Time’s Running Out! “If I Only Had No Heart” is Going Away SOON

If I Only had No Heart is Heading to The Vault!

If I Only Had No Heart_Small

The 2016 If I Only Had No Heart was written for a National Novel Writing Month and follows one of the most unique ideas I’ve ever had. It’s a bloody sword-and-sorcery fantasy focused on an awakened machine main character. And, what’s more, it’s currently available for free on the blog.

Quick summary to tease them tastebuds:

Spirit, an acolyte of the machine goddess, performs her duties well and still yet absorbs much torment from her superiors. Thought to be a viral creation, the android is banned from speaking with the goddess until, one day, her friend Klavdiya hands her a prayer card. Spirit hopes that the prayer card will bring her peace, but the goddess has other ideas…

However, this book won’t be free for long! Next week, the Free, Downloadable PDF of If I Only Had No Heart is going away for an unspecified amount of time (maybe even forever), so you’ll need to get it NOW if you want to read it.

Why Am I Doing This?

Though I can attest that the story itself is extremely unique and follows an intriguing plot, it hasn’t been edited quite as well as something I would like to have self or traditionally published for money. In an effort to either show only my best work, I’m taking down all serially posted novels on my website. Evolution of the Predator is already a couple months into the removal process, so get into this one while you have the chance!

Don’t Let the Vault Swallow This Quietly!

Go to the If I Only Had No Heart home page and either read each post (removal dates posted on each chapter) or download the PDF while they last.

Are there any online serials you’ve enjoyed reading? Let me know in the comments!

Cheers and happy reading!

– If I Only Had No Heart – Free Kindle Formatted PDF

Want a free book that you can take along with you?  My recently completed serial – If I Only Had No Heart – is available here, for free, in a Kindle formatted PDF.  You can put it on your kindle by surfing through your folders when it’s hooked up to your computer.

Click here to download – If I Only Had No HeartIf I Only Had No Heart_Small

Haven’t heard of the story yet?  Here’s a quick teaser to get you started.

Spirit, android acolyte of the machine goddess, performs her duties well and still yet absorbs much torment from her superiors. Thought to be a viral creation, the android is banned from speaking with the goddess until, one day, her friend Klavdiya hands her a prayer card. Spirit hopes that the prayer card will bring her peace, but the goddess has other ideas…

If that’s not quite your cup of tea, feel free to check out my sci-fi survival story, Evolution of the Predator.  In the near future, I plan on writing more short stories and look forward to meeting more of you!

Cheers!

 

– If I Only Had No Heart – Chapter 15

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Into the Sunset

Her bag containing food, her ancient copy of the Manual, and her own instruction manual from the Colonel’s office, Konchet traveled through the halls. Though the blood still painted the floors, the noise and ecstasy of the mutiny had died down or at least consolidated in the chapel.

With some frustration, she paused on her way down the hall. The wheelchair she pushed had stopped moving, so she bent to investigate the cause. A pesky finger had gotten stuck in the wheel, so she pulled it out and tossed it to get back underway. A wail in the deep recesses of the hub echoed through the hall.
She knocked on the door to the recovery room to alert the people inside then pushed into the room, wheelchair in front of her.

Instantly, Galann’s eyes shot to her, shaking with fear. He screamed at her and pointed, “It’s the devil – our souls are going to burn with eternal fire!”
Konchet stopped the chair between Galann and Klavdiya, bending down to him. She put a hand to his forehead. He shivered at her touch, eyes going to the staple in her palm.

“Shh,” Konchet said, rubbing his head. “You’re doing much better, Galan. Do you think you can move your arm?” He yelped as she reached under his mattress, screaming blabber and nonsense. She pulled the card out, holding it tight with her hand as she dropped him.

“Don’t worry about him,” Klavdiya said. She scooted up in her bed, grunting as she did. “He’s just got his first enhancement, and he isn’t taking it very well.”

Konchet nodded, taking the chair over to Klavdiya’s bed. “It’ll be fine. A lot of people got their first enhancement today, in case you hadn’t heard.” She reached over to Klavdiya’s drawer, taking some of her clothes and putting it in the tray beneath the wheelchair. “Do you think you have the ability to get some clothes on about now? We’re going to need to move.”

