Phill English’s piece wins him second place, and a copy of Twelfth Planet Press’ anthology of the near future – 2012
Here it is:
The sun rises steadily as gears sink teeth into each other and propel the nameless biped along its predetermined path. As it walks, it finds little resistance in the tree branches whose fibres have gradually unraveled, sending leaves to the ground like flecks of sickly spit. They join the remnants of grass that has dried to a rubbery mask in the heat of the day. Sensors scan the surroundings constantly and beam the landscape of decay to a satellite paused, expectant, far above.
Servos whine in a poor approximation of birdsong as the biped’s path takes it up the slope of a hill. Along the way, it slows down to carefully step over what might be dismissed as a mound of dirt, if not for the glint of a precious stone embedded in its mass. When it gains the top of the hill, the biped halts and spins in a slow circle. The video it records shows no evidence of warfare, no craters or patches of land stripped bare by the seductive touch of fire. The mounds dot the landscape, becoming more concentrated in the streets of the township that stoops in the shadow of the hill.
Its mission complete, the biped allows tension to dissipate from its motors and falls sideways to the ground; its components rattle like a pebble inside an aluminium can. In a day or a week it will reactivate, compelled towards a new path by the intelligence that speaks through the satellite. But for now it rests, while around it the world is exhaling; ridding itself of the air that had once nourished, but which would now suffocate. It would be some time before the breath of life could be drawn, but time is something the biped—something all the mechanical constructs that roam the land—possess in abundance.