Monthly Archives: December 2015

Steadfast – part 9

Steadfast is a serial short fiction piece.

To start from the beginning, go to part 1.

Steadfast Cover 25% shrink copy Steadfast Kindle Ebook.

Harquinn stuck out a black-gloved bony finger, pointing at my love and me. “They should not be here. We’re cleansing the city. You know this Eunice. Both of those abominations were created by the war—a war that almost brought utter destruction upon us all.” Her eyes gleamed in the darkness, reflecting the fire from the lantern in her hand. Or did they reveal the fire from within? “Those things were made to cause death. So they must die.”

The crowd behind Harquinn jostled in stern agreement. A few voices cried empty epithets.

Eunice stuck out her small chin. “Purposes can change and people can change. You teach it. You preach it. And it’s in the good book. You should know this better than anyone–Reverend.”

The reverend’s lips twisted into an eldritch grin. Angry and ugly. “But they are not people. They are machines, mere things. Those two clocks were designed for obsolete purposes which bring nothing but chaos, and right now we need peace. They will go. Now.”

“No,” Eunice said.

“Then stay here and save them if you can.” Harquinn’s eyes gleamed again as she held up the lantern, its oily fire glowing inside.

I stepped forward with my hands outstretched. “Stop. I will go to spare them.”

Both women looked at me: one with sadness and the other with elation. Eunice didn’t stop me as I stepped through the door.

“You don’t have to do this Ajax,” she said.

I turned and touched her cheek. Then I glanced over at the ballerina on the table—I still didn’t know her name, but that didn’t matter. Finally, I looked at Harquinn’s hard gaze before turning again to Eunice. “I choose to do this.”

Eunice gave me as firm an embrace as her frail frame would allow. “There is no love greater than the man who lays down his life for his friends. You have a beautiful soul, Ajax.”

A wild scream startled us as Reverand Harquinn spit out in rage. The fire gleaming behind her eyes exploded in fury. The reverend pulled me through the door, pushed Eunice back into the house and then threw the lantern after her.

I turned to rush inside the house, but blue electric flashes of lightning ground me to a halt and I fell, subdued by a stun device. My arms and legs wouldn’t move, at first. I could see the flames growing inside the toy shop and smoke billowing out of the door, but there was no sign of Eunice attempting to flee. I strained, and slowly I was able to move in a numb fashion with little control over my functions. Crawling like a baby, I entered the growing furnace. I felt the penetrating and judging gaze of the reverend upon me.

“Go to your destruction then. There’s no afterlife for you.” Her words rang in my ears as the flames licked my pseudo-epidermis.

“Eunice!” I screamed but no reply came. I pushed myself up onto my feet and I could feel my skin begin to melt away. I called out again but there was still no answer. It was then I saw her, crumpled on the floor, encased in smoke and not moving. I lifted her over my shoulder and then did the same with my ballerina. I then staggered toward the front door through the flames.

I entered into the open air and laid down my burdens. Eunice was dead and my love was burned beyond repair. I caught the gaze of several in the crowd who removed their hoods, their eyes now mournful and sad. Where my skin fell away revealed the machine beneath. I, the monster, stood visible and on display.

Slowly, more and more hoods were removed to reveal the repentant faces. The ordinary folk who had no real idea what was happening. I felt sorry for them.

Then I saw Harquinn, her face registered confusion but then settled into stubborn rage.

I collapsed onto my hands and knees. My body was giving out from the strain and I had only moments left.

“Any last words tin man?” Harquinn’s voice rang through my ears.

I could no longer see as my functions slowed, but I had energy for one last act as I cried aloud: “I forgive you.”

I fell upon the pavement. My energy left me and my vision blurred to stark gray before settling upon dusk and then black. I was Ajax, and I was no more.

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Steadfast – part 8

Steadfast is a serial short fiction piece.

To start from the beginning, go to part 1.

Steadfast Cover 25% shrink copy Steadfast Kindle Ebook.

The night passed in a long and quiet space where my hands worked true, repairing my treasured find. She remained powered-down and plugged in for the fullness of that night as I worked thoughtfully and thoroughly upon her. The ballerina. My love. It occurred to me over the course of the long and lonely hours that she might never understand how I think or how I feel about her. Yet my eyes traveled over her broken body—a body I was trying to restore so I could fully engage the woman within it. And I sensed something different inside myself as I worked on her. It was as if her injuries caused me pain.

“It’s called empathy, Ajax,” Eunice said. She stood in the doorway, wearing her white nightgown and looking like an angel.

“Empathy?” I said.

She nodded. “Empathy is when you experience someone else’s feelings by observing their situation. Your friend is broken, so you feel broken for her.”

“How did you know I was experiencing empathy?” I said.

“You’re face gave it away. From the moment I saw you at the surplus market, I could see your face carried the weight of tremendous expression even while you were turned off. I bought you because of your face, and I was right about you Ajax. You’re special.”