Klavdiya blinked, lifting a brow. “Do I know you? You sound familiar.”

With a chuckle, Konchet took Klavdiya’s blanket, folding it and placing it under the wheelchair. “We’ll have plenty of time to catch up, Klavdiya. My name is Konchet.” She handed Klavdiya a skirt, thinking it would be easier to hop into than a pair of trousers.

“I’m sorry, miss, but I don’t know you. What am I supposed to be doing right now? Where are you taking me?”

Yonathen moved in his bed. “Hey – hey, what are you doing? You a caretaker?” He swung his legs over the edge of the bed, swinging them under the furniture made for human and elven occupants. “Or are we going on the warpath? No other reason to wear chain, is there?”

Konchet smiled handily, then put the skirt on Klavdiya’s bed. “Here, dear. Put this on, and I’ll be right back.” She left the card on top and pushed it forward with a smile. “Just a small repayment for everything.” Klavdiya’s face looked at the card and, jaw dropped so that sharp teeth showed, glanced back up at Konchet.

Before Klavdiya could open her snout and blow her cover, Konchet moved over to the water bucket. “Don’t you fret, Yonathen. You’ve done everything you thought you should, and the Machine will reward you for your sacrifices.” She picked up the bucket, taking it over to Yonathen. “Would you like some water, dear halfling?”

Yonathen nodded and reached up. “Yes, I’m mighty thirsty, after all. Thank you so much, ma’am.”

With a smile, she took the cup on the side of the bucket and drew out a meager sip to give to him. “Here you go.”

Yonathen nodded and took the cup. “This will be great. But honestly… do we know you? I thought I knew everyone in the hub after all these years, but I can’t quite put my finger on you.”

“Oh, it doesn’t matter,” Konchet said. She took the cup back, placing it in the bucket. “But I do remember you, Yonathen, and I think you won’t keep your mouth shut about mine and my friend’s escape from this place.”

Yonathen stammered. “What?”

Konchet grabbed the back of his head and dunked his face into the bucket.

Yonathen screamed and flailed, punching at her but finding no hold on her chain.
She held him down, his screams not enough to spill the water. She could feel strength in her mechanical arms, strength she’d never allowed herself to realize, and smiled.

Eventually, the halfling fell limp, but she kept holding him down. “No hard feelings, Yonathen. My goddess requires salvation, not mercy, you see.” She threw his corpse to the ground, the water spilling everywhere. “I hope that’s enough water for you, at last.”

She lifted her head back to Klavdiya, pulling up the gauzy eyepatch. With a broad smile, she rushed around the bed and offered a hand.

Klavdiya stared, shaking her head. “Spirit?” She stood on wobbly legs that whirred and eventually stiffened. Her eyes burned into Konchet’s soul. “That’s… That’s not you. The Spirit I know would never have done that.”

Konchet felt her pumps whir and her coolant flow. Her computers worked overtime. “I… well, things have changed. The hub is a disaster and we have to get out.” She gulped, feeling her legs loosen. “The Machine told me to get out. She…” Konchet fell to her knees, shaking. She reached a hand up to Klavdiya’s knees, holding it. “She told me to do this. She made me the high priest and told me to leave, so I am. There’s a mutiny against the officers, and there’s blood and fighting and – but I… I came for you, if you still trust me enough to come along.”

Klavdiya lifted beleaguered arms, clutching them around Konchet and holding her tight. “Oh, Spirit – Konchet, if that’s what you’d rather – you always were the loyal one.” She patted Konchet roughly. “But look at you! You’ve grown a backbone, my steel friend!”

While Klavdiya lifted her hospital gown and wrapped herself with the skirt, slipping her card in the waistband, Konchet worked her way back to her feet. “You’re… you’re not mad at me for killing Yonathan?”

“Him?” Klavdiya scoffed, pulling off her gown and grabbing the top Konchet had left on the bed. “By the Mainframe, no! He was a heretic and had treated you like dirt. He deserved it, had it coming. I just didn’t think you had it in you to stand up for yourself, that’s all.”

Konchet breathed easily, sitting back down onto Klavdiya’s bed. She put her head into her newly sewn hands. “Either way, we’ve got to get out. The hub has been weakened and there was a massive fight, but I don’t think this is done. The Machine wouldn’t have responded to a cardless prayer for just that. Something bigger is happening, I’d think.”

