Sunday, July 8, 2012
The Drone and the Mechanic
A near-future retelling of the Lion and the Mouse fable.
A whisper of sand against my cheek slips my mind from sleep to fugue, and after an instant of eternity, the crack and rumble of a bunker buster tears me into full consciousness. My eyes clamp open and I see the wall of my room cast in fire light. More distant explosions loose grains of plaster from the ceiling.
My heart jumps out of my body and drags me through yesterday's clothes. I run to grab my toolbox – red, heavy, metal – and ignore everything else in the room. No need for last memories of a house that I might never see again.
The air raid sirens just now start to cry, and guns yell into the sky.
I slam open the door and run down the shadowed hall, reaching the stairs. Two stomps down and another salvo of bombs hit the city. Three more steps after that and I hear Father calling, “Ibrahim! Ibrahim!” When I see him in the living room, I run into his arms so he can squeeze me and make sure that I am not a ghost.
I say into his forehead, “Where are mother and Safia?”
We pull away from each other, but our hands stay on our shoulders.
“They are getting their things, then we are going to somewhere safer. Maybe with the Al'Qassens, their home is at the outskirts.”
Thunder comes from above, then below. A vase falls off the table and cracks against the ground and the ceiling light to swings. Safia starts to cry in her bedroom, and mother trying to sooth her.
“There is no safer place in Tehran now! We need to leave the city!”
He nods slow, then fast.
“You're right. We need to go. The fighting will only get worse. Get the car started, I will,” he stops as we hear some kind of deep whine far down the street.
“I will carry your tools! Get the car started!”
I don't want to let go, but I don't want to waste time. I run to the door, sliding the car key off the television set and into my hand on the way out the door.
Great fires and clouds of smoke swell out from behind the silhouettes of distant buildings. There's another crack from the sky just before the ground quakes... But there's not an explosion.
I start running past our customers' cars in the parking lot and towards ours, parked next to the street. Forcing myself not to slow down, I duck beside the car as the thuds step closer, past our neighbor's house, before it stops right next to our car. Where once there was glare of flame past the shadow of the car, I now see only more shadow.
Hard, coarse yelling echoes in the neighborhood, and electric motors groan on the other side of the car. My heart tries to pull me down and keep me in hidden, but my mind wants to see. I lift my head over the roof and see machine guns turn and point at me, red laser lights trace my face, and a massive angled armored hulk crouch low on four column-like legs. On top of its sloped body is a tank's gun.
I had seen the pictures before. A robotic drone tank.
The machine guns twist around just before an explosion rocks the other side of the machine. It stops itself from lurching towards me, and the guns erupt in bullets, brass, and barrel flash. Its big gun swivels around and stops. The cannon's roar turns into ringing pain and I'm bathed in fleeing dust.
I get in the car and drive in front of the house. The next sounds that reach my ears are my fathers instructions to take us to Zaviyeh, my mother thanking Allah that I'm alive and with the car, and Safia crying as they all climb in.
We reach Uncle Fayid's home before the sun has a chance to rise. We rest, and afterward I borrow his binoculars to watch the smoke rise from the capital. Some of the cars escaping by the highway were ones that I once fixed.
The skies of the days that follow are filled with fast black darts dragging sonic booms behind them through the sky, and streaks that drop from orbit like backwards rockets.
Nobody sends soldiers to Zaviyeh – the only military buildings here are some ancient fort ruins that children fight over. That makes me look at my father funny when he says that the Americans are attacking, and that we need to leave again.
“How do you know?” I ask.“Their tanks are just outside! Hurry, we need to go!” he answers.
I grab the binoculars and close my eyes from the glare as I walk out the door, slowly opening them as I find the balcony stairs. At the top, I walk across the roof and past a table, finding my usual place to watch the horizon.
I find it in the East, its turret peeking over some shrubs and short trees belonging to a patch of green at the edge of town. I look closer and see its leg – bent, with sparks falling from it.
I run downstairs and open my toolbox, finding what I need: wire cutters, electrical tape, insulated gloves, and pliers. I shut it, grab it, and carry it with me as I run out of the house, towards the drone.
When I get close enough to notice the drone's machine guns tracking me, I stop thinking that this is a good idea. However, it's still an idea, and I slow down and hold up my hands.
“Hey! Machine!” I yell, in what English I know. Lasers touch my face again.
“Wait! I can fix you!” I turn my face away from it. “I can fix you, and then you leave! Good?”
An infinite minute later, it shuts its lasers off, and turns its guns away from me. It shifts its weight off of the damaged leg as I walk towards it. After I set my tools on the ground, I look over the damage.
A piece of shrapnel had embedded itself in part of the joint, damaging some of the power cables. Before that, it looked like it had taken some armor damage, weakening the frame and making it vulnerable. I use a crowbar to wedge out the shrapnel, then make a temporary repair for the cable. I put my tools away and step back from the drone.
“Try to walk now,” I say. Electricity hums into the mechanism, which the drone seems to flex with little problem. It shifts back over and steps with the leg. I can feel each step through the ground.
We back away from each other, before it turns south and I turn back towards my Uncle's home.