I looked away from Eunice. My hands continued fussing with the gears and wires about the body of my broken beauty.

Eunice left the doorway and walked around the table looking at my work, nodding in approval. “And there’s more. You acted in compassion. When a person experiences empathy and then acts in the moment to assist their friend in alleviating the burden of pain, it’s called compassion. You are compassionate, Ajax, and I have never before seen empathy or compassion in any clock.” She then rested her frail hand, gnarled by age and arthritis, upon my arm. “Clocks were never designed to know these things. How do you know these things, Ajax?”

I shook my head because there was no logical answer.

“You know,” she said. Her eyes penetrated my core.

My hands stopped working and rested upon my love. I faced Eunice. “How can that be when I have no soul?”

“I would dare say, my dear boy, that you have been gifted with a soul. Set apart. You’re not an aberration, Ajax. You’re a creation,” she said. “I’ll stake my life on it.”

“Rev. Harquinn would disagree,” I said.

Three sharp raps upon the front door shattered the moment. Eunice opened it, revealing Harquinn’s stern visage on the other side. She was flanked by a crowd in black hoods. Her eyes traveled to me, to the ballerina on the table and then back to my owner. “Hello Eunice. We should talk.”

Eunice didn’t reply but simply crossed her arms.

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Steadfast – part 7

Steadfast is a serial short fiction piece.

To start from the beginning, go to part 1.

Steadfast Cover 25% shrink copy Steadfast Kindle Ebook.
“Here he is. Now he’s awake!”

Bright light flooded my eyes, and when they were able to focus upon the bearded man standing over me, confusion set in. “Where am I?”

“You’re onboard the Jonah, the finest fishing boat in all the bay. You’ve been caught in our net, my heavy friend.” He helped me sit up and disengage the netting from my legs.

“And you were completely on empty, so I hooked you up to my engine to give you a charge.”

My eyes traveled upon his jacket and cap, recognizing the insignia I said: “Captain?”

“Aye that’s it. Captain Sol, that’s me. Do you have a name, my fine metal lad?”

“Ajax.”

“It’s a good strong name,” Sol growled out. “Soldier?”

I shook my head. “Not anymore. Toymaker now.”

“By the wind! You’re Eunice’s boy gone missing. She’s been mad about your disappearance…feared the worst!” Sol’s eyes were round and wide.

“How do you know Eunice?”

“She’s one of my regular customers. Let’s get back to shore and get you back to where you belong. I’ve finished my catch for the day anyhow. Why did you fancy going for a dip in the bay?”

“I didn’t. It’s a long story.”

“Well we’ve got time, Ajax,” he said and blasted the boat’s booming horn while turning the helm, steering the Jonah toward the distant docks. “Captain Sol loves a good yarn, so start spinning one.”

The boat chugged along as I conveyed my story to an astonished Captain Sol, who interjected occasionally with savory comments about the reverend and the rats. Once we were in port, I helped him tie off the boat dockside.

I stepped off the Jonah wearing a fresh set of clothes, albeit fisherman gear, as gifted by Captain Sol who clapped me on the back. “Mercies are pouring out on you Ajax. Look who’s here already.”

I glanced over and saw Eunice––frail sweet Eunice. She dropped her basket as tears welled in her eyes. I promptly came to her side and embraced her.

“You were lost,” she said.

“And now I’m found,” I said.

She held up my hands and examined my damaged pseudo-epidermis. “My stars, you’re a mess. Let’s get you home.”

Night fell and I sat in the chair, looking out the window at the vacant storefront across the street. Eunice spent the better part of the day mending me all the while sharing her account of the store’s closure due to pressure and vandalism. The shopkeeper couldn’t keep a profit and continue to mend the store each time a window shattered or graffiti appeared on the door. So he packed up and left town.

I asked Eunice what happened to the ballerina, but she simply shook her head. There was just no way to know. Eventually, I helped her to bed, tucking the covers deftly around her frail frame. She smiled at me and whispered: “Good night.”

I responded in kind and then returned to my chair, staring out the front window and eyeing the sharp, black holes in the broken pane across the street. The urge to power down and recharge came on strong, but something stronger urged otherwise. I stood up and walked out the front door, knowing that Eunice would object. I was the wayward son, leaving once again too soon after returning from exile.

A twinge of guilt itched my core, but the inexplicable draw of curiosity drew me forth from the safety of the toy shop. The need to investigate felt…supernatural. Yet if I have no soul, as the reverend suggests, then how could I feel this way?

The night air foamed with fog, coating me with minute droplets as I wafted through it across the street and stood in front of the vacant storefront. It used to be beautiful and full of lovely clothes, and now it was broken and full of holes. Yet the boarded front door and the shattered window were accompanied by the word SOULLESS spray painted upon it multiple times. The dereliction was real. So much had happened in the time of my brief exit and all I could describe was a feeling of tremendous weight pulling me down. Sadness.