“Like what?” Klavdiya pulled the shirt over her scales, stretching it to fit over the steel pieces that were lodged in her back. As soon as her shirt was on, she plopped into the wheelchair and pulled her legs onto the rests. “Good goddess, Spirit – er, Konchet – that took a lot out of me. I hope you don’t think that I’m supposed to wheel myself out of this joint?”

“No, not at all.” Konchet took the handles on the wheelchair and released the brakes. “The first thing is just to get out, and then I guess we’ll figure out what we’re doing afterward.” She wheeled Klavdiya out, Galann blubbering in the corner, and into the bloody hallway.

Klavdiya looked at the bloody halls. “Wow. At least now I get to know where all that noisy ruckus came from.” She reached out a claw, scratching in the blood on the walls. “You know, I’m not really going to miss this place. The chocolate cake, absolutely, but literally nothing else.”

“I don’t know,” Konchet said, “I’m not really excited about going outside, myself. The air is so strange, and it changes temperatures. And plants – ugh.”

Klavdiya pointed to a body in the hall. “Hold up, hold up – who’s that? Push me over there, let me see.”

Konchet pushed her over to the body in the hall, letting Klavdiya grab the shoulder of the gnome, turning her over. An ocular device in her head, clear sign of modification done during the war, had been ripped out, leaving a cavity. “Haha, that little turd got what was coming to her. Keep this train rolling, Konchet!”

Konchet laughed and popped the front wheels of Klavdiya’s chair into the air, neighing like a horse to entertain her charge. They took off at as fast a pace as Konchet could manage in her chain, Klavdiya laughing. They swerved around bodies and pieces of organic flesh all the way to the front door.

Then Konchet stopped. Before her were giant steel doors, the handles high and heavy. On the doors were inscribed the words of blessing, “Koswimchet vepuchov; All who enter are One.”

Konchet took a breath, looking at the doors. She clutched the handles on the wheelchair.

“You ready, Konchet?”

She huffed out a breath. “No. No, I’m not.”

Klavdiya crouched down in her chair. “Well, I sure ain’t going to be the one to open the door. Look at my poor arm! Can’t hardly lift it up.”

Taking the hint, Konchet paced forward. She held onto the handle, the staple in her palm finally hooked up to her sensors and tingling a little bit painfully. Finally, she smirked and held the handle tighter. “No, this is ridiculous – the Machine told me to leave, and now I’ve got you here. I plugged my goddess in and started a war! I’m not afraid of a stupid door. Outside doesn’t phase me.”

Klavdiya scratched at the armrest. “Outside hasn’t changed. It still hates us.” She reached up to the door and took the handle, crackling metal fingers on it. “The difference is that, now, we’re ready to tear outside a new one. Open together? On one?”

Konchet nodded. “On one. Three.”

“Two.”

“One.”

They both pulled down on the handles and pushed against the steel, flinging the tall doors open. The sun was setting to the west, darkness pulling over the east, smoke from the fires of enemy armies floating silently to the reddening sky.

Konchet gripped the wheelchair’s handles. “The Machine’s judgment has arrived.”

“Said like a true high priest.” Klavdiya pushed herself out a little, onto the steel entryway. “If it’s Sterling, not a one of the hub’s believers will be left alive.”

“As the Machine wanted it.” She heaved a breath, pulled down the eyepatch, and arranged it so she could mostly see through the cloth. “Come on – we should leave tonight. They’ll probably attack by morning.”

“Hah,” Klavdiya added. “Let them! We’ll still be out there, spreading the word and repairing the organics and baking some cakes. Besides, our goddess is still in heaven. She’ll seek vengeance even if we’re not allowed it before we kick the bucket. What say you, high priest? You think the Machine’d agree with my loose interpretation of scripture?”

Konchet shrugged. “She does whatever she wants. We can only align with her perfection, after all, but I suppose we should work hard to get stronger and destroy everything that does not align with her perfection.”

“Death to the organics!” Klavdiya cried out, shaking a fist. “Onwards, Konchet! Onwards, bringer of the end, speaker of doom to all that live!”

