Author : Mark Shillaker
It had taken Perry all night to find the library. It was a pile of rubble of course but these days the whole city lay in ruins. Perry had only ever known dust and smashed concrete but his grandfather remembered cities with streets and skies filled with people and machines.
‘There ought to be books..’, Perry murmured and began climbing what had once been the main steps. Something moved at the edge of his vision and for a sickening heartbeat he thought he might have seen a drone, they sometimes hovered silently along the dead streets, looking for squatters. Instinct hurled him into a nearby hole under a huge, cracked slab of masonry – he hit his head and blacked out.
It was noon when Perry awoke. He put his hand to his head to find his hair matted with dried blood, it had glued his left eye shut and he worked at it carefully until it finally opened. His head ached dully around the wound, he felt sick and there was a roaring in his ears. He smiled to himself about the drone; it must have been a dog or something. If he’d seen a drone he’d have been dead before he’d had time to move. He peered over the lip of the crater and looked around, he needed to get home or he’d soon be missed. He had a momentary vision of his mother frantically searching the ruined city and felt a cold rush of anxiety.
A shadow passed over the sun and Perry realized with a start that the roaring in his ears was in fact the sound of engines. The dirigible hung above him like a huge circular cloud, nearly 100 meters across, it reminded him of the glass lens he used for burning ants on hot afternoons. It was grey and beneath its centre hung a cylindrical, metal gondola draped in cables and devices, a giant woman’s face smiled down from a screen that took up nearly half the area behind the forward edge of the vast disk. As Perry inched backwards a huge voice, it’s tone incongruously warm and reasonable, boomed from the face.
“THIS AREA HAS BEEN DESIGNATED FOR RECLAMATION AS WETLAND HABITAT- DEMOLITION AND CLEARANCE WILL BEGIN IN 24 HOURS- ALL SQUATTERS AND UNAUTHORIZED PERSONS MUST LEAVE. YOUR CONTINUED PRESENCE RAVAGES YOUR MOTHERS BODY – A TERRIBLE CRIME.”
Perry huddled in shadow while the voice went on like a parent scolding a child:
“THE STEWARDS DISOWN YOU, DESPOILERS! – SOON YOUR BODIES WILL GIVE UP THEIR FRUITLESS FIGHT FOR LIFE AND SINK INTO THE GROUND AS NOURISHMENT! REJOIN YOUR MOTHER! CAN YOU DO OTHERWISE?”
The face flickered and the message repeated. Suddenly, beneath the great screen an aperture appeared and two black shapes silently emerged – drones. They dropped like stones to what would once have been rooftop level and hovered quite still, gleaming black machines like huge, fat flies. Perry knew at once they were scanning the area for heat signatures or movement. Every squatter learned early that six inches of concrete might hide his warmth from drones and he pressed back into the hole, dust stinging his throat. After an agonizing wait he heard a low whine as the drones moved off across the city and after a few minutes a brief rattle of gunfire and two dull ‘Whumps!’ as a couple of Smart Darts inevitably found their targets.
Perry risked a look over the edge of his hiding place – the dirigible had moved off and the drones were otherwise occupied. He wondered if the next town would have a library.