I walked along the curb to the building’s edge and peered down the alley. It was a complete void absorbing all light, making it impossible to see anything. Then I turned to leave but halted as the sound of rustling trash emanated from the void. Standing at the entry, I adjusted my eyesight to maximize my nighttime ocular abilities. Yet I was never meant to be a sniper, just a simple foot soldier. My sight was still limited.

Just walk away. All I needed to do was walk away. After everything I’ve been through only to make it back home again. Just walk, Ajax.

Instead I allowed myself to be sucked into the dark void of the alley, approaching the pile of garbage. Caution held me at a distance, but curiosity drew me nearer. A small, slender hand stuck out from the rest of the rubbish. It was delicate and feminine.

Could it be? Was she to be discarded as trash? Why not? I had been filched and then discarded as trash. I reached out and touched the hand, which in turn grasped mine. I heaved and pulled out the chassis of my ballerina. Although damaged, she was just as lovely as the moment I first saw her.

I gathered her into my arms and turned her head to face me. Her eyes opened. Her mouth could not speak, so she simply mouthed the words: thank you. I nodded and carried her away from the dump site and into the toy shop, where I laid her upon the work station. I arranged the tools I would need and then I caressed her lovely hair and kissed her forehead. “You’re safe now.”

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Steadfast – part 6

Steadfast is a serial short fiction piece.

To start from the beginning, go to part 1.

Steadfast Cover 25% shrink copy Steadfast Kindle Ebook.

I do not know how long I remained in the hole, the name for which the rats gave this place of imprisonment. And I could not smell the sea air except when the bulkhead opened, which only happened when I was led to the technicians with their poking and prodding, their incessant questioning and curious thinking. None of them could figure out how Eunice upgraded my skin and my emotional intelligence. The human technicians were far more interested in the upgrades than the clocks, who seemed to be quite happy as they were and yet they noticed one of their own imprisoned for no pure reason other than the human envy of advanced knowledge. Perhaps this place was not heaven-below-the-earth after all.

After what seemed like weeks, the technicians finally decided they were going to dismantle me the next day; they received approval from the Spartan. The hour of my obsolescence was upon me. I would face it tomorrow.

Walking back to the hole for the last time felt like hours passing, yet it was only 253 paces from the lab to the bulkhead. Only one guard escorted me as I had done nothing provocative during my imprisonment. In fact I’m quite sure some of the rats honored my company during these silent walks, though no words were ever spoken. I kept silent unless questioned. Always.

Tonight differed in the routine. My escort walked in front of me instead of behind, leading slowly and upon reaching the hole, he stopped and turned to face me. With one finger, he pointed down the end of the tunnel.

“Do you smell it?” he said.

I nodded. The seawater.

“Follow the smell. It won’t be long until you reach the outside.”

The guard then opened the bulkhead and stepped inside. “What they’re doing…it’s not right. Not right at all.”

I knew he was human, and he seemed to care for my well being more than his own. “But you’ll be punished.”

He nodded. “I’ll die, but I’m ready for it.”

“Hand me your gun,” I said and he gave it to me. “You’re not going to die.” I punched him in the face and he crumpled to the floor of the cell. His missing weapon and his facial injuries would hopefully absolve him. I dropped the gun and locked the bulkhead, running down the tunnel he indicated would exit to my freedom.

I ran toward the salty smell, and it grew stronger with each step. Each twist in the tunnel revealed an ever freshening odor of outside air. There were many twists, many turns and a few guesses at a few forks, but they seemed to be correct as the air grew fresher and saltier.

It was then I heard the sounds of pursuit behind me. My escape had been uncovered and the rats were on my trail. There were no voices but there was plenty of sloshing about in the gathered scum puddles. The lack of noise gave me pause for concern, knowing they would end my existence upon capture, and that could not happen. I needed to return–to Eunice–and to my dancer.

The next turn revealed my eagerly sought exit, but not without a serious problem. The opening to the sewer stood blocked by iron bars, no doubt installed by the rats to prevent entry or exit. Soldierly instincts welled up from within and the great fight was upon me, but not toward my pursuers. I turned to the bars and selected the one that seemed weakened by rust. My hands gripped the most corroded point and I pulled. Every ounce of my strength strained against the iron. Every gear within me ground against its neighbor. I was a soldier again, but I fought for my freedom…and my freedom was won upon the breaking of the iron. I bent the bar upwards with the last of my strength, for my energy was spent and my gears were in need of realignment and repair.

My pursuers rounded the corner and ran toward me, guns drawn, now shouting for my surrender. And without another thought I jumped and fell. Down. Down further. Falling yet again, but this time hopefully toward my return home.

The water was cold and welcoming as it enveloped me upon splashdown. It was only then I discovered my energy was expended completely. I could not swim and so I sank into the inky currents of the bay, surrendering myself to fate yet again.

Categories: Fiction | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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