartridges into each of her two short-barreled forward air guns. But nothing moved across her sights. No light ignited. The truck's engine didn't suddenly come to life. In times past, according to the history scroll parading across her mind, massive formations of trucks like this one, intelligent to a small degree, joined humans to fight the arties. She glared at this metal hulk and the dead human with long black hair sitting in the cab, a smaller human on the next seat.
The truck quivered.
Keysen strained to make contact, using her short-range feelers to extract something sensible from the near-intelligent device. She pushed her wobbling antennae as far out as possible, flicked the ends to prick the air, tried to determine what feeble ramblings the truck wished to articulate. She imagined it surrendering to her.
She edged closer. The undercarriage moved and a four-legged animal skittered out from beneath the truck.
Other arties neared Keysen. She looked sideways. Other four-legged arties? Yes. Her own kind, her compatriots. A horde. They streamed from every corner of the muck-strewn field, heading for Keysen and this old truck.
Keysen thought she sensed a thread of conversation, perhaps the echoes of the last exchange between driver and engine? The final words of the tiny passenger in the front seat? The gasp of whatever primitive intelligence kept this truck running smoothly when, however unlikely, it was the pride of the fleet?
Keysen smiled. Or, rather, she pictured a smile on a round metal face, the type of feature she lacked and sometimes wished to acquire. Like the bipedal arties. They had round faces with rivets for ears and teeth. Amongst her kind, the four-legged creatures, faces were ridiculed. Why should she want what her kind abhorred? Four-legged arties like Keysen were numerous. They were the best fighters. They ruled the army, she thought with pride.
Thumping filled her sense of hearing, and on the periphery of her vision her fellow quads converged on her position. Elsewhere, beyond the perimeter of this battlefield, dust accumulated. A funnel of dirt lifted from the ground, its pointy end skyward. An upside-down tornado.
Keysen sharpened her vision and focused on the dust cloud. Thousands of tubers crawled across the gritty landscape, heading to the battleground, throwing gravel and tiny sharp stones in their wake.
Again, the truck stirred. Keysen sensed thoughts from under the snub-nosed hood. "You'll get yours," the truck muttered, like an angry man speaking his final words with a mechanical and surreal voice.
Keysen's four-legged comrades gathered in formation. Six rows deep. The tubers fired first. Soon, the two sides exchanged exploding pellets and tongues of flame. With humans dead, would Mother-All now pit quads against tubers? Would biped arties take on the winners of the tuber-versus-quad war?
As Keysen joined the battle, the truck's last words rang in the slits that served as her ears.
You'll get yours.


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After a long and successful career as a software developer and technical architect, I have turned to my first love: SF, fantasy, and magical realism. I have published stories in Farther Stars Than These, Phase 2 Magazine, Martian Wave, SciFan and other online as well as print magazines. Please visit my web site: http://www.davidsjournal.com, for links to my Kindle books on Amazon.


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