The giant robot stalked the empty world, looking for its lost arm.
It had fought in many wars, from the beginning to the end. In ancient Thrace it had brought down the gates of Thermopylae. In Samarkand it had crushed the Czar’s men underfoot. On the fields of the Somme it had walked the no-man’s land and razed the flags of the Third Reich.
Towards the end had been the lasers. The large bombs; the A-bomb, and the B-bomb that followed it. Artillery that could shred its skin, and tanks that could push it over.
Then there had been the mountains. The icy colds for so long, then the winds, and lightning. Somewhere along the way, its arm had been lost.
It barely thought, but for its simple cog-driven brain ticking and chugging. Many of its tines and transfers had long since rusted or failed. Steam pulsated erratically behind its sagging cracked lens eyes. At night it dreamt fitfully of past glories, and of its lost arm.
(Image from here)
One day the giant robot came to an old city, once the newest place on the planet, a city that once boasted lights that blazed across the landscape, and buildings that towered even taller than the robot itself. Its streets were criss-crossed with steam-ways and under-carriages, bi-rails and tubular congress-ways.
But many of them were fallen now, the glass tubes shattered and filled with desert-sand and crabs. The great skyscrapers canted leeringly against each other. Those that had already fallen lay like long dessicated whales, their spines bared to the skies, their innards of paper and desks spread wide and loamed in with new trees.
The robot clumped through the city. Its giant khaki feet the color of rust left indentations in the soft asphalt. Deer ran the city before it.
At the center of the city the robot saw a giant neon myna bird affixed to the side of a tumble-down building.
The robot’s brain clanked and wheezed, and steam shot from its ears. It had seen a myna bird before.
It knelt by the sign, read the words emblazoned across its chest, some letters fallen and missing- ‘H T HOTÂ T KIÂ B R!’
It tore the bird from the building and sat on the street with it in its lap. It reached inside the cavity in its chest, pulled out a long thin wire, and attached it to a contact point in the back of the bird’s head.
The wire sparked, and immediately the bird’s eyes moved. Its wings danced.
The robot set the bird on the street before him, leaning against a building.
“Hello,” said the robot.
The Mina bird’s eyes rolled in its head. Its wings flapped. Its jaw waggled and its small pink tongue shook inside its mouth.
“Can you hear me?” asked the robot.
“Hello,” said the bird, its voice rusty with dis-use, its eyes swinging in to focus on the giant robot. “Hello. Have I been asleep?”
“Yes,” said the robot, “for a very long time.”
The bird looked around the empty and overgrown streets.
“All the people have gone,” said the bird.
“I only see you.”
“Yes,” said the robot. “And I am looking for my lost arm.”
The bird looked at the missing space where the robot’s arm should be.
“Have you seen it?”
The bird shook its flat head.
“No, I’m sorry.”
The giant robot nodded.
“I’ve asked many others, in many cities. None of them have seen my arm.”
“Perhaps I can help you find it.”
“How can you help me?”
“I’m a myna bird. I can fly high into the sky on my strong wings. I can search the skies for your missing arm.”
“You cannot fly, myna bird. You are a flat sign. How would you climb into the skies?”
“I knew how to fly once,” said the bird. “Perhaps you could teach me to fly again.”
Steam rushed and wheezed inside the robot’s head.
“Yes,” it said eventually. “Perhaps I can.”
The robot spent 3 months with the bird, at the old docks of the city. All day and all night it worked on a set of wings.
The myna bird spoke to it sometimes, about flying. The robot spoke about its times in the wars.
Using metal hulls from old battleships, welding with electric sparks from its engine-heart, the robot built new wings for the bird.
The bird cawed when it first took to the air. Its plumage danced neon light in the dusk sky as it took off over the city.
“I can see so far!” cried the bird.
“Do you see my arm?” called the giant robot.
“No, not yet!” called the bird. “Perhaps around this next building!”
The bird called back to the robot as it circled the city. The robot shouted its question incessantly. “Do you see my arm?”
The bird’s responses grew dimmer and dimmer. Soon, the robot could not hear them at all.
It grew dark.
The robot sat alone, as the bird was gone.
It felt something different in its big clunking mind. Something slow and painful. Something it had learned to forget a long time ago.
The robot could not cry, nor sob, but its body shook when it felt something.
The robot shook all that night, sitting in the empty city.
The next day the robot resumed its lonely walk.
It walked for years. It traveled between continents, underwater. The steam in its head fizzled and sparked as water seeped in. Its thoughts became slow and cold, like the depths of the oceans around it.
Sometimes it woke to find itself standing frozen still. It remembered fuzzy steam dreams, of battle with other robots, of men clustered around shells, of the first of the giant glaring B-bombs going off in the stratosphere.
Then it woke, and trudged on.
It walked through long-dusted over battlegrounds, turrets and cannon-mounts of tanks just peeking through the settled dust of ages passing. It walked past great frigates on land, and graveyards of fallen jet-fighters, their metal frames and fragile rusted carapaces crackling like dry leaves under his giant metallic feet.
Time passed, and the giant robotâ€™s body decayed. It no longer sped, as it once had. Years of neglect had worn down its engines, its joints, the steam-pumps of its mind.
The robot became slow, and stupid. It found itself lying on its side, trying to walk into the earth. It found itself walking with only one leg at times, in cities it didn’t know it had arrived at, in mountains it didn’t know were there. Once it awoke atop a pyramid, sitting, looking out at the stars.
Finally, its joints seizing as it strode over a wasteland crater where a B-bomb had once ignited, all movement ceased.
The robot stood still and silent on the empty ravaged plain.
Slowly its thoughts began to fade. It saw black. It saw its arm, in the distance. It saw the wars, and the people that had once buffed its chest, repaired its injuries, awarded it medals for valor.
The robot could not cry, but it shook, until all its energy was used up. And then it simply winked out.
Time passed around the robot. Seasons buried it in snow, which melted, then rain, which filled the crater up like a lake. Algae grew up and around it, small frogs and fish came to live in its cracks and crevices. When the summer heat came the crater dried up, but the frogs and creatures remained inside the robot. They lived in pools, warmed from the robot’s last ticking metronome, warm from the single jet of steam that flowed quietly inside its hulking metal frame.
The once-dead crater-sand in its creases and niches grew thick with warmth and life. Rushes grew out of its eye stalks and up from the joints in its knees. Trees bloomed from the rivet-posts of its thighs. Bushes grew about its feet, and giant blooming flowers erupted from its head, craning towards the sun.
Slowly the bomb-crater filled with life, carried on the winds, with the robot at the centre.
One day the robot woke up. The myna bird was perched on the canopy of trees before it, a wire sparking from its chest to the robots.
Hanging from the myna bird’s small yellow beak was the robot’s arm.
“You came back,” said the robot, though its voice was rusty with growth, with ivy and creepers and vines in its throat.
“Across the world on top of a mountain,” said the myna bird. “But now I’m tired. Can I lie down here?”
The robot looked at its arm hanging from the myna bird’s beak, and began to tremble more powerfully than it ever had before. Its khaki arm lying there before it made it think of happier times, when there were men all around, cheering, throwing rose petals over its massive chrome head.
On its trembling lap of foliage, the myna bird closed its mechanical eyes.
“Goodnight,” it said.
The giant robot looked down at the bird.
“Goodnight,” said the robot. “Thank you.”
Then it too closed its eyes. Soon, the trembling subsided, and the robot slept again.
The trees growing up and around it grew until they eclipsed even its head, and the myna bird on its lap was swallowed up in the tangle of hot jungle.
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