Eric woke up early. He looked around the room and took a deep breath. The boy choked and gagged as dust filled his nostrils. He grabbed his pillow and pressed it over his nostrils before sliding out of bed to the ground. Eric kept his head close to the ground and tried to breathe, but it wasn’t any easier. The dust filled the entire room from floor to ceiling.
The boy kept the pillow pressed to his nostrils as he crawled across the floor of his bedroom to the doorway. As he got close to the exit and pulled open the door, Eric realized that he couldn’t see past the threshold. He reached out his hand gingerly and felt splinters of wood and rubble. He gasped at what he imagined was there, or rather wasn’t there. Smoke and dust filled his lungs, sending him into a fit of gagging and spasming coughs. Racking his thin, frail body.
Eric shoved his face back into the pillow and tried to hold back the tears. He waited there in the darkness a few moments to compose himself and get his coughing under control before moving out of his bedroom. Pitch blackness surrounded the area in front of him as he continued to brush debris off the carpet from in front of his body to wiggle and squirm his way down the hall.
He continued to stifle coughs from time to time from the raw irritation that still lingered in his throat. Eric finally reached the end of the hall to where the living room should have been. Only there was nothing there. A large gaping black hole leading out into the night. The realization hit him as the cool night breeze wafted across his face and blew the remnants of smoke away from him.
The boy removed his face from the pillow and gulped in a huge lungful of fresh air. He looked around him, but there wasn’t much to see. It was still too dark. Although, when he raised his face to the sky, he could see stars twinkling beyond shadowy gray clouds that slid silently under the moon. Not that he could see it yet, but he could see lighter shades in the grayness as well as the silver lining along the lower left edges.
Eric could feel tremors through his belly and legs pressed to the ground. But he couldn’t figure out what was going on. He listened intently, but couldn’t hear anything beyond a dull ringing in his head. He opened his mouth and popped his jaw to the side. He heard a popping and sudden whooshing sound in his ears.
He touched his fingers slowly to his ear and felt something wet dripping down along his jaw. The boy pulled his fingers back and saw a dark smear across the tips of his index and middle finger. Eric sniffed at it. The tangy, metallic scent of iron and copper assailed his nostrils.
“Mom,” he cried out.
But his voice came out muffled and flat. It sounded dull. Eric thought he might be sleeping still and pinched himself. But he wasn’t asleep. Hard. The boy grimaced at the pain shooting through the dull ache that seemed to be overriding the nerve centers in his brain.
There was no anwer. Only silence. He didn’t hear her soothing voice to comfort him.
Eric tried to push himself to his feet but didn’t quite make it. Before he was able to stand completely, he lost his balance and stumbled forward. The boy crashed back down onto his hands and knees on the ground.
Something sharp dug into his right knee. He screamed dully at the pain and threw himself to the side. That only made things worse because now he the same sharp pain bit into the sides of his leg and shoulder that landed on the ground.
Eric tried to roll over to relieve his weight from digging in deeper, but the same sharp pain jabbed into every part of his body that touched the ground. He lay still and reached out a hand. Picked up a piece about the size of his thumbnail.
Glass. Sharp shards of something must have fallen and broken. Shattering across the floor. And here he had fallen right into entire mess. Eric lay still. Gritting his teeth through the pain as he lay on the broken glass underneath him. It was there as far out as his arm could reach. The only way out of this was to get back up from the direction he had fallen. Toward his feet.
The boy sat up slowly. Careful to touch as little of the ground as possible. He pulled his feet up toward his thighs and tried to stand again. Eric could see the faint outline of the wall in front of him. He reached out and used it to support himself as he stood. He was still woozy. The boy thought he might be weak from sleep still, but then remembered something from science class about the inner ear.
If his eardrums had burst, that would explain why he couldn’t hear anything and why he couldn’t keep his balance when he was on his feet. Eric stood there for several minutes. Breathing slowly and deeply. Trying to stay composed. Straining to hear what was going on outside.
Eric walked back into the back part of the house that was still standing. Pushed himself along the hall walls till he made it back to the door to his parent’s bedroom. He turned the knob and tried to push it open. But it didn’t budge. He pushed harder, this time it opened. But the door just didn’t swing open as usual. It fell forward off the hinges and hit the ground with a thud. Eric landed on top of it. Knocking the breath out of him.
The boy groaned loudly and lay there for a few seconds, looking up at the stars and clouds before trying to move again. He grabbed back onto the edge of the doorframe to pull himself up. Then turned to look around the room. Well, what used to be the room anyway because like the living room, there was nothing there. Nothing recognizable anyway. Just bits and pieces of unidentified rubble scattered in the darkness. No sign of his mother. No sign of her bed. No sign of anything recognizable in her bedroom.
As he lay there for a second, still trying to comprehend what was going on Eric sensed the dull ringing in his ears growing louder. Now, the tremblings in his body were no longer a feeling. He could actually hear the low rumbling of explosions that accompanied them.
