The sun began to peer out over the desolate barren mountains. Tendrils of light uncurled to touch the remains of a land still recovering from destruction. The scarred desert was an expanse that stretched as far as the eyes could see. Small patches of the forest burst to life as spring began in the early morning. The forest was vibrating with a variety of bird sounds, their songs echoing among the trees. At the heart of this forest there lies a cityscape, hidden under rock formations. Rock formations hid a cityscape, the grassy rooftops of its houses sinking low into the earth, some more covered in grassy hill tops so as not to disturb the earth as it healed.
Beings began to lift their heads. Many started their morning routines as they always did. Breakfast to begin, followed by working the hours away. As some clothed them sleves and readied for hard labor in the morning sun, Others began their jobs from the comfort of their homes or businesses. Market stalls opened with many starting their calls for sales and prices. Others opened the fences to release deer with black and white patterns stretching down their backs. Horses larger than most of the beings stomping about as they entered fields with their young. Small rodent like animals scurrying free of their kennals as they were released. The androids worked hard to help and research them until they were ready and fit enough for full release into the forest. The city was thriving with life, The higher tops of the city homes closest to the city were asworm of labs and homes. Working on codes and gene splicing for new varients of plants and animals to bring back into the world.
Somewhere not far from the city, both on the cusp of the dead lands and marking the borders of the living forest, there stood a large hollowed-out oak tree. A boy slept heavily in it, only shifting awake as the sun's light drifted inside. He tossed his dark blonde hair with ragged, dirt encrusted fingers. Grumbling as his stiff neck cracked, he began the crawl out of his makeshift bed. Standing, stretching, he pressed his thumbs into the arches of his hips. Picking up his oversized backpack with a loud groan, he hoisted it onto his weary shoulders. The bag clanged and rattled as all the heavy parts inside swept against one another.
There was a small rivulet of water, moving briskly along the far edge of the grass. This was barely recognizable as the beginnings of a creek bed. The water faintly held a guilty reflection gazing back at the boy. He grabbed and pulled again at his hair. About time for a trim, he thought. It’s so difficult to groom with no mirrors around. Tufts of hair had begun to travel down his neck, looping and curling around his ears. He held soft features for a boy just reaching twenty-two.
He surveyed the forest layout with sharp grey eyes. Then, he took his palms together, and sipped delicately at the crisp cool water of the creek. A feeling of relief washed over his parched throat and paper-dry lips. The boy sighed gently. His frame was wiry, just reaching a few inches past 5'5" at his full height. A sudden noise shattered that sacred silence. As the mysterious intrusion echoed through the forest, the boy jerked his head nervously in all directions, a reactive attempt to locate the source. Wrapped up in an increasing excitement, the boy was quick to gather his supplies. He was mentally calibrating his ear to this sound, a mechanical melody opposite that of the forest's natural music. Whirr--Clack, Clack. Cough.
After a bit of searching, the boy came upon the upper torso of an older android unit. The android lay there, hacking and coughing, with an odd crackle. The metal was violently loose in its throat. The android’s body was mangled. Exposed wires spasmed with shocks of electricity, like angry spitting cobras. The boy noted grimly a growing stain of iridescent blue oils that had gurgled and leaked out onto the dirt. The android’s drained and watery eyes focused with much effort on the boy.
This android was obviously a relic from a time when human beings were more commonplace and primarily owned androids as toys or replacements for manual labor. The boy was examining the android more closely when their eyes locked. The connection felt strangely and strongly… human. And maybe you could understand the confusion, as this android looked as close to human as society’s modern technology could achieve. This illusion persisted, even as the unmistakably artificial cables and wires spilled from the mutilated mechanical body.
The android's soft and fleshy lips were speckled with black blood. A thick mist of freckles, first sprayed upward, then floating the descent down, settling on the android’s face with every violent sputter and cough. It had a mass of jet-black hair, telling the story of time spent abandoned and unkempt in the forest. Androids never die easy. Sadly this became a common issue for heavily damaged units who wished a swift end to their suffering. "He...Help. I wasn't...This wasn't supposed..." Whirr--Clack, Clack.
