She Dreams of Diggers: a short story

They crawl over the poisoned land, clawing at the earth. Why are they digging? What are they looking for? She does not know. She watches their strong arms working tirelessly. Dig, scoop, lift, release. Heavy soil, rubble and plastic waste. Sometimes, there are bones. It makes no difference to the diggers.

They operate in perpetual darkness. Sunlight never filters through the smog. Every so often, they sleep.

When she wakes up, she is puzzled to find dirt under her nails.

***

She dreams of diggers. This time, she is not just watching them. She is one of them.

Single-minded, she digs, scoops, lifts. One unit in a thousand-strong fleet. She has a hydraulic skeleton, caterpillar treads, a mechanical bucket attached to each arm. Her colleagues do not speak to her and she does not speak to them. They have no language. No politics, no beliefs, no families, no emotions. They have no impulse to reproduce, but if more are required, they are bred and programmed.

Dig, scoop, lift, release.

Eventually, she has to sleep. Retreating to a recharge point, she connects with the power source and becomes unconscious.

When she wakes up, she screams.

Her bed is strewn with earth.

***

The following night, she double checks that the doors are locked. She sets up a webcam, pointing it at her bed. Has she started sleepwalking? Or is someone playing a trick on her? She needs to know. She has changed the sheets and swept up the dirt.

There are no dreams, or none that she remembers, but in the morning she is very tired and unrefreshed.

When she plays the webcam recording, her blood freezes. She stares at the screen, watching herself lying in bed making the same movements, over and over.

Dig, scoop, lift, release.

***

There is nothing but digging. Arms clawing at the toxic earth, emitting a low whine. The only form of life capable of surviving in this environment. Electronic hearts are pumping hydraulic fluid through their veins. Unblinking eyes are glowing red in the darkness. Acid rain begins to fall, but their skins are resistant to the corrosion.

Suddenly there is a change in pitch. Their sensors warn of a different material below. Automatically they adjust their excavation brief. Something begins to emerge from the debris. A figure. They start to work faster, uncovering the top of a head, then a face, robed shoulders, outstretched arms.

The statue gazes upon the ruined landscape, conveying peace and love to the diggers, the recharge points, the contaminated air, the tonnes of rubble and plastic. The diggers do not pause. They burrow down, below the feet of the statue.

Dig, scoop, lift, release.

When she wake ups, she screams.

Instead of mechanical buckets, she has human hands.

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