Ballardian Short 1

The domes of the city rose from the desert, the steel worn to a dull luster by the endless scouring wind. Dust piled against the western curves, long sand dune arcs spilling off like ripples from a boulder placed in a stream. In the years since their construction, the domes had grown into the desert, their smoothed machined curves forming a organo-mechanic counterpart to the jagged basalt monoliths that marked the graves of ancient volcanoes.

Once, the city had been home to thousands, a thriving community of monastic scientists. Now, only Winston was left. He sat in a small pool of blue light in the empty darkness of the gathering hall, watching the feed from one of the tethered balloon cameras. The image swung with the wind, now facing north, now west, twisting with the cable. The cameras used to have servos, but the dust had gotten into the gears, and when he had tried to follow a dot on the horizon the camera had seized and frozen in place, becoming a victim of the wind. Winston was looking for Mallory. The other man had left the dome three days ago, saying that he was going to watch the sunrise.

That was one of the ways it happened, wandering off into the desert. Some of the scientists had fallen into silent reveries, others had leaped from the high catwalks or entombed themselves in hidden storage rooms. Many fled, terrified of the thing they couldn't understand. Their numbers had dwindled, the last few inhabitants scrubbing blood from the floor and moving their lost companions into the dry storage rooms. Some future explorer might find the city on day, find the rows of mummified seekers of truth next to the racks of canned fruit and soy protein cakes.

Winston was the last one left, Mallory was never coming back. Slowly, Winston eased his shrunken frame from the floor. He shambled through the complex, throwing open the doors. Where men had pondered the universe, lizards would scuttle from hole in the sideboards. Small oases would grow beneath dripping pipes as the automated systems sucked water from the air until they failed centuries from now. The endless dust would sweep in, and eventually the city would become one with the desert, one with infinity.

His final task done, Winston climbed the stairs to the top of the main dome. He stood on the observation platform, gripping the rail as he leaned into the wind. Mallory had been a fool. You could see the sunrise perfectly well from here.

1 comment:

  1. I think this might have already happened