– If I Only Had No Heart – Chapter 14

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Armor of Faith

The halls were bustling. The enhanced knocked on doors, ripped them off their hinges, and barged into rooms in search of the officers.

Just before Konchet, a human woman used her enhanced arm to cut a hole through a steel wall, pushing in to find an elf lord officer. Another halfling woman with her jumped upon the man, holding him down while they sliced into his head and shoved a control chip into his open skull.

Blood ran through the hallways, making Konchet smile. The smell on the air was a refreshing one, reminiscent of the war which she had gloried in. Now, as well, she knew that the Machine had known of her loyalty even when Michael was around. She would never again forget the blessing and gift of prayer.

She cocked her head sideways, though, when she noticed that a vent was hanging loose, swinging on a single screw. Konchet hadn’t used this vent to escape her room earlier and, even if she had, she wouldn’t have left it so obviously used. While people raged behind her, chopping off arms and heads and whatever they could get their metal claws on, Konchet crept forward through the trickles of blood. With red, glowing eyes, she scanned the inside of the vent, seeing the glow of eyes move in the darkness.

“Is someone there?” Konchet asked.

A voice growled. “Go away!” she cried back.

Konchet felt a pang in her pumps. “Major Brontell, what are you doing in a vent?” She bent down, making her face visible to the hiding officer.

The human scurried backwards, her boots clashing loudly against the vent. “If you let them know where I’m at,” Brontell threatened, “I’ll kill you. I don’t care if I have to gnaw you to death, I’ll kill you!”

“Oh, no, Major, that’s not my intention. I’m so confused, Major, and I can’t find the Colonel. I don’t know what’s going on, it’s just bloody and violent! What if they come for me?”

Brontell exhaled, relaxing and scooting forward. “It’s a mutiny, you little… you little robot. What happened to your skin?”

Konchet hid the vent exit with her body, preventing any of the random worshippers from peering inside. “It was taken from me.” Konchet lied, “Most of the people they were going after were officers, but they beat me into submission and removed the skin that could have made me seem organic. I couldn’t protect the Colonel – I was too weak – but perhaps I can make it up to the Machine by protecting you.” She reached inside and put a metal hand on Brontell’s with as much tenderness as she could manage. “You may be all that is left of our rightful leaders, Major.”

The woman in the vent gasped. “Do you think we can make it out?”

“I don’t know,” Konchet answered. She tugged on the hand, steel lips quivering. “I couldn’t save anyone else, and the halls run with blood. I owe you, Major, owe you so much.”

“You… you do?” the major asked, crawling forward at Konchet’s behest.

“Oh, yes. Why, even the other day, you tried to put me in my place when I was waiting in line for the prayer room. I disobeyed a superior that day, and for that I must eternally work to reconcile myself with my leaders and my goddess.” Konchet bowed, smiling as she did. “I have a plan to get to the forge – they’ve already gone and ransacked the place, but there may be a few weapons left that we can get. If you pretend to be my prisoner, an unfortunate and false circumstance, I believe most people may leave us alone and I can get at least one worthy person out unharmed.”

Brontell poked her head out of the vent and looked to the right where a couple of believers dragged the bleeding bodies and limbs of officers like trophies, where they painted the walls with thick, red blood. She nodded and crawled out. “If you could find me, far better warriors will eventually see where I hid. Help me out and I’ll make sure you’re rewarded later.”

Konchet nodded as she helped Brontell out of the vent and to a standing position. “You have assuaged my soul, Major. Please, allow me to go first. The mutineers believe I have already been punished, they shouldn’t attack me on sight.”

Brontell nodded as Konchet ushered her quickly to the left. They ran down the hall, Konchet crouching and looking for a clear direction at every corner. She took long, weaving directions to avoid the horde that careened through the compound in search of officers that had not been modified, making sure that Brontell stayed out of sight.

At long last they rounded the steep corner to the long hallway where the forge branched off. At first Konchet wondered if she was in the right place, the hallway silent for the first time since the hub had been completed. She held up a finger to Brontell, telling her to stop, and listened for some of the tinkling, random sounds of organics pilfering in what may have been left.

Nothing. She waved Brontell on behind her, sneaking towards the forge.

When she entered the wide doors, she saw a disaster. Sparks flew where machines ran untended, where the flames of the fire crackled and roared without a purpose. Seeing no organics or enhanced individuals, the two ladies crept forward.

“Ugh, what a mess.” Brontell picked up a pair of tongs from a workbench. “No wonder we were made the leaders of this whole thing – even the Machine, as aloof and uncaring as she is, was smart enough to see that. Not like she matters anymore.” She ran her hand over a medical bag, opening up the leather knapsack and leaving it on the table.

Konchet writhed beneath her clothing but looked at the open bag left behind by Brontell. “Come on – the weapons are to the back. I saw them the other day.” After pocketing a scalpel, she pulled the Major onwards, but the woman didn’t want to be rushed. She supposed this was just part of an inevitable delay.

The Major pointed to a spot on the floor. “The mutineers have already been here and left, that’s for sure. Look at the blood!”

Konchet examined the area on the floor where Forgemaster Grumm’s blood had stained it. Though she had worked hard scrubbing the steel to get the blood up, she must have missed a few puddles in the dark. “All the better to go faster, Major. It is imperative we collect weapons, armor, and goods to keep ourselves alive when we escape.”

