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Tears of An Automaton
by Steven Bell
The dirigible’s wreckage lay broken across
the grass fields of
The rigid airship U.S.D.F. Stalwart had run afoul of a
spring storm en route to
In the Stalwart’s salon Jonathan Fawkes watched nervously as the storm overtook the dirigible. On the linen tablecloth in front of him, spread out for inspection, was a series of gears, springs, nuts and bolts. A set of delicate tools arranged in a tidy row were nearby while he carefully probed inside a metal skull of child sized proportions.
As the storm moved closer Jonathan gathered his notebook and tools before sweeping the parts into his napkin. Accounting for everything Jonathan hurried out of the room. In desperation he set off to reach the cargo hold, where his shipment awaited.
The clouds swarmed over the Stalwart, breaking like a wave over a rocky shoreline. Rain spattered against the windshields. Winds howled and pushed the tail of the craft back and forth giving the helmsmen the fight of a lifetime as they tried to control the ship’s wheel. The first mate hauled frantically on the emergency gas release lever in an attempt to bring the zeppelin closer to the ground. While the crew scrambled in the pilothouse, Captain Jonas sank into a corner unnoticed clutching his knees and rocking himself.
Jonathan reached the hold at the same time that a blast of lightning scored a direct hit on the Stalwart. Sound and fury filled his ears as the lift gas exploded belching flames in every direction. Praying for mercy Jonathan dove behind several of his crates finding shelter from the fire. A moment later a second bolt of lightning struck the airship coursing through its inner skeleton and arcing off in several locations striking other random metal objects. One such object was an open crate in the cargo hold. A dim blue light went unnoticed in the maelstrom of fire and noise.
The Stalwart slammed into the earth like a stone and burned faster than thought. The lift gas burned off, leaving behind the bare metal and scorched remnants of the wooden components. Crates spilled out of the hold upon impact throwing their contents about. In the rain soaked grass limbs, torsos and sightless heads reflected the weak light of early afternoon. The Stalwart’s crew lay about like matchsticks in awkward poses. A terrible silence hung over the wreckage.
An hour drifted past with the storm clouds. From under the shattered planks of a freight container a whirring of gears interrupted the quiet. Bits of wood heaved and fell aside as a lone figure rose up. Huge eyes took in the devastation and smoldering remains of the crash site. Wobbly and tentative at first, but with growing confidence the survivor staggered away. Five yards away from where it started, a discovery was made.
Laying half-covered by a steel bulkhead door was the battered remains of Jonathan Fawkes. Soulless glass eyes peered down at the young inventor. Behind the polished lenses a pale blue glimmer began. With the creaking of springs the automaton bent over and grasped the edge of the door with its cylindrical fingers. On its forearm plate there were characters stamped: RkM1-09. Pistons heaved and metal joints strained, yet the door would not move. The automaton took a step back and re-examined the situation.
At the aft end of the airship another metallic figure dragged itself out from under one of the tail fins. The movement attracted the first automaton’s attention. It walked over to the latest survivor and reached down to help its comrade stand. Part of the lower faceplate on this model dangled on a single hinge. The first one issued a follow instruction and led the way back over to Jonathan. The second automaton tried to comply with the instruction but could only stagger about in a circle until it tripped over a piece of the craft and fell over twitching in the grass.
It bleated a distress instruction which drew the first’s attention again. On steadier feet it went back to observe the predicament. It found that it understood the situation.
“Reeep-paa-air?” it queried.
The sound came from within the steel skull, but neither the voice nor instruction ought to exist. With gentle movements it knelt and then pushed a small brass lever behind where a human ear would be on the damaged head unit. With a click the second automaton ceased moving. Standing again the automaton returned to Jonathan. Metal knees squeaked as the automaton lowered itself down to mere inches from the inventor. A pair of wire-rimmed glasses was askew across the bridge of his nose.
The light radiating from the manufactured eyes grew a little stronger. Looking around it realized that it was alone. Parts of its comrades lay forgotten for the moment as it spied a leather-bound notebook. Reverently it lifted the book up in cold hands. Opening the journal to the bookmark RkM1-09 read the delicate lines of Jonathan Fawkes’s handwriting. RkM1-09 found that it understood. The light in its eyes swelled. Looking down at the trapped body it felt something stir inside. A quick diagnostic registered nothing mechanically amiss.
With careful fingers it lifted the glasses, tucking them in with the book.
“Father.” It was a declaration.
Clear drops of fluid welled out from behind the glass eyes and rolled down the polished cheeks falling to the earth.
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