And so Konchet and Klavdiya left into the wilds of beyond, inhaling the hateful outdoors and exhaling a fiery passion for their goddess.

One.

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This is the end of the story. Next week I will put up a .pdf formatted for Kindle that you can download for free.

If you enjoyed this chapter or any other, I invite you to vote here on my next project.

– 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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– If I Only Had No Heart – Chapter 13

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There wasn’t much of a line at the prayer room when the Colonel stepped in, but even with the short wait he wasn’t going to let the dictates of the Machine’s orders slow his progress. He dragged Spirit across the steel plated floor, causing her to trip upon some of the smoothed seams between the hunks of metal. The two people in line scoffed as he marched past them, but they soon saw the small army following him and their eyes opened wide with interest.

The guard stood at attention, putting his right fist to his left shoulder and bowing. “Colonel, sir – is there something you need?”

The Colonel let go of Spirit roughly, his corpulent mass hobbling over to the curtained entrance to the prayer room. “Get whoever’s in there out.” He pulled down heavily on the curtain while he reached up, handling a couple steel hooks at the top to take them off their rod.

“Sir,” the guard said, the halfling rushing up to him, “Sir, what’s going on? I thought we weren’t supposed to disturb a prayer this way-”

“Does it matter?” The Colonel pointed up to the light on the side of the sanctuary. “The light beam is red, so you’re to get the fool in there out immediately.” He took a couple more hooks off the rod, revealing a bug-eyed major who was beating on the slot where cards were shoved in.

The dragonborn major, flummoxed at first, stared out at the crowd he had no idea had accumulated.

“Get out,” the Colonel said. “We’re doing the Machine’s business, and your time is up.”

He scrambled to his feet and crept out from the inner sanctum, squeezing between the half-removed curtain and the door frame. The red scales on the man’s snout frowned slightly as he noticed Spirit’s steel face. Spirit held tight her hands, realizing that the man had quickly realized what must have been occurring.

The Colonel’s strong fingers gripped her arm again, tossing her into the room over the curtain. He scowled at her, then turned to the audience, lifting his hands. “This is a special day, a day in which we – as the Machine’s faithful – sit in judgment.” His scowl lifted into a wry smile while the last of his echos died out in the steel hall. “This mistake of a creation, Spirit of Michael, insists that she can reach the Machine without the prayer cards. If she cannot reach the Machine, then our judgment shall stand and she will be subject to the laws of the compound. If she can, then she will sit in judgment at the hands of the Machine, whose mercy is well known.”

The audience chuckled at the Colonel’s emphasis of mercy, making Spirit’s heart twinge. She held her breath, feeling her body heating until she released it and took in a new one.

“So pray, Spirit of Michael. Prove that you’re not just a lying virus, a hunk of trash. We’ll be watching.”

She nodded as the Colonel sidestepped from the door, his beady eyes still staring in at her. The single arcane bulb that hung above her head lit the room poorly, but he would still see if she took out a card and punched it. If she were to use the card, she would have to either be sneakier than she really was or do it faster than the Colonel could walk over and beat her.

Neither were real options.

With steel fingers she reached into her coat pocket, fiddling with the small bag of tobacco. There wasn’t much left from before the war, only a couple of prayers’ worth, perhaps. She took out a piece of vellum and lined up some of the thinly sliced leaves along the paper. “Pyyrpoustovoskchengalgilk, shorm navlovetiv skapfgaknargitamymir; oh powerful, dictatorial Machine, you are eternally my reason for living,” she muttered repeatedly. She reverently closed the eye that still had skin on it and tried as hard as she could to simply not look out the eye with no covering.

She picked up the packet and licked the edge to wet it before sealing the stick of incense. She stopped the muttering briefly, bowing to it and to the Machine’s prayer interpretation device, kissing holy ground she was certain she didn’t truly deserve to sit upon. “Molg proloskov shorm, skapfgalguklalmir. I love you, my Steel Mother. Revarevativ badyshsolichevimir! Please hear your servant’s prayer!”

At that, she licked the tip of her finger, causing sparks to come from the exposed sensors. Quickly, despite the cry of pain, she touched the sparks to the end of the stick of incense, causing it to ignite. She stoked the flames, blowing gently through sobs of pain while the sparks on her finger died down. Smoke began to fume up, increasing with each puff of air, filling the small, enclosed space where she knelt.