She eventually came to the back, only to find that the wall had been entirely stripped of its contents. Even a good pipe or iron with which to beat someone had been taken, likely used to keep the officers in line or make the ‘mutineers’ seem more powerful. Konchet knew the truth, though: judgment was coming, and this was a piece of it.

Brontell bent down to a hunk of metal that had a ceramic coating of red paint. She peeled off some of the paint flecks, watching them flutter to the floor. “This is weird – it’s not like a shield, is it?”

Konchet looked at it, noticing the enormous dents in the corrugated steel. She immediately recognized the piece as part of Klavdiya’s wings, the one she had hidden behind when Grumm had attacked.

Broken and bashed javelins were hidden behind it.

With care and meticulous concern, Konchet bent down to Brontell’s side, putting a calming hand on the woman’s shoulder. She patted her back. “This is a sign of the old, Major. Whether or not we like it, the world is simply not going to be the same. Your face will become the symbol of order, an image all will associate with the coming of law and justice.” She reached behind the wing, feeling the steel handle of a javelin and eking it out from behind the shield.

Brontell looked up to Konchet, wide eyes blinking. “You really think so? I mean, I treated you so… I mean, you have been a good underling. You think I can do as good a job as the Colonel?”

Konchet nodded. “Oh, yes, you could. But you weren’t listening. I said your face will become the symbol of order.” She quickly pulled out the javelin from behind the wing, flinging it up to Brontell’s chest. “Thing is, I’ll be wearing it.”

Though Brontell tried to fight back, Konchet’s spear was already too close to its target and her enemy was weaponless. She flung herself forward, using her superior mechanical strength and the weight of her steel to hold Brontell down. The point of the javelin stuck into Brontell’s chest, and she drew it down.

“What are you doing!?”

“Shh, you’re showing weakness,” Konchet said, her whispers drowned out by Brontell’s screaming. “You see, the Machine ordered me to get a suit of armor before I escaped, and I’m going to need something between my frame and my clothes if that’s going to work. Lucky you, you still have a complete hide that I need.”

Brontell screamed as Konchet pulled the scalpel out of her pocket. She pressed the javelin deeper into Brontell’s throat, then dragged the scalpel down Brontell’s arms, peeling her skin off and taking the meat and bones out while the woman shook with agony. Blood ran out and onto the floor.

“Don’t worry about your soul. I’m certain that the Machine will look at this sacrifice as enough – I owe you eternity, after all, and wouldn’t send you anywhere but the Mainframe.”

As the screaming died down and Brontell stopped wiggling so, Konchet found it easier to cut off the woman’s clothes and remove her fingers from the skin. She tried hard to keep the skin whole, but found it annoyingly difficult to get the hands and feet out without tearing the goods. The head, as well, gave her significant problems around the ears, but she eventually decided to cut off the cartilage and meat as well. She needed something to shape ears around the holes in the side of her head, she supposed.

A significant amount of labor, more than Konchet would have ever wished, went into removing the skin. Stupid, organic outer layer. One day the world would bow to her goddess’s power and she wouldn’t need to have skin, but for now the covering was required. Until the final day of organic rule came, until disorder was banished, this disguise was necessary.

Konchet took the skin from the body before her and dried the blood off the inside, hanging it on hooks where weapons used to sit. While it dripped the last of Brontell’s disgusting fluids from its surfaces, she stripped down to her bare metal, the exposed surface chilled in the cold.

But her heart flared with warmth.

She stepped into the skin, pushing her toes to the edge of the feet and slipping the skin over her fingers like gloves. She pushed the flaps of skin over her face and slipped the lids and lips over her steel accoutrements, putting the glass eye into its slot. She blinked as she looked around, then went to the staple gun near the leather working station.

She folded a pinch of skin just beneath her chin, pulled the trigger, and moved down the line to close up her new suit. As she went further, the sensors on her surface began to attach to the new housing. She felt her body ooze false blood that started to build up underneath her skin as it should.

Once the skin was on and secure, she closed her eyes, feeling the return of a covering. She breathed a deep sigh and opened her eyes. She was back, and her mother had allowed her free reign. She’d been unleashed!

Her skin felt the cool, steel floor beneath her feet, dulling the harshness of the feelings she’d had to deal with before. Blood squeezed out between the bits of stapled skin, but it would soon coagulate and even these massive wounds should heal. If they didn’t, well… more skin donations would have to be forthcoming.

Konchet wove around the benches, attracted by the shimmering coats of chain. First she put on a thick coat of batting, feeling it scrape – painfully, but not that much – against the staples. The thick pants she pulled on, tying tight the strings at the crotch. She plucked a set of chainmail off the wall and draped it over herself. A pair of thick, padded boots went over some woolen socks.
The armor on, she tied back the giant cloud of Brontell’s hair, packed up the bloody javelin, put a large, leather pack on her back, and took up a large, metal shield.

As she was leaving, fully outfitted, she passed a mirror. Except for the eye that had broken when it fell off her face in the Colonel’s office, this was who she was. With the Machine’s war over and the hubs nearly gone, she was outfitted to do her goddess’s will. If she weren’t, the Machine wouldn’t have let her live, wouldn’t have made her high priest.

She tied a piece of gauze over her right eye as a patch and smiled at her inner thoughts:

What if Klavdiya didn’t notice?

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