113: Oxflies

Noun: oxflies – 1. plural form of oxfly.

We lived in abject terror of that orb. Our cities were beautiful, but we were scared. Every so often our astronomers would make a little note of the orb being closer than usual, and the astrologists would have a ball writing up all manner of sordid and stupid horoscopes. It really didn’t swing by all that often, but it was often enough to make a lot of people superstitious.

The orb had nothing to do with us, really – but every so often, our receivers would pick up transmissions of a horrific nature whose origin lay grounded in that terrible ball in the sky. When I was young, my parents would casually turn off the television whenever one of those came on.

As I grew older, I found Mom more frequently wringing her hands desperately: “I don’t like the huge cloaks we hide behind! And what about the machines they have sent straight to us? Whole cities decimated and hidden away just to play keep-away with these monsters!”

Dad was an astronomer – one of the best – and he was helpless before this. All he could do was give Mom a firm hug, holding her until she calmed down. (I did my best, too, but I was a kid. I patted Mom’s knee and looked up at her with big, calm, and loony eyes.)

The one time we had to move was when a machine came for our town. We had some days’ clearance to pack all our things and get out: the demolition crew waited for no-one. The evacuation was orderly, but the fear left a musk in the air. Who knew when the orb would send us great engines of destruction? Was is this time? Was it the next? When? It wasn’t a question if; it was solely when.

I was much more optimistic. I was a dumb kid. I wanted to stay behind for the big thing; I wanted to see the machine streak across the sky and strike the planet. I wanted to meet whatever crawled out of that dreadful steel shell. But my parents dragged me along; there was no option to stay behind. I watched as our city telescoped neatly into the ground and disappeared like it never had been.

I grew up. I became a responsible member of society who paid attention to the occasional evacuation drill and learned not to venture outside the city limits (for there we were not visibly shielded from the orb). In a technological explosion I saw our society revolutionize almost overnight. I had no patience for contrived superstition; the orb was shortly shunted to a dusty corner in my mind. It only ever resurfaced when the door-to-door solicitors (identifying themselves as adherents to the Church of the Marble) came around begging me to understand our folly. (These people I gently and wordlessly shut the door against.)

I lived long enough to see our government deform into oligarchy. I saw petty political battles waged over dunghills. I saw tanks deployed against my friends: they were first made inaudible over the roar of machinery, and then silenced under the unyielding treads. I saw heroes stand up to fight, only to be gunned down by unending tides of soldiers. As a public servant, none of this had anything to do with me.

I was in the symphony hall when the secret police stung. They downed one unfortunate bassist and the orchestra scattered in an almighty cacophony. The audience full of grey hair reacted lethargically; I was already halfway down the street when the screaming began. The following morning, the headlines blared some irrelevant story about the president’s love of vegetarian cuisine.

My friend in the office grabbed his coat at a run, forsaking his hat entirely. “You should go, too, before they come for you!” he said as a parting shot. I never saw him again.

I didn’t go to work after that. I weighed my options briefly and decided at last that I had to go. I packed my bags over the noise of a lower-order orb alert, and pulled my hat down as far as I could. I would find a place to go eventually. I had to leave the city, for starters.

I sneaked out right before the border check at curfew. Off into the nondescript wastes I went. At the first hill I dared straighten up, I turned around for a last farewell to the city to which I could never return. Behind the smokescreen orb-shield, I made out the vaguest of flashes over some new uprising.

There was a terrible storm that night. I tied my handkerchief around my face, but still the sand and grit went all over my face, coalescing uncomfortably around my collar. I couldn’t breathe properly through my nose, but opening my mouth was out of the question.

Conditions didn’t improve in the slightest for days. I grew used to sitting, walking, and sleeping with my clothes all stuffed with sand.

At last, half-blind, despondent, and half-dead from grief and fatigue, I saw the storm abate. I crawled a bit. Sand trickled out of my sleeves and spilled out from my collar.

I lay in a stupor.

I ignored the buzzing in my ears. There were no flies out here.

But when the buzzing resolved itself into a click, I raised my head slowly.

The body of the beast bore an inscription in a foreign alphabet. A sightless eye mounted on a rod stared down at me. Six wheeled appendages nestled comfortably in the dirt.

This was the end. Damned if we did, and damned if we didn’t: if not ourselves, then the orb. I began to cry as my finger traced out the letters naming this orbian thing before me: Opportunity.

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