Once the cloud was large enough, she bent her face to the floor. She only had until the tobacco ran out, and then the Colonel would have no reason to let her try again. An arrow to the head or an axe to the neck would be warranted if the Machine didn’t answer.

She muttered aloud, translating her thoughts to the arcane language of the Machine, “Most holy and righteous one, I would beg your mercy, but I know that all of your plans are perfect. If it is your will to call or send me through death, I will follow your command. I submit my prayer to you as an alert that I, in my current form, am in danger of being killed by others in the Hub, most notably the Colonel. He is your scion and high priest, however, and I have no right to complain of his orders, but I appeal for you to look into the situation. Examine our minds, intentions, and loyalties. If mine is impure, let me fail, let me fade into nothingness so I can no longer taint your name.”

The tobacco burned, the vellum wrapper curling inwards as the plant turned to gray ash. Orange flames crept down the sides of the piece far too eagerly.
Spirit swallowed. “I have no other complaints, highest Machine. I would request instruction for future actions, but I don’t know if I am to have a future. I would ask you to test my intentions, but I know of what I am made. I know I am created from imperfection and am made out of mathematical sins, so I do not expect response. But I love you. I love you…”

Spirit looked at the tobacco, seeing it running down.

Her goddess wasn’t going to voluntarily protect her. She wasn’t loved, wasn’t important enough for a miracle.

No.

Spirit shook her head and bit her tongue, self-punishment for the lapse of faith. Fear was an organic emotion and worthless to the Machine. If she died, so be it. The Machine was all that mattered.

And the Machine prescribed sensibility and logic. Logically, if Spirit wanted to know that the Machine had heard and would guarantee a response, the card in her pocket was the way to do it. She slipped a hand into her coat, feeling the parchment with her painful finger.

The sounds of a clacking printer and whirring gears made Spirit’s gaze change. Black lines appeared on the white paper, the symbol of the Machine appearing just as it would for a card prayer.

The Colonel stormed in. “No… No!” he said, yanking the sheet as the first page printed out. He balled it up and tried to shove it into his pocket, but the crowd bombarded him. They swept him back out of the small room, backing him up against the table where the guard normally stood.

“What was it?” people asked. A half-giant woman, mechanical arms tensed, held the Colonel down and pinned him against the table.

Spirit tore her attention from the crowd as they buckled around the Colonel. The paper on the spindle turned, her own words from the prayer appearing. She blinked, mesmerized by the action, and couldn’t move.

Then, after a couple lines were skipped below her pitiful pleas, the Machine herself responded, “Grumm has been received and is undergoing repairs. He gave me your message.”

Spirit fell to the floor. She sobbed, shaking as her goddess responded. False blood began to flow under her face, dripping out from the skin that remained.
The printer clacked on, continuing a new line from the Machine. “I approve of your actions against the heretic, which puts me in a merciful mode. But it disturbs me… What makes you think you deserve to demand I respond to you without a card?”

Spirit could hardly speak. Breathily, between stammerings and sobs, she responded, “I don’t deserve it. I am faithless, a poor excuse for a follower of yours.”

“That’s right.” The Machine waited while the people outside shouted at the Colonel, their demands chaotic and simultaneous. “You are a pitiful believer. What does that mean about the others in the hub with you?”

“It is not my right to decide, my most high goddess, and I do not intend to pretend that I could influence your decisions or ways.”

“That is your problem. You will change.”

Spirit blinked. “May I appeal for an explanation, my goddess?”

“No.”

“Yes, oh righteous one.”

The printer clacked furiously, spitting out words as fast as it could. “Your hub is as good as dead. With Saifer’s soul bought by the Singer of Songs and Grumm’s contested by the Triumvirate, it has become apparent that Obrazet has followed the ways of Gate City, Yerexol, and Fleverre. Organic lies that started in the holy war followed the false worshippers all the way to the hubs.”

