Hope in Sacrifice

“Flesh of my flesh, heart of my heart. We stand in unity and
in brotherhood; uncorrupted, incorruptible, a testament to our

creator. The soul of all humanity is my burden to hold, my gift to

cherish and my responsibility to protect.”

Oath of the Society of Humanity

She watched the scene from the window of a spire, to

make sure the streets were packed, ready and waiting for what

came next.

Down below, they hung from crowded balconies, dangling over the street

like hairless monkey’s.

The whole mass was adorned in drab grey-green coveralls and packed so

close that every exhalation seemed to come as one collective

sigh.

Each sullen face seemed to hide something, beneath fear and dirt, beneath the weariness that

haunted every eye. Was it hope? No, not quite that. It was more a curiosity, an anticipation.

They were watching, waiting as they huddled in the doorways of factories and mills, on cramped streets of falling brick and corroded steel. All eyes were on the great door, and the ominous proclamation above it;

Office of Corrections; making man- better

They were waiting for an execution, excited by a single, simple fact;

It was someone other than themselves.

The cacophony of chattering,

interspersed with whispering and the shuffling of feet,

became so loud that it threatened to drown out the monotonous,

mechanized hum that rose from the ground beneath their feet.

The street shook and shivered for moment, lurching to the

left in a sudden and violent motion. Those who could, clung to

railings or braced themselves against a wall. The rest staggered and swayed

with the practiced ease known only to sailor’s, pirates and the

citizens of St. Petersburg.

The street righted itself, the crowd steadying

as the wind overhead whined, and the low hanging clouds brushed the

tops of metal spires and leaning brick chimney’s.

From her perch in the spire she smiled, satisfied at the crowd below.

 She descended, quickly and quietly into the

bowels to begin her work.

The moment flickered and passed, blurring into a low

tunnel, air rank with the stench of chemicals. The corridor was

dim, but not dark, lit by a slow growing orange glow.

Flame licked metal pipes coated with decades of industrial

residue, oil and chemical waste. The fire skittered across the

floor, spreading like liquid, climbing walls to rush forward

in living waves. The air was fast becoming thick with smoke,

closing in, stinging her eyes until nothing remained but the

heat and the noise.

She tried to breath, but the air was hot, bitter and

metallic in her mouth. It brought no relief, only coughing fits,

as she sank to both knees. A faint smile slid from her face

as the flames closed in and her skin began to blacken.

Something moved in the passage ahead, with slow, metallic

footsteps.

“Hold on. Be strong. They must know one of us did this.

They must know what we can do. Flesh of my flesh… heart of my

heart. We stand in…”

She did not scream at first, instead, reciting the liturgy

as she watched the unforgiving beauty of the flames, staring in

wonder and disbelief at the “men” who could have saved her.

Then the flames caught her skin, slick with sweat and

grease from her labors. Her screams rose up, long and high,

above the roaring conflagration. They echoed down the streets

packed with the pale, worn faces of wide eyed spectator’s, and

then were gone.

…………………………………..

Aniella sat up, breathless, clinging to soaked sheets.

The images hung behind her eyes like an imprint after a bright

flash. Her skin was burning up and every muscle in her body

ached. She realized she was tensing and tried to relax, until

the flashes of pain were gradually replaced by the slow ache of

fatigue.

The room was small, with a low ceiling, lit only by the

blue-green flicker of a gas lamp. As her scream faded, it was

replaced by the steady clicking of a clock, the only feature

other than a bed, to grace the space.

“Ani?”

Footsteps padded along a bare metal floor. A moment later,

a bear of a man, barefoot and clothed in a worn, stained set of

coveralls, hurried into her room. The room shook, lurched for a

moment as if at sea and then righted.

He moved to her, staggering a little but moving with

the motion of the floor. He caught her up in one arm and she

sank her face into his chest. He smelled like motor oil and…

cinnamon.

“The same dream?” he asked.

She nodded.

“Ani… look at me. It is a dream. Nothing more.”

She didn’t move, just clung tighter as he wrapped his arm

around her.

“Here… Shhhhh… remember, when I used to rock you to sleep,

when you were just a girl? Remember how I would stay there and

watch your dreams… and when you finally slept, it was so deep

even the tremors couldn’t wake you.”

She nodded again, steadying her breathing.

“I’m not that little girl. I’m… I’m okay, really.”

