Simple. That’s what they claimed, but they — Darius and Carson and Debs, and many others – were dead, and Collin didn’t believe that the robots in the sky simply fired blindly at anyone running across the boulder-strewn killing field. They defended a specific bunker, their source of power the shaman he served as a child preached to the village. Maybe their intelligence was of a simple kind, but that’s all they needed to fight a human army reduced to hurling rocks.
He’d gone from being a boy of twelve years to a man of twenty-five, training every day, led by Sergeant Maine, a one-armed soldier who told tales about his great-grandfathers who fought the V-Wings with better weapons than slingshots.
Above, three V-Wings hovered, their undersides glowing red and yellow, the colors indicating something that he couldn’t interpret. When two of the drones suddenly flew away, like swept-winged birds made aware of new quarry, he assumed some other team had entered the fray. He drew his slingshot from its holster while fingering the stones in his jeans’ pocket.
He had four small pebbles left. If he wanted more, he’d need to get them from his dead comrades. Or scrape them from the walls of the trench. There were always rocks embedded in the hard-packed soil. They wouldn’t be shaman-blessed, but better a desecrated pebble than none at all.
As a child, he served a third degree shaman, a vibrant and energetic young man, who spoke about the magic of electricity, how the old world had harnessed the forces of the sun and wind. The shaman built strange devices that plucked discordant sounds from the air in an effort to discover other villages that practiced the same magic in the ruins of large cities.
Collin had accompanied him to console a widows’ gathering after an action against the V-Wings. He had learned the prayers of healing, and sung the songs, many of them old and making little sense because, as the shaman said, “Until her daddy takes her T-bird away means nothing to us.”
Though Collin thought he’d be a shaman himself, the village picked him to be a soldier, drafting him like his school chums. The young shaman he’d served had continued delving into the magic he called “technology,” until a gunpowder weapon he fashioned from pictures in an old book blew up, killing him. Serves him right, many said. Technology ruined the world. Leave it alone.
Collin shook himself free of the memories and peered around at a field littered with bodies. In his imagination he left it as a hero, not as a corpse. Setting a stone in the slingshot’s leather pouch, his heavy breathing gave way to controlled intakes of breath.
The robot continued to hover, the bright sun behind it.
Tiny black holes dotted its snout, four on either side of a blue eye. That glowing orb, always an imagined target during practice, somehow gave it the ability to navigate – at least that’s what the Shaman said.
He aimed for that eye.
A barrage of exploding pellets shot out of the V-Wing’s snout, turning chunks of the trench’s walls into powder. He hit the ground, crawled several feet along the bottom on his belly, then scrambled out and dashed for the bunker – zigzagging and ducking across the open field. Duck and roll: learned during the innocence of training.
He raced to an outcropping of concrete, the remains of a wall, flung himself behind it, and waited – panting, eyes scanning the sky. The V-Wing drifted off and he dashed for the bunker. A few bones littered the paved walkway leading to a door hanging from broken hinges. They crunched under foot and he skidded, nearly falling, before making the safety of the doorway. Some good soldier had gotten this far long ago. He winched, wishing the dead man… or woman… well in the afterlife.
He hesitated at the entrance to the bunker, made wary by the sounds from within.