Author : William Tracy

A luxurious coat of trees springs from the earth’s skin. The morning’s clouds have burned off, and the jungle canopy stretches to the horizon in every direction. A single towering industrial complex pierces the rolling sea of leaves.

The structures are girded by a labyrinth of pipes of myriad sizes and hues, crisscrossing and splitting and joining. The maze is punctuated by dire chemical hazard placards. The steel monoliths sparkle in the afternoon sun, altars to unknown gods.

A solitary robot trundles along a catwalk high above the forest floor. A twisting vine struggling to reclaim the structure for nature is crushed unseen by the lumbering machine.

Methodically following the radio beacons studding its path, the robot turns a bend and travels toward the center of the complex. It leaves the living forest for one of metal, where constellations of colored lights blink on and off. Ubiquitous embedded microcontrollers read their instructions from solid-state wafers, then sleep until their next jobs arrive.

Solenoids twitch open and shut, and a gasp of steam escapes a vent. The cloud is swept away by a tug of wind that sets the trees to whispering amongst themselves. The robot notes the change in atmospheric pressure with its internal barometer, but feels nothing.

It reaches its destination, and stops. Guided by barcodes burned into the structure, it mates a canister to a socket, forms a seal, and flushes fluid into the system. The pipes scream as precipitates dissolve and reagents flow again.

Its job done, the robot turns and descends a zig-zagging ramp spidering down from the sky. The sun slips away to roost in distant mountains. Its glow floods the jungle, and sets the sterile machinery alight. The robot’s infrared unit recalibrates to compensate, and it continues forward.

The robot reaches the ground, and returns the spent solvent canister to its hopper. The machine moves on. The feeble twilight—so fleeting in the tropics—comes and goes. Gleaming sequins appear in the sky, shy and self-conscious. They are drowned out by the abrupt onslaught of nauseous sodium vapor lamps sprouting from the buildings at regular intervals.

A jaguar leaps into the robot’s path. The machine stops, its infrared camera tracking the animal’s body heat. The cat snarls at the robot, but the robot cannot hear. The creature glides into the night, and the machine resumes its dogged march.

Now the jungle is alive with sound. Unseen beasts roar, scream, call, chirp, and sing. Oblivious, the robot moves to a tool bin. Servos whine as it peruses the implements one at a time, digesting the information from RFID tags. Finally, the robot mates a repair attachment to its arm. It turns to continue, then hesitates.

For a moment, the machine wishes it could see the sunset.


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