With each step a struggle, the metal walker slowly strode across the ruined world.
As the legs rose and fell, steam escaping from each joint through innumerable holes and cracks, the tortured screeching of metal on metal carried across the dead plains. Beneath the ever-roiling clouds that never broke to reveal sunlight, the monster labored on.
The crew of the machine knew that they would not live to reach safety. They had ventured too far, and their beacon, their emergency signal, had been dark for many missions now. They had not the technology to repair it, nor to do anything but try in vain to patch the cracks and continue on.
At the apex of the day, when the dim glow shining blearily through the clouds nearly resembled something akin to sunlight, they would appear, risking exposure to spot-weld metal seals over the worst of the leaks. They dared not stop the walker, dared not power it down for more intensive repairs; even while it plodded on, the brown grass reached up towards them with long vines.
The monotony was tedious, but the crew of the walker preferred it. They could still remember, hazily, when they had been attacked by a blight beast. It was alone, thankfully – it must have been separated from its pack. There was no knowing how long it had wandered, lost and alone and insane in the wilderness. But when it found them, when it heard the call of shrieking steam, it charged towards them filled with blind rage and howling fury.
Their gun still worked. The missile bays had sat empty for as long as the crew could remember, but they still had the gun. They were fortunate; their walker could pull energy from the air, and from that deadly glowing rock that sat at its core that none of them dared approach, and could turn that energy into brief flashes of destruction.
The crackle or energy, emanating from the muzzle of the long barrel slung beneath the walker’s nose, tore new holes in the flesh of the attacking beast. Great gashes appeared, filled with shredded, inedible, useless scraps of muscle and gristle and sinew and bone. But still the beast, spawned of the blight and knowing nothing else, attempted to crawl forward towards them. Not until its body was scattered across the field for as far as the eye could see did it finally rest.
The crew of the walker had been lucky. Their machine, their home and world, their bastion of safety, was crippled. Their movements were slow and labored, and if the blight beast had not been alone, they would not have survived. They doubted they would be as lucky in their next encounter. But there was no other option.
The walker’s three-toed metal feet sank deep into the dead brush of the plains as it plodded along. The vines rose up, curling around the ankles with each step. The crew knew that, one day, the vines would be too strong, and they would not be able to pull free. The blight would climb up, swarming over the machine, breaking open the nut to hungrily consume its organic contents.
And on that day, the crew would open up the container that housed that glowing rock. They would let its glow wash over them, would tolerate the brief pain as they would be reduced to energy. Perhaps their energy would travel to a new world, one where the last spark of life was not a dying, guttering flame. The crew did not believe in souls. They really didn’t believe in anything.
Onward went the walker, forging a path across the desolation. Above the plains, the crew gazed out at the horizon with dry eyes. It wouldn’t be long now.