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.

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