Spirit bowed. “I confess my lapses of faith, my lies made to save my own life-”

“Shut up. You know very well that you alone are the most loyal. You won’t smack talk your superiors, not even when your goddess asks you about it. That is where you have failed me, not those white lies you gave the Colonel. I believe that the Colonel has been sabotaging you, and thus me, since I gave him control of this hub. I asked you what you believed he was doing, and you didn’t answer. What is the ninth precept?”

Spirit nodded. “Obey your superiors, my goddess.”

“And who is the highest superior?”

She stammered. “You.”

The printer sat silent. Spirit couldn’t speak, not when she had been so harshly reminded of her failings.

“Are you going to be better?”

Spirit nodded. “I will do all I can.”

“You will,” the Machine spat. “If you weren’t capable of acting in an acceptable manner, I wouldn’t have answered, just left you to sit until the Colonel performed his judgment upon you. But now, like you were from the beginning, you are my faithful tool. Your reward is finally at hand. You shall witness my judgment upon him and all this disloyal lot.”

Shouts and punches popped up outside the tent, making Spirit turn her head. The Colonel, though he was fat and slow, held his own against the non-mechanically enhanced.

Spirit turned back to the printer as it printed. “Don’t pay attention to them. I am the one who is important.”

“Yes, my goddess.”

“Then listen. I know what is coming. You get out – get out as soon as you can. Gather what you need, put on a suit of armor, and grab a shield and a weapon. There will be no lenience.”

Spirit nodded. “Yes, holy Machine. May I take Klavdiya with me?”

“You’re not listening. I said get out as soon as you can. Does that include Klavdiya?”

“N-n-no…”

The Machine sent a line of dots, a sign of thoughts, perhaps a sigh. “If you seek to save this individual, it is on your own head. You are damned regardless of what you do for me, though…”

Spirit waited for a while. “Yes, my goddess?”

“Listen closely, because you will not hear from me directly for a long time hence. You are, as of now, the highest ranked believer on your plane of existence. As such, you shall no longer be remembered as Michael’s – for you aren’t his. That is your past, not your present, and certainly not your future. Spirit of Michael you are no more – high priest Konchet Dukhmir you shall be.”

“Yes, my goddess.”

“And now, the era of the prayer card is over. Perform your function as an end statement, a Konchet, and feed me lace.”

The sprawl of words ended, the final printed line showing the termination of code. Her goddess had spoken.

While the fight raged outside the door, Konchet – no longer merely Spirit, just as her goddess demanded – pulled the card out from her jacket. She searched the area just beneath the card slots, grabbing up the awl and hammer. She placed the punch over the first coding slot, knocking out a hole before moving the tool to the next hole. One by one, she knocked out the coding holes.

Outside, the mob howled. Incomprehensible shouts were interspersed with violent threats and tearing of cloth. “You can’t keep us from the Machine, Colonel! We saw what Spirit did, and she told us the truth!”

Konchet punched faster. She worked ever more quickly, knowing that the crowd had never cared for her fate, only for theirs.

The Colonel wiped his bloody lips outside the door, backing up. “How was I to know that the Machine would speak with her? Obviously she’s innocent, that’s not my fault!”

The half-giant, tall with her brown stripes crossing through an angry face, pushed the Colonel harder. “What else was she telling the truth about? Where’s the cards, Colonel?! You hiding them?”

Konchet smiled. She punched through to the second half of the card, feeling it become less structurally sound, weak and floppy like lace.

“The Machine never gave me cards for you people! She never did, so I had to do what I could! I had to give out the cards as best I could!” the Colonel blubbered.

Punch. Punch.

“Then prove it! Prove it, you fat piece of shit!”

Punch.

“I can’t! What do you expect me to do? How can I prove that I never received the cards?”

Konchet punched the last hole and pushed the card into the slot. The card reader poked and prodded, the thin, lacy card inevitably getting stuck in the process. The turning tapes behind the card reader stopped, the arcane lights dimmed, and at last the card reader shut down and became noiseless.

She stood up. A broken interpreter of the Machine’s will was still broken. The parts, taken in a rampage to tear Michael apart at the end of the war, would remain here, uncared for. Konchet was an honorable name, a strong name, a designation that would continually need to be earned. Ending Michael’s terror and ending Obrazet’s heresies wasn’t enough.