The boy threw his large backpack down, dropping instantly to his knees."No! No, it's gonna be alright. Try not to speak now" With burning eyes and a dry throat, the boy began to dig around in his backpack. Finding bodies like this never got any easier, he thought. "I'm guessing you were in the war... Been finding you guys all over lately. I'm Titus, by the way. Try not to move. I'm gonna take care of you." He tried his best to calm the injured android.
Titus carefully moved his fingers along the android’s throat. It was swallowing quick and shallow. The android’s panicked eyes revealed a sensation of surprise at Titus’ touch. Titus hesitates…then places a slender open hand over the android’s eyes, which close softly under his palm. The android's eyelash fringe brushed the thick skin of Titus’ hand, giving the eerie feeling of fluttering butterfly wings. Titus made a soft hush sound as his thumb pushed in against a panel along the android’s collarbone. The soft stretch of skin separated and gave way to expose the access point of the android’s main panel. The chest cavity opened smoothly, an incision that followed the symmetry which in human beings was only demarcated by a navel. In an android, the navel operates more like a swinging door and in this case the entry point was damaged causing a jam.
Titus slowly removed his hand from the now still android. The only remaining movement could be detected in the android’s slow soft breath. Titus was reminded of a sleeping child on their sick bed as the android attempted to will his haggard lungs the occasional drag of dusty air. Titus picked up a flathead screwdriver and pried open the panel doors. He looked onward at the mess of organs, pulsating weakly as they shined their slick blue. Damage was obvious but the android’s heart still whirred softly, throbbing as it tried to keep up with what was left of the body.
Titus moved for a small silver knife, careful as he worked to view the organ. His hands already coated in grease and with thick dirt clods stuffed under his fingernails, Titus carefully began prodding into the main vessel of the heart. He was seeking a crucial chip usually found at the center of the heart, a small core barely the size of a pencil eraser. Blood gushed forward, thick and heavy along the hilt of the blade. The android took a sharp intake of breath. It seemed to Titus that the android was gritting its teeth under the pain of being open and exposed. "Sorry", Titus whispered helplessly. His voice was low as he tried to remain calm and focused. He pulled the blade back, and snatched a handkerchief tied loosely around a band on his backpack. Titus then used the rag as a dam to slow the bleeding. At the exact center of the robotic organ, a glinting silver box could be seen. Titus made a soft click of his tongue. "Here's the painful part. But you'll be at peace after this."
Small beads of sweat began to gather over Titus' knitted brows as he carefully opened the incision and gripped the small bit of silver, the core. As Titus began to dislodge the small object, the android writhed, groaning deeply to fight back the pain. Suddenly the android exhaled. The android’s weakly glowing eyes shot open and now followed the winding path of falling leaves suspended in the breeze. "What's your name?" Titus asked. He cleaned the silver stone and placed it gingerly into a plastic bag. Titus grabbed a marker and pulled the cap off with his teeth. "I was named...." the android started. The words eked out with some smoothness, as the android’s pain sensors were now mostly off. "Cyrus."
"What else can you tell me about yourself?" Titus continued to watch Cyrus carefully. The android’s main hard drive should activate soon, he thought. It was important to remember who you were before. "I... joined the war... I thought...I thought I could protect my family. I was supposed to...be a part of the change..." When Cyrus spoke it was strong with static, the words were heavy in their electrical fog. Then the android went silent for a long time. "I don't... think I have a family anymore." The android’s main drive came forward with a loud click from between its eyes. Cyrus’ eyes stared dully ahead as the wind raced through the old forest.
