Dust rolled across the lifeless red desert, piling upon the corpses of man as it had for more than a thousand years. Even as sand swirled in the arid wind ten times more than it ever had, it couldn’t hide the wrecks of ancient steel and crumbling glass sprouting from the dunes. Great trees they once were, wrecked trunks of technology from a greater time, forever dormant but also undying in the sand. Once there were actual trees which replaced them beyond perfection, ones with life, colour and purpose. But with them reduced to nothing but the ubiquitous dust along with those who might have known of them they became less than fiction, with the only feature to the landscape the rusted towers of old. In the brave new world of the future it only took scarce years, a few months in fact to turn the future into a deadened reality for eternity.
But of course life still seeped through the clutch of the desert’s deathly grasp, preserving its interest. Humanity still lived, albeit in a fraction of a shadow they once cast, now outnumbered by the rats and vultures. And in a specific speck of society, covered by animal-skin tents in the shadow of a cliff looking out to a green, trashed sea, The life of humanity now devolved into savagery, continued in its newfound normality.
In what could barely be called a town bearing a name from some primal tongue, inhabitants strived to live a life their distant ancestors would have considered a nightmare. Amateur farmers tended desperately to dying crops in dry, awkward plots of land. The sickly looking corn had been hardened through radiation like anything at that point, but as the sun broke through the atmosphere with ease in the modern day, it wilted even easier.Hidden from general view a huddle of women comforted a boy on his deathbed, his passing sad but understood and accepted. To them it was no more than the will of the gods, in the ancient days what one would have called “Leukemia”. In what could be called the centre of the village, the remains of a bonfire stood darkened and unlit. A man sat kneeling in front of it with his eyes shut in concentration and his head held towards the sky. In his hands was an inscribed stone tablet, a scripture of the gods.
In a life so dismal as what it had become, the gods were perhaps the sole thing to bind it loosely together. Not gods like the ones of old, whose power rested in that unseen and only in the realm of thought and ideology, for in existence now there were no beings capable of thinking beyond what could be seen. In the air roamed the Elder of the Sky, whose will was as strong as the winds, whose voice was as loud as thunder but whose gifts were as grateful as fire-giving light from above that no one of the time necessarily had a word for. The raging sea was the Lady of the Waves, her thrashing, ever present wrath on the shore, sometimes bestowing fish out of the dirtied water. And on the very land which they rested was the Beast of the Earth, ruler of a landscape so inhospitable and vile, yet still the very physical foundation to life nonetheless.
The man kneeling was a leader to the people, their chieftain, and by anyone’s account it could be said that he was a good man, not a warlord or rapist as was so common in the day. Good was a dim and almost meaningless term in the savage future, but with what notion people had of it, it would have been associated with him. His eyes streamed tears as he prayed to the Elder in the sky, not out of immense faith but rather an immense fear that no strike of lightning would come. One part of his head scolded him again and again for thinking such a thought, but forthe other part of him it was clear enough to see when the spirit above simply said, “no’’. After all, to use an ancient idiom good favour with the Gods was a hit and miss thing. But that could only lead him to think of bad favour, specifically the rumour, the other god, who was never to be taken as deity. Yes, everyone had heard the rumours, the tales of a spirit armoured in stone with fury fuelled by fire. Tales and stories meant to scare circled of course, but to what god it was only the Elder above could know, and he seemed as inclined to tell as to light a bonfire. It raced across the desert flats apparently, on a mission of nothing but death, a god unlike any of the others. It was a strange thing, one the chief was not quite content to believe. Though if it was true he would stop it. After all, he was a good man, or at least the best man left in a dying world.
Thunder in the sky was as common as dust in the wind; the events of the past always made sure the sky was in violent tumults. But when it emanated from far-off in the desert distance, masked by curling, airy waves of dust the village people stopped there daily struggle to live, and watched. The desert was long and unchanging throughout the entire world, yet the heavy rumbling sound which carried over let everyone know there was something coming, and moving fast. The chieftain sat against a rock, clutching a pole with his eyes set only on the dust cloud in the distance. He had faced many things before. Starvation, beasts, men, a whole host of things he felt more comfortable with than the unknown he knew was coming. It was bound to come. Those rumours and tales of horror couldn’t have meant nothing. The chieftain couldn’t decide if he was wise for thinking they were true or foolish for not trying to run from it if he did. Whichever the case, it was too late. The dust in the distance now centered around a mass barely seeable. It was only a speck, a black dot with an emanating red light like a pupil, pulsing harshly even while so far away.
Then in an instant, untellable the moment before it the storm blew in their faces, a loud blaring sound was picked up by the wind along with heat, an immense, red heat. The chieftain fell to the ground with his eyes shut as the dust stung at his skin and the nearby blasts of heat almost seared his body, its sound tearing through his ears. There were rips and crashes and perhaps screams in the background, but then again there was barely a background to hear. There was only heat, noise, and undoubtedly death. Soon the resource for which the dim wailing came dried up and stopped, forcing the chieftain to open his eyes. It was real. The thing, the god was hovering in front of him, an eye of stainless steel and overpowering red light. The metal panels ran smooth on its surface only opening to let its cauldron eye survey the wrecks. It was a machine from the ancient past, built in a time where the primitive tongue now spoken by humanity was no more than fiction. And so, in an equally fictitious voice to the chief, the machine spoke, in a tone without emotion or gender.
“I, unlike man do not do with mistake or the possibility of ruin. My actions are perfect and calculated on undeniable probability, a small but fatal change which creates this present tense.” Though not understanding a word, a brief glimpse to what lay outside his field of view showed what the phantom might have been mentioning. Bodies of those he once new laid heaped and hung over the wreckage of tents, an entire world which took generations to create diminished to nonexistence in seconds. The machine was about to speak with its cursed invisible tongue once more.
