Red dust swirled around a sickly yellow-green clump of grass. It looked like one good gust would tear it up, but the little plant withstood the wind. The ox standing over it reached down for another bite and destroyed what Mars could not. Big brown eyes looked down at the roots, hoping for another mouthful. It wasn’t meant to be.
The ox worked its jaw back and forth across the dry grass. Its teeth patiently tore through the straw-like fibers. Overhead, the sun hung in the dull blue Martian sky. There wasn’t a cloud to be seen. Aside from the chewing of the ox and the shifting of the red dust, there was only silence. Bright red dots started dancing over the ox’s flank and across the ground. The glaring colored light made the rusty red of the landscape look washed out.
Plumes of red dust shot up into the air, followed a split second later by the crack of gunfire. Duran Grey ran in a zig-zag, trying to keep away from the bullets and the ox. His coat whipped out behind him, caught in a tug of war between his body and the wind. Just as the red dots finally homed in on him, he dove sideways and slammed into a dune. The dust immediately shifted underneath him and he slid out of sight.
Explosions of dust burst from the dune just as Duran disappeared behind it. The echoes of gunfire faded away into the wind and three figures crested a rise on the far side of the valley. At a distance they might’ve been human, but as they got closer it became clear they were anything but.
Angular metal plates covered pistons and twisted bundles of cords. Multi-jointed asymmetrical limbs stuck out from a round central body. Perched on top was a head that looked like a periscope with compound insect eyes at odd intervals. The robots came to a stop, scanning for their quarry. Each had a large, straight arm coming from one shoulder that ended in a gun barrel. A trio of laser sights shone from the tip of each. Occasionally the red dots converged on something suspicious, but they didn’t open fire.
The gun arms bent and then broke apart, folding onto the robots’ backs. Loping on three legs, the machines fanned out as they headed for the dunes. Dust still hung in the air above where bullets had buried themselves. The wind was picking up from a whisper to a howl, driving the red haze at the robots. As they made their way up and over the dune, the ox reached down and nuzzled the loose dirt, hoping for another bite of grass.