Titus took a new cloth, gently grabbed the chip, and placed it in the same bag with the core. "I'm sure that's not true. Androids live for a very long time..." Titus spoke without turning around. He was wiping his hands now, leaving the creases and fingernails stained lightly black by the oil-rich blood. Titus sat back, somber as the android’s body seemed to freeze in time. It was momentarily dead. Titus continued this line of thinking as he methodically replaced the surgical tools in his backpack. After all this time, it was still spine-chilling to happen upon bodies of dying or dead androids. Titus was haunted by dreams of waking up in a forest to find himself dismembered and scattered to wind like so much garbage.
In a detached way, Titus looked down to see his body racked with trembling. It was a sick mix of nerves and fear that moved him to react to an android crying out in pain. Now he was crashing off of the high, a very familiar feeling for those used to the adrenaline dump of this lifestyle. With some finality, Titus again picks up and puts on his backpack in one smooth motion. “It's alarming how many of you keep popping up, considering this is my second time through this area.”, he murmured, mostly to himself. He started humming tenderly as he made his way, taking care not to tread on any new plant life blooming.
Titus vaguely noticed freshly snapped tree branches littering his path. He absentmindedly kicked a stone. Last time everything was so fresh and green. I thought maybe the city was growing and healing but now there is a dark presence…a feeling I can’t define, he thought. Titus had been traveling for a long time. His recent travels have centered on expeditions to gather spare parts for the robots he cared for in the small town he considered home. Most android cities lay in the heart of forests. This way they blend into nature and promote the earth’s healing. According to old books and documents, the world used to be green, lush and full of life. Animals of all kinds roamed freely on vast landscapes divided by dark purple oceans. At least that is the story passed down through time and recorded faithfully in those musty books and thin maps lining the library walls in those ancient cities.
Titus moved casually through the forest. Usually, he could get some good traded parts from elderly or broken models in the lower rung. He paused at the edge of the large crevice. This foreboding cave was actually the yawning mouth of a hidden city. Titus takes a running dive, sliding down into wet dirt, doing his best to build enough speed to break through.
All at once the city springs forth, filling Titus’ eyes with intricate structures built into the natural surrounding, covered in green vines thicker than four bodies lying side by side. These assemblages supported the homes where many residents lived comfortable lives but if you were to descend further into the earth you would quickly notice comforts stripped away. Although the city was green, the air still felt about as dusty as the rest of the world where only robots and animatronics thrived. The opening would always astound Titus and he couldn’t control his gaze. Each time his eyes had to explore with awe the large embankment and he would notice some new detail. “Wow.”, he whispered, and his word bounced an echo around him. Titus' childish amusement only seemed to grow as he smiled widely, running a short distance forward, kicking up dust in the process. This special property of the city reliably brought Titus a jolt of joy even through hard times. “WOW!”, he hollered, cupping his palms around his lips to amplify the sound. The cheerful nature of his voice seemed to flow all around him like ribbons of water. Titus turned abruptly and the extra weight of his heavy backpack shifted. Giving into the movement with ease, Titus fell down on top of his backpack.
The sky seemed to stare down at Titus as intensely as Titus searched the sky. It was more difficult to read than usual. The clear blue was blank, as only a few birds left fleeting colors overhead. Titus broke into a broad grin. The sky wasn't this nice everywhere. The air wasn't as fresh and friendly everywhere. In his travels, Titus had braved lands where the air made him choke and cough ferociously, leaving him spitting ashes for weeks. In other places, the sky was a sickly orange. A thick layer of smog surrounded the area well through the walk.
This was by far his favorite place to visit. After years of traveling through the vast landscapes and seeing different animatronic animals, android people, and everything in between, it was this city in particular that always felt like home. Titus hummed a short melody he had heard from the bots in the last town he had passed through. They had been strumming short rhythmic sounds on rusted scrap items they used as instruments. The pleasant hum then stopped abruptly. A dark sinking feeling engulfed all those that had just so recently shared kind laughter. The world came to a standstill. Truly no bird, insect or creature of the forest stirred in the wind. The music of the forest had been supplanted by a dense atmosphere that forced Titus to slow his pace. Following the feeling, he walked along the walls of another dank cavern.