The ondroni (/ˈɑndroʊni/) is a gigantic, eight-limbed stranger with a statuesque, grey striped body. Its black limbs fade to red at the hands and feet, and its fingers and toes are black and white, matching the patterning around its mouth and within its eye markings. Its skin is hard and leathery to the touch, while its flesh is grey and spongy. Its teeth are metal, but are coated with a white substance similar to human tooth enamel. Each ondroni possesses something akin to an animatronic armature inside of it, built of train and automobile parts, bits of scrap metal, screws, and metal architectural elements. In this way, no two ondroni are alike. The ondroni cannot repair itself from injuries.
The ondroni's voice is deep and rumbling, and is loud enough to shake the ground around it. It speaks at such a slow rate, however, that most listeners do not register its voice as anything more than a long, droning bellow, and it must be recorded and sped up 100x to be recognizable as speech at all. Once it has been sped up, its voice becomes discernible, if clanking and mechanical. Its language is impossible to analyze, as repeated syllabic patterns remains undocumented. It can be theorized that this strain's language is so complex that individual words, if they exist, may be millions – if not billions – of syllables long.
The ondroni appears deep underground, and always at least 127 feet beneath the deepest architectural structure within a city. It prefers dry, rocky earth, and does not generate in excessively wet soil. When it first appears, it is as small as a pebble, and lacks its internal armature. It increases in size and develops its internal structures organically over a span of one to eight decades. During formation, it lets out periodic deep, rumbling bellows, which break apart the rocks and dirt around it to expand its tomb and allow the ondroni to grow in size. Once the ondroni is fully-formed, it tunnels out of this chamber and begins its life.
The ondroni possesses a cold, mechanical disposition. It moves with the clanking and grinding of its metal framework, and its motions are jagged, like an old construction vehicle. It spends its days moving earth and rocks with meticulous precision to create rounded, smooth-walled tunnels with flat floors. It possesses incalculable strength, and has no difficulty breaking through solid rock by placing its hands against the surface and pushing firmly. The ondroni's tunnels are uniform and grid-like, and correspond to the earth's longitudinal and latitudinal lines. Although the ondroni is does not engage in social interactions with others of its strain, populations within a city always contribute towards expansion of the same grid, and occur at the same depth as one another.
Any duration of work is followed by an equal duration of dormancy. While dormant, the ondroni stands completely still, its head held low and its limbs drooping, and does not respond to any external stimuli.
As the ondroni's tunnels are found hundreds of feet beneath any human construction, there is little, if any, physical interaction between sensitives and ondroni. Although the ondroni remains inert while in a dormant state – and can be destroyed completely by persistent sensitives – active ondroni use their great strength to pick up, crush, and fold any nearby sensitives in their hands, pressing their bodies into a paste to line the walls of their tunnels. Other ondroni shudder and smile while walking through these "pasted" tunnel sections, but otherwise, this stranger remains disinterested in greater human activity.
the rails grew cold
"Trains had stopped working all around the city. When I say this, of course I want to make it clear that it was not as if some supernatural force had swept across them and, in unison, made them all mechanically unwell, of course. Rather, this was a scattering of incidents to both the trains and lines themselves. First, an operator had fallen asleep at the wheel. The train hadn't stopped at the intended station – instead, it came crashing forward into the back of another train further ahead on the line. Mangled steel and pulverized bodies everywhere – they cleaned up the wetmost remains with mops and buckets. Debris on the tracks had forced another line closed, while underground flooding closed the largest section of the tunnels, and yet another train fell prey to the glee of a mad arsonist. In the strangest incident, a train had been bisected completely down the middle – the only one that hinted at anything other than a string of strange coincidences.
In any other city, in any other time, there might have been a whole yard full of backups, but we unfortunately had only old corpses to cannibalize of wheels and guts and wires, and repair work was going very slow.
The lack of working trains and the closure of so many lines had inconvenienced a great many people, who, without the trains, lacked a reliable way to get from corner to corner of the jumbled mess we all called home. East town was separated from the western districts by junkyards and slums, and the highways were already crowded, with little room for foot traffic. Of course there were those who braved these urban wildernesses on foot, but it was no coincidence that the murder rate began to soar just as the trains had stopped working as now-outsiders overstepped unspoken boundaries.
There were those who waited at the remaining stations – dead-eyed, exhausted, crowding when the doors opened, elbows in the rib-gaps of their neighbors. And then there were still others, like me, who couldn't be bothered with all that mess. Whose worlds got just a bit smaller. I stopped going to the market across the river to get groceries and started to buy instead big sacks of grain and rice from the pale-ceilinged shop on the corner. No more lingonberries and dragon-fruit. No more cardamom bread. No more little luxuries." Sin-Nadin-Shumi. The Infrastructure Tapes, transcript
As the ondroni ages, its armature begins to rust and fall apart, and its expression turns pained and terrified. Its movements become strained, every lurching action accompanied by the screech of grinding metal. Eventually the beams inside its arms and legs break apart and jut out from its flesh, but even through this, the ondroni continues to move, as if forced on despite itself. During the final stages of its life, its skin sloughs off as easily as old wallpaper, and its flesh turns to a dry foam that breaks apart into asbestos dust. Due to the ondroni's periodic inactivity, death can be difficult to predict and ascertain, its passing a dormancy from which it does not emerge. Its corpse remains as a pile of rusted metal, which other ondroni press tightly into the walls and floors before they continue on, forever in construction of their unseen infrastructure.