“You-” a staff suddenly slammed to its side, the only action taken by any man that could be called a “victory” in any sense against the machine. The metal eye swivelled on a mythical axis, letting loose a blast of energy in succinct succession. The chieftain was back on the ground, clutching an arm nearly blackened to the bone. The pain as immense, but he was toughened enough to only grimace and look at the god. And then he did something he thought it would not expect; he ran. Kicking up sand in the face of the eye he dashed to the beginnings of a rocky cliff as violent flashes of light landed beside him, but never hit. He took cover behind, falling flat on his face but staying motionless. He waited, not breathing and keeping still, expecting the eye to be upon him any second. But as he waited more and more expecting it, he gathered his strength to peek over the rocky barrier. It was gone, nowhere in sight amongst the ruined village. He felt his burnt hand. He wasn’t dead. That thing was a god, a being that wouldn’t miss if it wished to. It wanted him alive.
The mountain winds blew dust in his face as did everywhere else, making him cry a simple and silent curse to the gods. His gut panged him for doing so but each time, it was less and less. Perhaps they were punishing him, perhaps they were testing him, perhaps they didn’t care. The tablet was still in the wraps of his sash, its bold indents of figures and pictorial characters pressing on his skin. He could feel the picture, or perhaps he just knew it so well. On the top the Elder sat on a storm cloud, to one corner the Lady of the Waves bathed in her raging torrents of water and to the other the Beast grazed on a harsh desert where there was nothing to graze. He’d never give them up. They were all he had left.
The peak of the mountain was the holiest sight he had ever seen or much less been on, a view the Elder himself might’ve sat on to survey him. The red desert blew its infinite dust and heat in a never-ending expanse below him, one that he’d never see the end of. To most there was a single, small world that they lived in which never went past a certain horizon, a world that only existed as far as they could see. But the chieftain was different, and he could imagine past the desert, of a world always turning in an ancient storm, always beaten by the harsh bile sea and subjected to the forceful wind and bitter ground which forever worked to keep the landscape as it was. There was kind of beauty to the grandiose of the world the chieftain thought of, yet it was still small enough for a machine to exist just in his reach, coming to him of all people with its unknowable intent. Out of all the places, out of all the people and it was him the machine found. He knelt down on the flattest spot he could find, with the inscribed tablet tucked close to him. He prayed, this time with absolute resolve and intent, praying to the gods no matter what had happened. After all, he was a good man, perhaps the best one left.
“I unlike man do not create and believe in the nonsensical for what I cannot control, of which you are the least.” The voice roared over the being’s mechanical hum as it flew up in front of him angelically, sending him backwards in surprise. Another breath of fire from the machine sent the chieftain back on the ground, a crater-like burn in his chest.
“Billions have come before you, all with believable securities to that which lies beyond them. They have all failed in the past, with yours savagely pagan and primal. It barely compares to that of your ancients.” Wincing at the pain the crumpled figure on the cliff didn’t get up, only listening to what the spirit said, whatever it had been likely proving him of no worth. He felt no more than another burst of heat at his side as he began to tumble unconscious down the slope and into the sea below.
His eyes flew open underwater as the water rushing into them brought a soggy view of murky green along with a pressuring pain in his lungs. A shadowy, foggy object in the distance floated, a shape much like that of the tablet that was no longer in the folds of his cloak. He rushed for it by instinct alone and in less than an instant he had it clutched in his fingers, in full view of his blackening vision. But then a sound rumbled the waves and the sound of mechanical veering emanated from below him and the harsh red light barely got to his sight quick enough that he could dodge the projectile shooting up from the deep. Instantly it came back in his direction, the evil red eye bearing down on him and his clenched lungs. As his life drained away via his airless chest his mind took over, in rapid instinct shooting himself past the machine and up to the surface, where the pillars of red light thundered past his ear. The two invisible hands which grappled to choke his lungs were finally released as he broke the surface in a violent hail of rain and the blast of light shooting through the emptiness in the sea it had evaporated. His actions did not pass through his head as fast as they occurred, and only when he was lying on the safe rocky shore did he even begin to process it. A fire hotter than the eye of that devil in the sea burned underneath his sternum, and lying on the ground he began to weep as he heard the mechanical omen of its presence again. This time he did not fall or try to escape it, admitting he could do nothing as the bright scarlet fireblasted again at him. The machine’s fire spewed usually like an indirect spew of flashing light and cracking power, but in the chieftain’s final moment the black god spared little mercy as the fire hardened into a beam which burned hotter than ever before. Then it stopped, The light dissipating, though its pain still lived on. He was dead now, only hanging onto life long enough for the machine to utter once more in a tongue he couldn’t even understand.
“I, unlike man was built to survive the endless toil of infinity, to endure, exist and thrive in a universe greater than you have ever imagined. The cliff you fell off and the water which you drowned in are part of a planet in a solar system, smaller than an atom of a molecule of the cosmos you thought up. And for those abnormalities you reached in your reasoning you filled them with imagination and nonsense. I, unlike man, am new”
The machine had finished talking, perhaps for the last time ever, but his sole listener had been lying dead long before. It was only it, the battered corpse of the chieftain he pawned with, and his beloved tablet on the ground. The pupil of the metal being which had been the artifice of so much death, for once reclined in interest of the small object. It was a primal carving of stick figures to those long dead in the past, but to the machine it was even less. They weren’t figures. They weren’t gods, it wasn’t art. It was only a brutish piece of clay inscribed with mangled geometry instead of gods in a scene of nature, expressing action and emotion to the chieftain, words the machine knew, but didn’t see in the picture. The machine which had rid the world of its faulty overlords had indeed won the title of victor, but for eternity to come it would stare into that tablet, unable to tell why it was truly unlike man.