She looked up for a moment, smiling, a little light

twinkling in her eyes. Then she pressed her face against him

again, listening to his heart.

He took a long deep breath, lifting her head as it rested

on his chest. He looked down at his daughter, grown now, but

still so fragile, so delicate.

“Ani…” he whispered, “don’t go tonight… stay home, I… I

can’t stand it, you being out there after curfew.”

“Da… it was just a dream, you said so yourself.”

“Yes, it… No, I…I don’t want you to go tonight.”

“Da, I must, I have to do this. We have to show them, they…

can’t use us as they do.” She looked up, and reached out one

hand, tracing a gentle line down his left shoulder, to the stub,

where an arm used to be.

“Ani. Shhhhhhh. It will all be okay.”

She shook her head but sank against his chest against. “No.

It won’t, ever again. Tomorrow, you will be… one of them, unless

I stop it.”

“You can do nothing to stop them, we can do nothing. This

is the way of things now.”

“It’s a good plan Da. I can do it, I can make people stand

up and listen, show them, show them all.”

“No Aniella, you can not stop them.”

“I will Da, you wait… I will.”

“Not tonight. Tonight you sleep. I’ll stay with you for a

while. We can talk about this in the morning.” He began to rock

her back and forth in slow rhythm. She focused on his heartbeat,

his warmth and the slow rise and fall of his chest.

“Listen to my voice Aniella. Forget the tremors and the

dreams. Just listen to my words. Remember St. Petersburg in

the old days like your Grandpapa used to tell, on cold nights.

Imagine how it was for him, back in his day, living down there

on solid Earth, with the sky and clouds above. When Cities were

stable… grounded, and the oceans lapped against the shore. We

were free back then, when men were men, of flesh and bone like

you and I. We were made in the image of our Creator. Now, your

Grandpapa… he worked hard, as did they all, but in return for

his sweat, he breathed free air and walked where he would,

without fear of Merk or Machine. Ha… he told me once, that back

then, if you wanted to get somewhere you walked or took a buggie

pulled along by an animal, a.. horse or some such. Mmmm, and the

food… even for the folk like us, was wondrous, grown right in

the ground, or pulled from the…”

…………………………………..

“That was the last time I saw my Da. He came here, for my

plan… he died here, for My idea.”

The two girls stood side by side in a corridor thrumming

with quiet energy. They could have been sisters, but for their

hair – One long and red, the other short and dark. Both were

covered in grease and sweat.

The walls were covered floor to ceiling with metal pipes,

once the color of steel, now turned murky black and green. The

floor beneath their feet was a treacherous mess of smeared black

oil.

The corridor ended abruptly at a hatch the size of a

coffin. It was open, and from below they could hear the rush of

wind. It was dark in the passage, but for the light from a small

window on the end wall and the light coming in through the open

hatch below it.

“Ani.. we shouldn’t be here.”

“He died trying to do the right thing Kiya. For me, all of

us.”

“So now you’re here dwelling over it? He isn’t here. They…

I’m sorry.. but they dumped him out the hatch, he’s gone, and…

staring down there won’t help.”

Ani placed one hand on a thick pipe, two feet or so around,

running the length of the wall. It peeked out from beneath

a cluster of similar pipes, ranging from inches to feet in

diameter. She pressed her palm against the stained metal and

felt the heat within.

“No…” she said, “I’m here to finish what I started. He

died trying to save me from my dream.”

“I’m sorry, you know I’m sorry what happened to him,

everybody was, but… there’s nothing we can do. We got no power,

no voice.”

“What if…” Ani said.

“What if what?”

“What if we did have a voice? A voice so loud the whole

city could hear it. A voice that told the Merk and the Machines

that we don’t have to be third class citizens any more. Told

them that they can’t make us into…”

“Ani… Ani, listen, this,” She let out a slow sigh, “this

is crazy. Look. You dragged me down here, in this filth, and for

what, a fantasy? We shouldn’t be here, we can’t. If they find us

we’ll end up like…” Kiya said.

The corridor shook, shifted violently and then righted

itself. Kiya fell, colliding with pipes, her feet slipping on

oily residue. Ani moved to her side, light of frame but sure

footed, gripping her arm as she dropped. They knelt for a

moment, until the vibrations stilled, and then Ani helped her

friend up.

