THE MOTHER'S TALE
It’s sunrise when she finds the first effigy.
Middle of the plantation, just planted in the ground like a cap stalk. A little man made of sticks, his wooden face painted with scarlet husk juice. She leaves it, calls her children into the field, asks why they’d be so foolish when the crops are withered and pitiful and need all the help they can get. But the children recoil at the thing in the ground, and when she finally tears it out of the moss, she sees its roots go deeper than they could have planted. Far too deep for her own hands.
The next morning, there are a half dozen. All scarlet faces, and deep rooted. She tells the children to stay inside and pulls them from the earth, in nervous silence as the stalks watch. She burns the little stick creatures, and says a muffled prayer into the fumes. She tries to tend the stalks, but in her heart she knows the plantation is failing – maybe it’s hunger that’s driving her mad.
She’s awoken that night by the children’s whispers; they’ve huddled together at the window to see the stick men march into the field. They call ‘mamma’ in tight little gasps, and when she puts her face to the port she sees four hulking sillouettes against the stars.
Pushing the effigies into the moss, she hears them creak and whistle with the effort. In the moonlight, she catches the glint of their eyes. Dozens of lenses set into that shadow carapace. Synths, she whispers, harsh like a curse.
She keeps her eyes on that window until the synths have dragged their hulks away, wakes the children in her arms, leaves the safety of her home. A dozen little men in the field now. The only thing that’s flourishing in this unforgiving soil. And instead of pulling them like weeds, she helps the children make their own little man, a hunchbacked creature with tiny painted eyes all over its doll face. And they spend the afternoon planting it like they would plant their livelihood every other day.
Maybe nanite crops are failing out there in the wastes, wherever the machines have made their nests. When she puts the children down for bed, they ask about the metal men and the sticks. They ask why. And she tells them: we were made in His image, they were made in our image, and all things are driven to speak to their Creators.