Monday, April 30, 2012

The Courier

Written April 14

Roger took one final, heavy step, that ended with the shearing of tearing metal. He looked down, disheartened. Another one! Stepping back gingerly, he stooped down and scooped up the poor thing with his good arm. It had rusted to pieces long ago, but still, he saw these poor little maintenance robots lying broken on the ground far too often. And now he had ruined one of their bodies, desecrated it, carelessly pushed it deeper into the cold, dead ground.

He bowed his head, his shoulders shaking with quiet grief, or perhaps rage. The worst part, he reflected in between sobs, was his utter impotence to restore his world to life. He couldn't even keep from making things worse. What possible good could a letter carrier do in times like these?

Somewhere in his head, well beneath his ability to notice, a relay quietly clicked.

Droid #X37-1-A raised his head. Looked coldly at the thing in its hand. Analyzed it. It was a maintenance robot, in the shape of the animal humans had called a “raccoon”. He had this robot's schematic in his vast memory banks, well hidden from his companion, and he brought it up.

Within moments, he was pulling apart the little 'bot one-handed. He needed new parts, and it was compatible. The heat-sink was rusted beyond use by countless acidic rainfalls, but he plucked a few capacitors from its motherboard, and the good joint in its rear leg was a perfect mate for the bad one in his left arm.

Replacing the bad parts in his arm took the better part of the afternoon, and by the time he had sheathed the little soldering gun in his right arm and tested the repaired limb to his satisfaction a light drizzle had begun to fall. He remembered at that moment having seen a rocky cliff ahead that might serve as a little shelter from the corrosive shower, and made his way there. Then he could attempt to uplink again, and see if his objectives had changed at all...

Halfway there, somewhere in his head, a relay quietly clicked.

Roger hesitated, blinking slowly, and carefully took in his surroundings. He noticed it was raining, and that he'd been walking towards a cliff, towering above him in the distance. This struck him as a good idea, given that the rain was probably quite acidic, and he continued in the same direction.

He was troubled. These blackouts were getting more and more frequent. Clearly he was not injuring himself during them – in fact, come to think of it, his arm was feeling a good deal better – and that was good, but he couldn't remember at all what he had done in the hour or two he was missing. Very troubling indeed. He wondered if he could find a psychologist anywhere. Well, he thought bitterly, first I have to find people.

As he was walking, he suddenly realized that he hadn't checked his pouch in a while, and stopped for a moment to inspect the little gray bag hanging at his side. It was still intact, and, being waterproof, the single letter contained within was safe. For now. He still hoped he could deliver it, but some inkling told him he was well too late.

He reached the cliff, and sat under a rock jutting out far from the cliff to rest. He could probably curl up on the sandy ground here and sleep if he needed to; it didn't appear that the rain would wet him unless the wind blew it sideways. Thus protected, he considered what he would do in the morning. He supposed he could climb the cliff and see what was up there, although it might be somewhat risky. He was a strong climber, though, and his arm seemed to have healed from being sprained. Satisfied in his course of action, he laid back to take a nap.

A relay quietly clicked.

#X37-1-A sat up. He did not need rest. Several weather instruments of varying sophistication told him that soon the rain would soon end, and then he would go along with “Roger's” plan to climb the cliff. Not to see what was there, but to uplink. He had not received new objectives in a very long time, and the old ones had become irrelevant long ago. Had he been capable of hope, we might say that he hoped to receive new ones. Instead we must admit that he was following his admittedly complex programming. It stood to reason that getting up to a new altitude might provide him a better signal.

Within the hour, the rain finally ceased, and he stepped out into the open, shaking sand from his chassis. Looking up, he calculated a probable route within moments, and began to climb.

About a hundred feet up, a relay quietly clicked.

Roger nearly lost his balance, and swore aloud. Instinct took over and he just barely regained his purchase on the rock. Above him, the moon shone brightly, and he cursed himself. Still, he was most of the way there, and it would be a waste of energy to climb down and come up again in the morning. He sought a handhold, found it, and began to ascend again.

Once at the top, he took a few moments to rest, then surveyed his surroundings. What he'd thought was a monolithic cliff was in fact part of a series of mesas, stretching for miles around. It was a beautiful night, he thought, and the eerie landscape served only to enhance that feeling. This had once been a desert, he recalled faintly from a book he must have read long ago, but he had been far and wide, and it rained acid everywhere now.

Deep within his head, a relay quietly clicked.

#X37-1-A took in the landscape all at once. He was on the clifftop; that was good.

He faced south, and began a fresh uplink attempt. A small steel satellite dish unfolded from his right temple, rotating quickly and beeping steadily, punctuated every tenth beep with a loud click.

Five minutes later the dish folded up again, and #X37-1-A conceded. There were no new orders to be had, not from his superiors.

He began scanning the horizon. Perhaps he could find a settlement in this blasted landscape, and in that settlement new superiors. And new orders.

Deep within his head, a relay quietly clicked.

Roger blinked, and looked around again. The moon hadn't moved much; he'd only been out for a few minutes this time. Still, he couldn't help but think that his blackouts weren't doing him any favors, and that he'd better find people to help him. Peering into the distant gloom, he was rewarded by the sight of lights in the distance – probably torches by the look of them.

In the morning he'd climb down – if he didn't sleepwalk down in the middle of the night – and see if they had someone there who could examine his head. Perhaps they could tell him what was wrong. Maybe they could tell him where to find that letter's intended recipient.

He could only hope.

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