“Broke, Down” by William Couper
He kept expecting the thing to shudder with some intense, angry life. It wasn’t going to happen and sat where it had done for the past three years, settling further into the tarmac.
It had once been an almost living thing. The controller fifty miles away and safe from the worst of the fighting, made the huge robotic entity swing and smash and fire off enough explosives to level a mountain.
Most of them had been cleared away, but this one, being so far from the centre of the city had been neglected. The bright yellow undercoat giving way to rust and the camouflage paintwork long since scoured off by the weather.
The cables and tubing was in a mixed state of repair. Some cables were intact while others seemed to have been split from within to disgorge their inner tangle of wires like the burst innards of an alien insect. Tubing had been worn enough to empty whatever coolant or fuel that they still held within the first year. The place still reeked of the mixture of substances.
It suited the place. This area had been a mess long before the war. There was the hope that after the hostilities ended this area would be revitalised. Instead it was worse than before the war.
In the years leading up to the war the area was given some cursory notice. Since the last of the robots had ceased to work and fell the only people who came and went from this area of the city were those who lived there.
Like Tino. He had been born here. He thought that he would get away from here after the war, but now he fully expected to die here.
He rummaged in the pockets of the smelly and dirty old coat that he wore. There was little to find. Lots of crumbs, lots of lint and a piece of paper so crumpled and soaked with sweat that it was impossible to tell what it had once been.
His finger slipped into a hole in the lining of one of the pockets. It joined the rest of the pockets in having been worn through at the lining. Now he had nowhere safe to keep things in his coat.
Not that he had much in the way of things to keep safe, certainly no money or anything approaching valuable. It meant there was another way in which the freezing wind that currently battered him could get closer and steal more warmth.
He trudged away from the building complex, just so that he wouldn’t be stuck in the house that he had occupied for the last two years. It was cold, damp, depressing, and it stank.
It was the stink that bothered him most. It seeped into his pores and followed him around. Having little access to warm water meant that bathing to get the stink out seemed to drive it further into him. The cloying musk of perspiration and mouldy dampness was carried about by him and everyone from there.
He got wafts of it from people he passed, and sometimes he was unsure if what he was smelling was other people or just his own odour being blown back in his face.
He stopped walking. He had no money. Going into the centre of the city was a waste of time because he couldn’t buy anything. He hadn’t eaten in days, but food was out of his price range.
Begging was out of the question. This was partly due to his pride; some people he had fought alongside during the war may see him. Mostly it was down to the fact that the police took a zero tolerance approach to begging in this post war world and anyone caught plying that particular trade was taken off the streets to the nearest station and shot. No trial.
Given the way he looked, he would be dangerously close to being mistaken for a beggar. It was a temptation to actually make the journey into the city centre and perhaps get shot.
He dismissed the notion. Suicide was never part of his mental make-up.
He turned back to the mass of inert metal. He realised that the core of the robot had been compromised: by corrosion or by the fall or by whatever effect had rendered them all useless. It wasn’t settling into the tarmac as he’d first suspected, the heat from the energy core was melting the tar and it was sinking.
Some of the other inhabitants had noticed this and were huddled around the huge machine. He hadn’t really put it together until just then. The energy cores of the robots were clean too – well, as far as he had been led to believe they didn’t give off any harmful radiation.
Not that it would have bothered him. It was warmth. More warmth, no doubt than he’d experienced since the summer months.
He rushed over and barged his way past some old men to get a closer seat. Some families turned to him and seemed to expect him to attack them. He scowled at them and crouched down closer to the source of the heat leakage, a few feet shy of the melting tarmac.
The smell of sweat and mildew intensified, but it didn’t matter. They were all stuck here and they might as well get used to it.
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