Author : Chris Daly

The dust was unbearable. Dry, grey, clinging powder draped over every surface, clogging the machinery, grinding against gears and wheels. Water refused to wash away the dirt, forming only a cloying mud that was just as abrasive. His hands bled, crisp and chafed. He had no gloves, no protection from the work that consumed his effort.

‘Clean-up’, they called it. He installed the engines that probed the ground, searching for deep, buried water, enough to wash all this filth away. The dust was all that remained of a civilisation that once dwelled here, cities and towns incinerated away. First came the embers, smoke and ash, later the rubble broke down into that dust, surrounding and coating everything. He worked tirelessly, checking gauges, replacing worn cogs, lubricating the gearboxes, as the machine drilled deeper, through asphalt, dirt and bedrock.

He looked up at the brown sky, past the great towers and twisted metal girders, watching the light straining against the permanent cloud cover. One day, he knew, his work could clear that sky. He would clear away the grey blanket smothering his world. Each passing year, fewer and fewer of his kind searched for that dream. Occasionally, a small pocket of moisture would be found, enough to keep some of them going, but so much was trapped in those clouds, refusing to fall, and the rest entombed in aquifers deep under the old lakes, rivers and mountains. Almost every week now one of them fell, sharing their water with the rest. The algae and fungus in the waste pits kept them alive, but it was bare sustenance, not the abundance that the ancestors had enjoyed.

Even with that abundance, they destroyed each other. Now their offspring fought like pack animals, scavengers over what was left around them. He could never understand why the old ones did it; the others told him not to try. ‘Keep drilling’, they said, ‘One day you’ll bring back what once was.’

The machine let out a whine, cable and wire straining, snapping over bare metal. An acrid cloud rose up, the smoke from a burning motor. He coughed, then sat back and sighed, face in his cracked hands. A tear crept into his eye, traced its line down his face, darkening the grey dust he constantly wore. He sat up again, wiped his nose with his tough sleeve. Useless to cry, he told himself, it just wastes the water. He lifted a rusted tool from the floor, set down his rifle, and returned to work.

One day, he thought. One day soon.


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