Friday, January 23, 2009

Flashback

A blimp had fallen somewhere downtown. Tenants gestured from their windows as the last of the bioluminous ash settled to the streets. The air smelled of smoldering chitin. Above, threads of exhaust traced a doomed rainbow over the skyline.

Eubert's father gripped his hand and hurried him across the street, kicking up ash as they walked. Eubert delighted in the orange-yellow plumes, brief nebulae that vanished in a mob of would-be onlookers. Someone's electronic siren howled from a rooftop, ushering people out of their buildings and into the streets, where entomobiles waited with perked antennae. A handful of tenants unclasped the doors to their decayed Twen-Cen cars, leaving trails of fecal rust as they sputtered down the main street, ringed in dormant neon and faded billboards.

Eubert's father pushed him gently into a vacant entomobile. The thin black door hissed shut and they strapped themselves intro pale, resinous seats.

The streets flashed by, a forest of mirages, gray and dripping. Eubert watched the pedestrian traffic in ill-concealed fascination, prying the ento's passenger window farther open until his fingertips were embedded in warm resin.

He wondered to himself -- though he dared not speak it aloud -- if the Swarmers staged events like this as testaments to their fallibility. Assuming they were fallible.

The glowing ash grew thicker, until at last the entomobile waded through it on its thin legs, leaving short-lived ruts on the surface of dunes.

The blimp, a gelatinous construct studded with instrumentation, had fallen into an intersection, its snub-nosed copula crashing through a storefront. Sprays of tinted plastic darkened the concrete.

A crowd had already gathered to take in the wreckage. Hovering over the mob's heads was a cloud of Swarmer utility drones, cicada wings flickering. Heedless, Eubert's father disembarked, his hands on Eubert's shoulders as they pushed through the onlookers. The drones blocked out the sun and the pale crescent of the Arc. Eubert moved closer, tromping through heaps of cooling orange ash.

A Swarmer VTOL emerged from behind the ruined store, scaly chitin turbofans scattering drones. Eubert and his father put their hands to their faces to block the sudden curtain of ash. Some of it got into Eubert's mouth anyway: it tasted sour, earthy, inexplicably delicious. His heart beat faster.

The VTOL settled onto the blimp's dying bladder. Its fans baked the downed craft's sleek veneer like twin hair-dryers held against a membrane of gelatin. Slime beaded the onlookers' faces.

Three Swarmers emerged from the VTOL's carapace, dressed in snug flannel suits and old bowler hats cinched low over faceted eyes. Eubert could make out the contours of their mouthless faces, their exterior mandibles snug around their pointed chins. His father squeezed his shoulders as if to keep him from bolting forward. Eubert resigned himself to passive observation, not daring to move closer, painfully aware of the teeming human bodies to his right and left.

The Swarmers approached the storefront, leather shoes gooey with the blimp's excretions. Then Eubert saw the body -- a human body -- lying amidst the crushed plastic: an ungainly, bulky-looking thing with skin the color of wax. Threads of paranoia and dread uncoiled in the base of his neck and spine.

The corpse's head was caked in blood and poked obscenely from behind the copula, seeming small and somehow artificial: a demented bauble.

Utility drones began descending in waves, inundating the air with piezoelectric babble. They swarmed and glinted like metallic rain, alighting on bystanders with tiny outstretched cameras and wire-thin legs. Eubert noticed with a start that they were in his hair, fussing with his scalp as they positioned themselves for on-site EEG readings. He yelled and brushed them away, his palms bloody where they had wielded microscopic scythes.

His father steered him closer to the body, though Eubert gathered this wasn't his intention. The throng had begun to shift with a kind of Brownian listlessness, taking them with it. He wondered why the Swarmers, as efficient as they supposedly were, hadn't tried to disperse the crowd -- out of simple embarrassment, if nothing else. Mechanical malfunctions were exceedingly rare, and the downed blimp seemed little more than a monument to waste.

He looked up. The sky rippled with cybernetic purpose, an unnerving tangle of beating wings. The utility drones descended upon the crumpled human body in a silver tide. In seconds the corpse had been reduced to a vague suggestion of itself, the drones feasting on its DNA, palpating the crushed limbs in an elaborately choreographed autopsy. They lifted into the sky in a noisy migration that briefly maintained human form.

In the meantime, the Swarmers had unsealed the door to the copula. Eubert caught a glimpse of crushed exoskeleton and stringy Swarmer guts thrown against uneven gunmetal walls. A single plasma screen stammered alien calligraphy.

By the time he looked up at the second VTOL, he had already started to faint. For a sick moment he stood dizzily in the balmy summer heat, looking out at a landscape of collapsed, comatose bodies. His father had landed on his back, bloodshot eyes gazing sightlessly as the second wave of pheromone rolled over the crowd. His hands, callused from endless back-engineering of Swarmer machinery, fell to his sides before Eubert could fall into them.

Crushed, wet Swarmer flesh. The air seething, displaced by chrome wings. One of the Swarmers stood looking down at him as the pheromone set to work. Eyes like dirty gemstone. Outcroppings of stiff black flesh that gave the fleeting impression of cheekbones.

The creature's suit fluttered as the last of the drones took to the sky. It extended a gloved hand that wasn't a hand -- not exactly -- and pushed his eyelids shut.

He could feel the chill from the Swarmer's fingertips even through the gloveleather.

1 comment:

Boris kreiman said...

I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don't know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading what you all have to say


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