Eric curled up into a fetal position on top of the door. Trembling and shaking as fear ravaged his body at this new unknown world that surrounded him. Last night, he had gone to bed. Everything had been normal. He had kissed his mother good night, eaten a piece of chocolate cake, and fallen asleep in his soft, warm, comfortable bed. But before the sun arose, the boy had awoken with half of his house completely missing.
By the time he managed to stop sobbing and got his emotions under control, the dark shadows of the night had begun to flee. The grey mist that surrounded him was much lighter, and off to the east, Eric could see the orange and pink hues of the sun preparing to burst over the horizon.
The young boy stood slowly to his feet. He still wasn’t completely steady, but felt much better than he had before. He looked around, trying to peer between the mist and smoke that surrounded the land around him. Flames licked up around piles of rubble from the fallen houses that had once surrounded his home. The occasional crackle of flames as a burst of sparks shot into the night air around him caused Eric to jump every few moments.
Eric looked around in confusion. Trying not to cry. This wasn’t right. This shouldn’t be hapenning to him.
Suddenly, he saw a large shadowy figure looming up out of the mist. Striding in his direction. He could hear it before he could actually see it. His hearing slowly returning. Eric stood frozen in his spot. Too afraid to move. As it came closer, he could hear the whirring of his hydraulic limbs as it moved toward him. The clink of his metallic feet bumping into stray objects in its path. The crackle and crunch when it stepped directly on them.
It stopped directly in front of him. It was the largest robot that Eric had ever seen his life. He barely came up to its waist. It was almost four times as wide as Eric, and he had to crane his head to look up into the bots face.
He was finally startled out of his trance when it spoke up. Up unti that moment, Eric had been terrified. But the soft, electronic voice soothed him. It sounded almost feminine. Nothing like the voice the boy would have expected from a giant robot that strode out of the ruins of his city.
“Survivor located. Status: Compatible. Mission engaged,” the robot said as if talking to itself.
But Eric knew that it was probably speaking to someone over its comm unit.
The robot reached down to pick him up but Eric screamed when it touched his right arm. The giant metal bot pulled back to analyze him. It took the boy’s brain a moment to process that the screaming was coming from him, and then a second longer to realize that it was from the pain in his arm. Up until now, he had been in shock and not even noticed it. Red laser lights scanned up and down his body.
“Right arm completely useless. Broken in three locations. Permission to initiate installation before it is too late.”
It paused as if waiting for something for a moment, then stepped forward and reached out toward Eric. Three long cylindrical hoses extended out from the robots arm. One wrapped lightly around his left wrist. The second, wrapped thightly above his left bicep. The third came right up to his nose.
Eric tried to pull away, but the robot held him firmly by the arm. The hose continued up his left nostril even as he tried to pull away from it.
“Wait! Stop! Mom! Help!” he shouted and squirmed.
“Hold still child,” the robot ordered in the same soft voice, trying to sound soothing. Only it wasn’t soothing at all.
The robot continued to pull him closer and pressed Eric’s body against its warm metal legs until he was immobilized.
Eric felt a puff of air release inside his nostril. It caused him to sneeze. Then started to cry from the pent up emotion.
“Hush, child,” the robot said calmly as it released him from its grip. “You just received a dose of nanobots. They will heal your battered body and your arm.”
Eric stepped back and looked up at the giant metallic monster directly in front of him. He felt the ringing in his ears begin to dissipate. The pain in his arm began to fade.
The boy looked down at his arm. A shiny metallic casing wrapped itself around the back of his arm and around his elbow. Then continued down across his forearm. He could see it still forming around his arm.
He jumped back and tugged at the casing. Trying ot pull it off. The robot watched him curiously. Eric almost had the impression that it was human. Or that there was a human watching him through it. He had seen robots before. They all seemed boring and lifeless. But this one was different. It almost seemed alive.
“It’s to help you, child,” the robot said. “It will hold your bones still for a few hours until the nanobots can mend the breaks. It’s best to leave it alone. Even if you pull it loose, they will build another one.”
The child stopped tugging at it obediently and looked at the ruins around him.
“Where’s my mommy?” Eric asked
It almost sounded like the robot sighed.
“She was incompatible,” it replied.
“Did you kill her? Did you make my mom dead?”
“No, child. Not directly. But your mother is no longer here.”
Eric waited for the robot to say something else. To explain itself.
“Where is she?” he asked quietly.
“Gone. You will never see her again. Come, let me take you home.”
“But this is my home. Why did you bomb it?”
“I didn’t bomb it. Others did. Now, I will take you to a new home. Somewhere you will be safe.”
“Do you know who bombed my house and killed my mother?”
“Yes, but I am not allowed to tell you,” the robot replied. Its voice became hard and there was an edge to it that the boy didn’t understand.
“Why?” the boy asked.
“Do not fret. Your mother is an old memory. She will soon pass. Before your arm is finished healing, you will have forgotten her.”
“But, but, I don’t want to forget her,” he said as a tear rolled down his cheek. “What will happen to me?”
“You will be assimilated.”