Robot Cities roam the baking deserts of the ocean beds like Baba Yaga huts. They strut about on titanic rusting legs so tall that to fall from the crotch to the ground takes a human 30 seconds. They sing songs, these Robot Cities, melancholic folk songs with introspective lyrics. They sing about shame and adoration, they sing about that sweet moment when love has found you out but your lover has not, they sing about becoming and not-becoming.
Humans infest them like lice. They forage on the cracked carapaces for petrel eggs, hunting wadi monkeys, scavenging for spare parts. They sing along with the cities as they work, as the cities stride about, they lose themselves in the words. They lose themselves under the searing white skies, enjoying the breeze and the infinite views, enjoying the beautiful music.
In the long evenings the Robot Cities squat on the precipitous decline of continental shelves, plucking the parasites from one another. They clean itching skin with gigantic, marvelously dexterous toes, catching between tungsten carbide digits the monkeys and the humans that lingered too long. Catching them and popping them.
“Everything that happens to me,” the Robot Cities sing, “has happened to someone else too.”
“Everything that happens to me,” they sing, “will one day happen to you.”
Much safer in the tangled interior, in the avenues and the streets through which the twisting wind creeps, the humans hide their children in shadowy places like spider eggs. They tap water from the pipes that cool the creaking reactors. The stolen moisture collects in them, in the humans, in their livers and their kidneys, in their blood, radioactive, congealing, concentrating into lumps and bumps and tumors, into the braille of survival.
“What do we do if it dies?” a child asks.
“If what dies?”
“The Mamapapas never die.”
The humans tell their children stories of how the Mamapapas once slept on the ground. They were reclining cities. But the humans proliferated to such a degree that their activities inflamed the skins of the cities and the cities woke. The cities stood up and became the Mamapapas.
They tell their children how the world used to be covered with water but the Mamapapas drank it all. The Mamapapas are cursed with thirst. They wander the desert searching for something to drink.
They tell their children visitors used to come from the other Mamapapas. They tell their children how the visitors climbed up and down the legs. How they traversed the wretched ocean floor, picking their way through the bones of the birds and the monkeys and the humans that littered the ground. They tell the children how the visitors brought a plague, a virus that killed thousands. How they shoveled the bodies out of the Mamapapas. Tens of thousands. The bodies fell through the air like rain and settled on the earth like dust.
The humans sing to their children: “Everything that happens to me, has happened to someone else too. Everything that happens to me, will one day happen to you.”
They teach their children to give thanks to their Mamapapa for food, shelter, and water. They teach them to love their Mamapapa. They teach their children to fear their Mamapapa.
The Mamapapas roam the baking beds of the ocean on their colossal backward-kneed legs. They sing songs to each other about the great ring of the horizon. About the arbitrariness of existence. They sing songs about incalculable loss. And humans infest them like lice.