This story is by DC Jessup and was part of our 2021 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Archimedes shuffled through the desolate wasteland of his home city. Dust was surging through the irradiated streets and whipping through the gaps in the tall concrete buildings. The howling wind sent his voluminous, rust coloured robes billowing about him as he struggled to amble forward.
What little daylight forced its way through the burning miasma of clouds and debris that choked the atmosphere barely reached down to the ground and when it did, it arrived in scattered grey beams.
There was yet another storm moving in. He could see it sweeping through the outskirts of the scattered buildings that formed the city and rattling through the flotsam and jetsam that scattered the broad avenues. Umber coloured sand was flowing through the towering buildings and streets like the foam along river rapids. It pooled in the edges of buildings or washed against the stepped edges of the concrete streets.
He raised an arm to shield his face from the flogging sand and dust, the sleeve of his tattered robe shaking furiously. He stepped slowly forward to an innocuous-looking dull metal wall with every stride a straining judder. Even with the wrathful dust having blasted the metal to a faded shine Archimedes’ eyes whirred as they focused on the reflection of his shrivelled body, revealed as his robes shifted in the wind.
With an effort of will and a low snarling whine of servos, he pressed his palm against the cool metal of the wall and there was a dull chime. After a moment, a noise like grinding gears reverberated against the coming storm as the panel shucked back into the wall and began to slide to the side with a grind of poorly maintained metal on metal.
Stepping through the threshold stiffly and fighting the gusting winds with every step Archimedes swiped a hand across an oil-burning lamp that ignited with a spark. He crossed the stepped threshold as the sliding access port slid back into the wall with a dull crunch. He didn’t need the light to see by but it was one of the few affectations he had retained as he had made the modifications to his body and eyesight that allowed him to see the world in a broad spectrum of colours, thermal imaging and night-time detail.
The whirring frenzy of the blasting sand in the wasteland of the city was replaced by the eerie quiet of his home. The only noise that remained was a clicking hum from the scattered machinery squeezed into every shelf and storage crate. His shelter was a small living receptacle in a hive of towering rooms and was one of the only dormitories accessible from both the outside and the street level. Not that it mattered, the entire hive had been empty for decades, most of its residents long passing to the dust that now flowed through the streets of the city.
The room was small, only a few steps in any direction from wall to wall and there were no viewing ports or views to the outside world. Archimedes had preferred it that way. In the flickering glow of the oil lamp, Archimedes slowly and monotonously shuffled his way forward to stand in front of a steel-framed work desk, the light from the lamp reflecting from its surface with a deep red and orange glow.
He inexorably took a final step forward and methodically lowered himself onto the small metal stool that sat in front of the desk, it creaking gently as he settled himself onto it. As he did so, he leaned forward with a low growl of gears and picked up a small object from the desk, almost reverently lifting it from its place.
As he did so, Archimedes looked down at his withered arms as his crimson robes slid back under the elevation of his hands. In the oil-lamp glow of his workshop, they looked almost arachnid, the spindly limbs had long since been supplemented by numerous machine grafts and insertions and were a rigid mix of metallic fibres, synthetic muscle and his skin and bones.
His head slowly tilted with a wheezing start and a soft, chemical-laced exhalation escaped his hood as he looked down at the object in his hands. The doll was one of the last remaining objects he had from the life before, before the experimentation and surgeries had replaced much of his organic matter with robotics and cybernetics, drastically increasing his lifespan whilst removing nearly all of his emotional attachment.
It had belonged to his daughter, she was long since passed now. The craft of the doll was exquisite. It was of Archimedes own design and could be articulated and posed in any way to mimic the human form. To the touch, it was a thing of cold metal, of joints and screws and machine pressed plates and yet his daughter had carried it everywhere with her.
With a slow movement and a hiss of servos, he reached one hand out to grasp the microscopic welding tool that lay across the workbench and reached down to the doll as he honed in on the final remaining repair before it was complete again. It had been damaged a long time in the past and Archimedes had dedicated his remaining days to restore it to its previous glory. With a click, the welding torch fired a bright spark into the joint in the arm of the doll and Archimedes gave it an experimental twist, testing its range of motion and fluidity.
In some ways, the doll had imitated his survival of the radiation-blasted city that had been their home and he often studied its precision and frame as he contemplated and archived his biological memories into the databank in his hybrid mind.
He had extended his life beyond the wildest imaginations of humanity, removing much of his emotional capability and yet somewhere, a part of him still longed for the life before the world was blasted to ruin. His obsession with robotics and cybernetics had alienated him from his family and from those he knew and yet it was now coming to an end.
The organics in his body had finally passed the point of no return and the interfaces between the machine and organic parts of his body were failing. It had begun as a stuttering series of glitches and freezes in his hardware that had affected his motive functions and had now become something more, a slow failure of the body.
His mind was still as sharp as it ever was and he had tried to find a way to solve for his lacking human form until finally, the balance of power had shifted to an irreversible drain, momentum gathering in his final days.
This was to be his last journey, his last return to the small home he had shared with his wife and daughter and he paused in contemplation, focusing on the doll in his hands.
His ocular implants were a sophisticated set of lenses and wide spectrum viewing ports and he could make out every tiny scratch and imperfection on the metallic doll as he scanned its surfaces, each minor defect recalling to him a memory of the experiences passed.
As he stayed, glaring at the doll, there was a subtle whine as his body began to power down. The failsafe he had put in place decades before was protecting his core brain functions from any major failure of his physical form. The hardwired power reactor in his body was keeping the electrical stimulus of his brain alive and powering the valves and pneumatics that pumped blood and oil through his veins and sucked the air into his lungs.
With his body failing and shutting down Archimedes mind remained, a prisoner in a body of his own design and at his journey’s end he would remain, in the shell of his own creation.