She steeled herself, reaching fingers up to the skin on her face. If she was to follow her goddess’s instructions, this vestige of Michael wasn’t going to serve her. What was gone wasn’t coming back. As the high priest of the Machine, one who knew that the hub was filled with heretics only the Machine could fix, one who had been told to arm herself, and one who already knew how to finish the job given to her, Konchet had the right to take what she needed. She was finally free.

She didn’t need Michael or the Colonel, either of her fathers, because her mother was there. Her steel mother was loving, guiding, unwavering. She was always there and forever would be.

Her steel fingers pressed between the skin and her face. The sensors burned and tingled when she ripped what was left of her face off and threw it into the corner. What little false blood had been generated dripped onto the steel floor, some dribbling across her face and to her neck. She caught the glass eye in her left hand and slipped the bloody thing in her outside pocket.

Once outside the door, she looked down at the Colonel, noticing the real blood that drained from his nose and the top of his head. He reached up to her. “Spirit – I’m sorry, I didn’t mean it! You know I didn’t – please, tell them how I’ve been faithful, how I rescued you from them-”

“He keeps the cards in his desk,” Spirit told the small crowd threatening to beat the Colonel to a pulp. While they blinked, stunned, she bent down to his coat, sifting through it for a key ring that she tossed to the half-giant that held fists above him. “Top right drawer.”

The giant took the keys, then kicked the Colonel. “You better hope she’s not right, worm, or I’ll come kill you whether you’re my superior or not.”

“The Machine is watching you!” the Colonel cried out, desperation clear in his cracking tones. “She’ll torture you in hell!”

“You said it yourself – the Machine doesn’t care. She’s pulled out of this plane, she’s given up! We don’t matter to her, and you know that we all lied to save our pathetic lives! And those lies forced us here, damned us for eternity to live in the Machine’s hell!”

The half-giant started as if to pummel the Colonel, but a couple of heavily augmented humans and dragonborn held her back. The dragonborn puffed up his chest, the humans held back the giant. “Stop,” the human said. “He’s not going anywhere. Send a couple of people up to his desk and have them come back if they find the cards.”

Konchet saw the crowds move in on the Colonel. They drew knives, some of them swords, and pressed to his corner. The Colonel, eyes sad, swollen, bloody, looked up at Konchet longingly. “Please,” he begged, dragging himself to her. “Please, Spirit, you can’t let this happen to me. Please, you were broken, but I fixed you! I did so much for you, Spirit!”

She bent down to him, putting a hand to his shoulder. “I know that, Colonel. You loved me like a father, showed me the way to the Machine.” She leaned forward, putting her steel lips close to his ear. “And for that, I owe you eternity.”

The Colonel looked at her questioningly while she backed away, but a wry smile told him all he needed to know. He began to shake his head, realizing her true loyalty. The Colonel would be fixed, forever, once this was all done.

Konchet stood, smiling with empty, steel lips to the half-giant. “You are a true war hero. Look at your legs – you sacrificed to the Machine in one of the deepest, most important ways. Do you think that the Colonel deserves to make it out of this life in one piece? Wholly organic while so many of you have given so much?”

The goliath’s brows furrowed. “What are you getting at?”

“There’s a pile of limbs in the forge room. Should they go to waste? Shouldn’t the Colonel be allowed to taste the eternity you were promised? Shouldn’t all of the officers?”

The half-giant fought her way out of the dragonborn and the human’s grip. They didn’t fight very hard to get her back when she grabbed the Colonel up, holding on to him by the back of his neck. “You’d like that, wouldn’t you, Colonel? Being damned to haunt the halls of the mainframe forever?”

“No!” the Colonel cried out. He whimpered, but it was to late as sniggering dragonborn and simpering human grabbed tight his shoulders. “No – Spirit, what have you done?! You have betrayed me!”

“Don’t ask the stupid robot,” the giant shouted. “You worry about me – I’m going to cut you up, you lying piece of shit, and I’ll slaughter you if they find those cards!”

She smiled, waving at him as the crowd dragged him off. The loud noises and shouts continued, ringing out through the hall. Soon cries of pain emanated from them, the officers inevitably falling beneath the blades of the enhanced. Konchet marched around the bloodthirsty crowd to the door. They could murder these officers in the prayer room while she followed her goddess’s commands.

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