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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