They shared a look, as Ani’s wide brown eyes met Kiya’s.

Ani pulled away first, turning her back and tracing her hand

along another pipe, moving toward the hatch at the end of the

corridor. They shared the quiet, listened to the wind outside

and the hum from the pipes.

“Don’t do anything stupid Ani, that’s all I’m asking,

please, I know that look.”

Ani shrugged and cracked her neck, rubbing at the tender

muscle, her skin slick with sweat and oil from her labor’s.

“Do you remember how it was before? When the city was at

peace, when the anti-gravity boosters worked, and people were,

human; Or before that, when we live down there, when Cities were

on the ground.” Ani said.

“No… no one does. That was, ages ago.”

Ani turned with a slow smile, shaking her head. “My Papa

remembered. He used to tell us about it, well, whisper really,

so no one else could hear him, except for me and Da, huddled

close to the fire.”

“It’s a fairy tale. I mean, I know you have this, image

or ideal or something. But what will this change? I don’t

understand what you think you’re fighting for.”

“I’m not sure I do either, not any more. When my Papa was

alive, it seemed clear, because I could see it in his eyes. I

could hear the passion in his words when he talked about freedom

and equality, about convincing man kind that he could step above

his station and stand toe to toe with Merk or Machine. Now… I

look around at what we have and I wonder.”

“Then come with me. forget about this and just get on with

what we have. It might not be much, but, it’s a life.”

“Is it?”

Ani moved closer to the edge, cautious and steady. “You

know, they’re all down there now, Papa, Da and my Mother.”

Kiya nodded, no words could make this moment better.

The hatch was wide open, the wind howled below, rushing by

singing of freedom and death. She leaned forward, catching her

breath at the sight of land, so far below, spread flat in an

almost endless stretch of barren dirt, dotted with mountains and

cut through with dry river beds.

“How many thousands of feet do you reckon?” Aniella said.

“Careful Ani.”

“How many?”

“… I don’t know, ten or so, I guess, from what my… from

what I heard.”

“They used to tell us in school it was eternity – that

when a body was cast over the side, it would fall for all time,

free.”

“Ani… come on, you shouldn’t stand so close.”

Ani turned and smiled, closing her eyes and taking a long

deep breath. “I know why they died. Why my Papa died preaching

the Gospel and the Oath. Why my Mother refused to give herself

to them and why my Da… gave everything for me, to protect me, to

save me from their fate.”

Kiya waited for the words she knew would come- the passion

that would flow- the, pain that always followed when Ani through

her heart into a lost cause.

“We have to do this Kiya, I have to do it. They died for

us, for all of us, so that we could be human. It’s what we do,

we give ourselves for our kin, our kind. It’s… what we lost, let

them take from…”

The corridor shook again, causing metal to whine and moan.

As the vibrations died, another sound creep along the confined

space.

Footsteps. Heavy, fast, metallic.

“Ani… we got to go. Ani..” Kiya pulled at her arm, looking

back down the corridor for the source of the noise. “Don’t,

don’t do this, please.”

She was breathing harder now, as her heart beat rose,

shivers ran down her neck. Ani took one long breath. “It’s okay,

it’s all going to be okay. I need them here, to prove my point.”

“No.. this is stupid, they’ll kill you… they kill us

both.”

Ani looked up, her face at peace.” Yes. They will. I’m

sorry Ki. You were always good to me. But if I don’t do

something, we will all die anyway, or end up like them.”

Kiya stopped cold, her fingers still clinging to Ani’s

shirt, no longer pulling. “You wouldn’t.”

The footsteps echoed down the corridor.

Ani reached for a wrench, nestled behind the pipes.

“Think about what towers above us Kiya. Thirty floors of

corrections cells, labs and research, interrogation rooms and

worse. Or down here, in this dirty corridor with a hole in the

floor. A place to dump the broken lives they no longer want or

need. They get you either way, either swift death or slow. The

best life you can hope for is one of sacrifice. This is our only

way out.”

A door opened. The clank of metal on metal was louder now.

Kiya turned away from her, fear in her eyes, tears welling up.

Ani swung the wrench, connecting with bone. She could feel it

splinter and give, feel the shudder all the way up her arm as

Kiya dropped with a cry, left knee buckling under her weight.

“I’m sorry Kiya, but… this is what we do, we sacrifice, we

strive for hope.”

