By. Roland Dodds
The tiny machine pushed the tank of pesticide slowly up the mound, scanning the horizon for possible rodents and thieves that would stop its accent. The droid was badly damaged from the unstoppable sun peering through exposed sections of ozone. The solar panel that once kept the machine running well into the night was cracked, thus accumulating energy inefficiently. The serial number that once distinguished the robot from others like it was scratched and indiscernible. This number meant little; as far as the machine knew, it was the last of its kind.
Much like the days that preceded it, the droid pushed the pesticide drum up the hill to spray on the human crops that were scattered along the ridge. Its visual sensors had failed to pick up any living plants for some time; it was unclear when the last crop died out. Yet, the machine continued its task faithfully, executing its programmed orders as efficiently as its tattered frame would allow.
The robot was equipped to fend off individuals that intended to steal its poisonous cargo, but they too had disappeared in recent years. Or was it decades? The mechanical worker continued to probe its surroundings nonetheless.
When it reached the top of the hill, it sprayed the pesticides on the barren ground until it had dispensed with the entire tank. It sluggishly turned to descend the hill only to see a small creature peering from a circular wrought hole. As it was getting dark, the small creature exposed its head to get a better view of the mechanical beast standing before it. The droid could see that the creature was a common field mouse; the machine had seen many during its years of operation. Running through its functioning memory database, the machine could not recall the last time it encountered a living specimen of this kind.
The robot was an unknown entity to the mouse. Understandably, it quickly ducked back into its burrow, allowing the rodent to inspect the machine from the comfort of its shadowy home. The mouse intrigued the droid; as it had no contact with a living rodent in some time, it edged closer to the animal’s hole in the hopes of investigating it further.
This class of farming machinery was programmed to dispel with any rodent present in its designated area, but it did not attempt to destroy the mouse. Perhaps the operating code had deteriorated like its physical body; maybe it no longer had the corporeal ability to chase down varmints. It simply stood with its sensor stuck down the mouse’s burrow, looking at the frightened creature intensely.
Thirty minutes passed while the droid examined the mouse. The machine failed to realize that its designated working period had come to an end and the night sky had blanketed its solar panel in darkness. It hastily retracted its sensor but found that its wheels would no longer turn: the machine had depleted its battery. The farming droid would need to stay on the exposed ridge overnight, something it had never done before.
A cold, furious wind blew in from the south, pelting the metal exterior of the machine with sand and dust. The debris pushed itself into every crack and hole of the droid causing its basic functions to stutter. It could see that the mouse was still locked on the foreign invader standing above its home, its eyes like two stars cutting through the night sky.
Inaudibly, the two beings watched the other unsure what would come next.
When the sun crested the following morning, and the machine’s batteries again began to recharge, it could feel its wheels again begin to roll. It spun in a clockwise motion a dozen or so times to remove the dirt that had collected in its frame. It could see that the mouse was still sitting in its hole, gazing back at the newly animated droid. It stopped to examine the mouse once more, but then realized that it had not refilled its tank of pesticide due to its failure to return to camp the previous evening. The machine quickly grabbed the cylinder and rushed down the hill.
The mouse emerged from its hole to watch the machine roll away. It stretched its legs, brushed the dirt off its fur and scurried off in search of food.
Roland Dodds is an educator, researcher and father just north of San Francisco who writes about politics, culture and education. He spent his formative years in radical left-wing politics, but now prefers the company of contrarians of all political stripes (assuming they aren’t teetotalers). He is a regular contributor at Harry’s Place and Ordinary Times.
Zany Zongas were an experimental band from San Diego, CA.