I live alone in the crook of the countryside with nothing but fields for miles around. My home a humble cottage on a large estate of land overlooked by the ruins of factory. In its day the factory had been used to manufacture a new age of machines, fighting machines with a sentience of their own, remotely observed by a human counterpart. But after the War of the States all such machines were decommissioned, the factories shut down, the workers… disappeared.
It was a quarter past midnight.
I leashed my faithful hound, Baston, and left for the woods that gathered at the rear of the old ruins. Baston did love to roam about the withered oaks and dry autumnal leaves. His company was a pleasure on dull and sleepless nights. This night, would be far from dull. This night, we would not make it to those woods beyond the ruins.
If memory serves the the factory was almost a mile high and twice as wide, a thousand smokeless chimneys leering from its head. There had been roller doors that clattered as they opened, drawn the full height of the factory to unleash the fighting machines. These machines were not built for war, they were built to protect us from what might come. This was the general argument from the powers-that-be. We will not seek to turn these machines on each other, but on the skies. Each passing year brought a greater fear of the wider Worlds around us, of some extra-terrestrial invasion. Of course none such came (for why on Earth would terrestrial beings be interested in our youngling planet?) and so the machines were put to other uses, utilised in human warfare. These machines were not built for war. We will not seek to turn these machines on each other. Liars.
Now-a-days the factory was a sorry sight, an amalgamation of crumbling brickwork and rusted metals, vines interwoven through the gaping carcass of the once great commercial beast.
With Baston to hand and my stick at my side (a walking stick I simply wouldn’t couldn’t leave home without) I entered through the jaws of the beast, a shutter on roll that had in all my years been left drawn open. It was cold inside, it was always cold inside. The faint thrumming of machines that refused to die a respectable death carried on in the distance. And of course it was dark. It’s always dark, for me. Baston was crouched, as if ready to pounce, sniffing madly at the stagnant, damp air of the vast open room.
Shadows wandered too and fro, between the enormity of machines that once built bigger machines (in an age that man was no more than the observer). I could hear their footsteps click-clack on the bare stone floor.
“It’s the last of its kind, the last still working, at least. You’ll not get a chance like this again.” this first voice sounded quick witted, the voice of an accountant, a business-like woman, “Our employer will take no less than half a billion.”
“Since when did the FBI become guns-for-hire?” this voice sounded slow, heavy, brutish.
There was a sound like the clap of a hand over the back of a skull, “I didn’t bring you here to offer insight, you f*cking halfwit. Keep your mouth shut and let the adults talk.” that was a powerful voice, speaking through a smoker’s set of pipes. You could always tell a smoker from the grit in their voice. I chuckled at the thought, and instantly clasped my hands over my mouth. Baston wailed, as if in defeat. Poor dog already knows…
“What was that?” this question was thrown about by several voices, and amidst the confusion the business-like woman (FBI?) and the man with the smoker’s pipes took charge.
“Luther, Harry, Winnie, go check it out. We can’t afford to have people watching us.” the smoker’s demands were followed by a chorus of footsteps and the sound of gun being cocked. Just the one? There would be more, no doubt. The order was clear, find the mole and snuff them out. Time to sleep with the fishes.
“Agents twelve, twenty-seven and six. Go with them.” I don’t know how I could tell, but at that moment this woman and the smoker were locked in a stare, throwing suspicious glances at one another.
Time to move. I thought, tugging on Baston’s leash. “Come on boy.” I whispered as quite as was possible. Baston followed, loyally as always.
It was their feet, that gave them away. Heavy, thudding sounds that rang against the stones. Me? Light footed at a walk, and all for the good.
I took to hiding behind the body of a what felt like an enormous vat, likely meant for casting into moulds back in its day. I sent my hands about the shadows and sure enough felt the soft flex of a conveyor belt and… eureka!… the retired components of fighting machines. No more than nuts and bolts, but a bolt the size of your arm was really something to be grateful for!
I could hear two voices approaching, arguing in fact. Clearly too obnoxious to believe there was any sort of threat lurking in the gloom. As their feet drew upon my hiding I took in a breath, silent.
“How exactly did she end up getting the promotion? Barely thirty and already barking orders at senior agents. Wasn’t there someone more qualified for the job?”
“A man. You mean.” the second voice snapped back.
Peek-a-boo. I leapt out of the shadows from behind the vat’s girth and hammered down hard with the bolt. It met with bone, splitting open a skull. God I hope it was that first son-of-a-b*tch. There was a short intake of breath, a shot went off, but it flew high. Baston had reared around the second voice and tripped them, sending the sight of their gun up and over my head. Good boy. I flung the bolt-turned-bat round in my hands, and with the flat end struck the fallen agents face, rendering them unconscious.
“Gunfire! Over this way.” the pack had been roused, they’d be upon me in no time.
I raced for the back of the factory, wielding only my stick again now, back to where more man-sized doors led out into the woods. I could hear the massing crowds behind me. I’m being too loud! I cursed my feet, not what they used to be. Quiet at a walk, not at a run. Baston was bounding along beside me.
As I came rushing toward the doors I sensed others in the dark, guards most likely posted to ensure nobody escaped if this sale went south. There was no time to think, I picked out a door, ran head first for it, body ducked low, my stick forgotten for the moment. Please don’t let me trip. I managed to keep my feet and sure enough struck the soft body of a waiting guard. They may have been sleeping for gargled surprise rose in their throat, I took them by the neck snap.
I was nearly home and dry, if I could just get out to the woods… I knew those woods like the back of my hand, these jokers wouldn’t stand a…
“Raise your hands and turn around nice and slowly.” a deep voice grunted.
did as I was asked, I had no choice.
“Drop the stick then!” the voice barked.
My walking stick hit the ground with a clang.
I couldn’t see my captor, but I could feel the muzzle of their gun pointed square for my forehead. Think fast. I whistled. Baston hurtled out of the shadows and bit my captors ankle. They turned and fired a shot. Oh God, no! I threw myself forward, felt for the gun and tossed it aside. My would-be-captor now on the ground, nursing their leg and a few broken ribs I threw the heel of my boot into their chin. Out cold.
I gathered up Baston and my stick and fled for the woods. Just a graze. I thought with relief, feeling Baston’s side. I don’t know what happened next…
The FBI agent agreed to let the Mafia Don trial his new toy. A fighting machine, the last of its kind. If the trial was successful the Don would pay twice the price. The machine was of course encoded to shutdown at the command of the FBI agent and so there was no risk of the Don running off.
“But I have to ask.” the Don said, “Why are the FBI selling this beauty?”
“Release this one out into the wild, and soon enough more will come.” the agent smiled, “It’s a numbers game, and we always want what our enemies have.”
…the ground shook beneath me, I could barely keep my wits or my feet. The air grew hot, stifling, as if the woods themselves were on fire. Before long I’d be found, a hood thrown over my head as I was bustled into the back of a van. Not killed, mind you, and that was all for the good.
Would they kill me? I didn’t think so. I have talents other men lack. I hear what others don’t, I see what others can’t.
“Hey Luther.” one of the grunts called to his friend, “You sure this is the right guy?”
“Well it’s just… he’s blind!”
Copyright © K R Perry 2019