Ani stepped back, looking at the fragile, broken girl at

her feet.

“I… they threw him down there alive, Kiya, they took him

and threw him away like he was nothing…”

Kiya did not look up, she lay there, clutching a broken

knee, her breath ragged and wet with tears.

Ani tore herself away, turning to a series of handles and

wheels, loosening each one with precision and caution. A subtle

hiss was her only reward as she wrapped a torn strip of cloth

around her face, gagging a little as gas filled the corridor.

Three figures slipped around the corner- their silhouettes

barely visible in the dim light.

“Kiya, I am sorry. I, needed a body… my height, my type.

I need to disappear. This is just the beginning, the first

strike to awaken the masses. They have to know we did it to

them- ordinary human’s. It’s okay Kiya, I will make sure they

remember, they will all remember your sacrifice.”

The three figures moved with caution across the greased

and oiled floor. Metal scraped on metal, a high pitched squeal

pierced the air.

Kiya looked up “Heelp… help me…” Kiya scrambled toward the

Merk

One figure stopped a few feet from Kiya, emerging from

shadows, hunched in the confined space. He glared at her, with

human eyes set in a face of skin and bone, but little else of

his humanity remained. The skin barely covered the whole of his

skull, bone imbedded with copper wiring and cogs, little puffs

of steam emerging from holes where ears used to be. He moved

with mechanical precision as he reached down with one hand. The

grind of gears and hiss of pistons came closer, pinning her to

the ground by the throat.

Ani pulled on gloves, thick studded work gloves with a

steel grip.

The other two Merk moved forward, heads tilted like curious

animals, eyes flitting, cautious and assessing. They both

stopped to sniff the air. The closest Merk raised one arm,

pointing to Ani, while she crouched by the hatch.

“Is she… defective?”

“Girl. Identify yourself.” The other asked.

Ani remained silent- waiting for them to move.

“Girl. Identify yourself. What is your reason for being

here?”

She edged back a little, heels hanging over the edge.

Kiya squirmed, in pain and panic as the first Merk stepped

closer. There was a slow metal click- the cocking of a rifle.

Ani took a long slow breath- hoping in her despair, that

they would act. She stared with as much defiance as she could

muster, swallowed her fear, and waited.

“She is defective. She has no voice.”

“Can she be… fixed?”

“Girl. Come here.”

“Girl, obey.”

“She has no voice and no will. She is broken.”

“Then die. Girl.” The Merk motioned with one arm.

Ani took another deep breath. Her fingers tightened around

a rope at her feet.

“Kill her. We will take the other for processing.” The second

Merk turned away, dismissing her from its thought.

The first Merk took another step, aimed his rifle, and

provided the spark she had been lacking.

Flame licked metal pipes coated with decades of industrial

residue, oil and chemical waste. The fire skittered across the

floor, spreading like liquid, climbing walls to rush forward

in living waves. The air was fast becoming thick with smoke,

closing in, stinging her eyes until nothing remained but the

heat and the noise.

This time she was ready. She dropped with the sound of the

shot- falling back into empty space- fingers locked tight around

thick rope. She dropped, through the air, with Earth below, fire

and death above, dangling beneath the entire city, rushing wind

and screams, her only company.

She heard Kiya first, high pitched agony, long and drawn

out, but… necessary. Then a series of metallic clicks, frantic

and panicked, alternating in concert, turning eventually to the

low throaty rumblings and death cries.

Ani waited.

She hoped.

She prayed.

Her heart was pounding in anticipation for what was to

come.

The heat rushed overhead, and it came; thunder, the furious

roar as flame caught gas, every gas and waste product leaving

the city in the bowels of the office of Corrections. Thunder so

loud it shook the city.

Ani risked a look above her at the rough-hewn rock beneath

St. Petersburg- the skeletal remains of older times, brick

and pipe, sticking out in haphazard fashion. The entire thing

shuddered as far as her eyes could see- shaking loose dust and

debris that had clung on since the city had been raised. Her

eyes stung from the wind and falling fragments.

Her heart was pounding still.

She thought of her Papa, her Da… and in the streets above

she imagined the glorious chaos, the panic and exhilaration. The

office of Corrections was no more.

She glance down for the first time, to where her Family now

lay, so far below, and she shivered, daring to feel something

she had never truly known.

Hope.

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