The model I’d been stalking for the past fourteen hours was an Arachnid-4. We called it that because it looked something like a robot spider, and it was the fourth of a type that some dead man had once identified. There was no real method to the nomenclature. It was anyone’s guess what the things called itself—maybe a series of binary digits, maybe nothing at all. I couldn’t remember all of the details I’d read from my little cigarette pack, but spider robots were originally designed to make repairs on spacecraft. They were problem-solvers, so they were supposed to be crafty. It also had a soft underside, and that was a weakness I could exploit. It was a design feature meant to preserve alloys so they could stamp out more units—but it also made them easier to kill.
This one was by itself. Otherwise, I’d have to fight another day, but with one, there was a ghost of a chance. Besides, I hadn’t eaten in three days, and I’d more likely starve to death than fight again. I had a couple of incendiary slugs in a sawed-off Husqvarna, and what I was thinking was that this fucking machine could use both of them in its underbelly. It was really the best weapon for killing up close, and it felt good in my hand, but I didn’t like the way this pipe-job was heading into a spooky-looking old house. I guess I was still just enough of a punk kid to be superstitious about rotting wood-framed houses, but I also knew that I was objectively fucked if this thing saw me before I pumped a couple of rounds of white phosphorous into its anterior.
I thought the floors would be creaky, so I stood outside and listened for a beat or two. Nothing. I poked the barrel through the open door because I wanted to give it something that wasn’t part of my body to lunge at, but that didn’t happen.
I had eight notches in the stock of my Husqvarna. As far as the mission was concerned, I had already served my purpose. This was a war of attrition, and the bean counters said that if I killed three before I died, that’s what our side needed to win. When I killed my fourth, my family got an extra ration of bread and beer. When I slaughtered my sixth, they moved them into a home with two rooms. That’s as good as it got, though. If I killed this one, my folks would get some extra bread and beer, maybe some tobacco, but little else. Of course, the bosses would rather me stay alive and keep murdering machines. Some of us had to make up for the tens of thousands of grunts that never even got their one.
This is what I was thinking about when I felt the hot molten rivet entering my thigh. I’m not sure why it hit me there. They didn’t always fire right. The bots were mighty accurate on the aim, but the junk they were shooting over on this part of the front sometimes got old, which is probably why I’m not dead. Dying, in pain, but not dead yet.
When I shot, I shot low from the hip, and I hit its belly, just a little off-center to the right. The poor thing shuddered and pulled itself around in a reckless little circle with only two of its legs still working before it collapsed into a heap. But man, I got to see it die. I got to watch my killer die.
There’s a soft, grey cloud circling my eyes, and I’m looking at this rotten piece of fruit’s camera eyes. Is it watching my luster fade? I level my weapon at what would be a face, but I can’t pull the trigger. It might be dead, but it might also be watching me die. I fold the old Husqvarna under my chin, and I know what I’m going to do. My family deserves a smoke and a drink to mourn my death, but I can’t let this clockwork bug watch me go.