Eyes Without A Faceearliest post first | most recent post first
Aya of Ieeooiai was locked in a trunk.The very one I'd been sitting on for most of the story.
"She hasn't made a sound for a very long time," said the skeleton man.
He was confident her battery had run out, but that, being a clockwork doll, she could be brought back to life.
"Why would we want to do that?" I asked. "After everything we've learned...after everything you've been through..."
"There was good in her. IS good in her, deep down inside. No one, not skeleton or water bag or haunted doll is born evil. We are all only the sum of our programming. Uberfabrik AG built her, they will know what to do."
Uberfabrik AG. It rang some kind of bell. From a history book, no doubt.
"Captain, come in." It was Junior Navigator @Claira coming over the radio. "Something's just happened with the protoplasm, sir. It's dissipating."
From the corner of the bridge's massive murkscreen, the Eyes Without a Face was just visible. And the purple plankton protoplasm was clearly oozing off and slipping back into the Murk.
"Keep your creature off the radio, @Claira. Charmers, Flouncey, make sure the lid on this trunk is secure, and let's get it aboard. We've moving out."
I have no regrets as to the decision I made. She was, after all, completely insane, and a clockwork doll at that. What would it have taken to cure her of her madness? A therapist? A pharmacist? A tinker, a jeweler, an engineer? I had no delusions that I alone could cure her, or that some part of her love for me had once been real.
But what if she was telling the truth? What if she really was from the future, clockwork or not, and somehow the Mare Tenebrarum lead some kind of genocidal war against the people of water and flesh? I had been imprisoned so long, near driven mad myself, could I be sure the reappearance of the Mare Tenebrarum would not have some terrible consequences?
So I"ve remained here, these many, long, empty years, riding the slow spiral of the Drain, frozen in time and alone, dreaming of my bony people and the Planet of the Many-colored Grass.
And it's here I will remain, for you may not take me nor my ship back through the Murk.
But you must take her.
Aya of Ieeooiai was clockwork herself. A haunted doll. Probably the most advanced one ever created.
And it was she and her kind that had been hunting me. Why?
And now her army of haunted dolls had deserted her. Why?
Off the rails? The rules of the scenario? The Conservation of Clockwork Life?
"You are not Fernando."
The haunted doll head in her lap fell to the floor as she stood up.
And in the same movement she drew her Hunsu blade.
Aya of Ieeooiai sat here, in this very captain's chair, as I crept up behind her.
Years had passed. Her hair was gray. But still she lived.
Perhaps her reactions had dulled. I crept closer, and raised the axe in my right hand for a mighty blow to her skull.
After all this time... my madness, my incarceration... one bloody stroke away.
"Fernando? My Fernando?... Is it you?" she asked. Her voice was as beautiful as I remembered. "You've returned! And look, I have saved it for you!"
Slowly the chair turned round. And there sat Aya of Ieeooiai, the skin of her face torn away to expose the hideous clockwork underneath. And in her lap, the head of a Haunted Doll.
When the emergency bells rang, I was sure I'd been discovered. Had my invisibility dance run out? Had the Haunted Dolls noticed the missing key to their equation?
I'd been working my way up the decks, through service halls and empty rooms, heading for the bridge. Places I'd learned were outside the routines of the Haunted Dolls. With the emergency bells ringing, how soon till I encountered them here? And with their sensitivity modes fully activated, how could I elude them?
"Pardon me, sir, if you'll excuse us..."
It was an entire troupe of Haunted Dolls, coming up from behind me in the janitorial decks.
"We're on our way to the escape pods. I don't see any reason you couldn't join us. Feel free to follow along."
The Haunted Dolls continued on their way. Escape pods?
"Yes," said a Haunted Doll in the guise of an old dowager. "She's gone completely off the rails. Disregarded the rules of the scenario. The Law of Conservation of Clockwork Life clearly states we cut and run. Safety of the Material and all that. We're terribly sorry about everything up till now. I mean, now that things have changed."
She looked at me for a moment, thoughtfully. Then she turned and followed the rest of the troupe down the hall and around the corner.
There would be no escape pod for me. I was the captain, after all.
"Oh, no. Not another dance, Fernando. These old bones aren't what they used to be."
It seems as if I've been dancing with Fernando my whole life. How many times has he asked me to an after-dinner dance?
"Oh please, madam, you must! I insist!"
Was it me or has Fernando become more insistent? I look up at him through my hair, now so gray.
"I said no. I must tend to the ship. We must reach the... the Drain..."
"Truly, madam. You will enjoy."
Fernando grabs me by the arm and pulls me close. This is outside of his programming. What is going on? Or is this a dream? Things have been so confused, lately. I'm getting confused. Muddled.
"Put me down, Fernando. Put me down!"
"Just relax. Come this way, madam."
"NO. DIVAT! DIVAT!" It was the failsafe code. Wasn't it? "Uh... DIVAN! DIVAN! ... uh.. DIVOT! DIVOT!"
I pound at Fernando's chest. He continues to pull me across the room. The rest of the haunted dolls in the salon appear uninterested.
My Hunsu blade. Did I wear it to dinner? Yes! Of course!
An explosion of springs and gears erupts as I plunge the blade into Fernando's neck. Sparks fly and Fernando sinks to the ground.
Now I have the attention of the haunted dolls.
Centuries passed. Or at least I assumed so. The clockwork routines of the Haunted Dolls became monotonous and unbearable. Ship's lights rose and fell to simulate diurnal rhythms, but there was little else to differentiate one day from another. It was a pantomime I slept walked through, playing my role, beaten into submission by pure logic, hardened gears, and the one other living being in my known universe: Aya of Ieeooiai.
The one hope for survival I had was that she had been driven as insane as I had become. The loneliness. The predictable tick tock timing of every day. The same stale reruns for dreams at night. Surely she could not have been immune, mad as she already was?
It was with renewed life that focused on this one potential weak point in her gilded robotic cage. I began to study the shifting yet predictable patterns of behavior of the Haunted Dolls around me, and began to dance with it. Shifting just slightly out of position here, just slightly blowing my line there, I began to probe the weaknesses of her routines. Like memorizing the patterns of the guards around the prison of your mind. If, I mean, you fantasize about that kind of thing. Not me. Nope.
And after longer than I could possibly remember, I'd mastered the dance. The shadow walk, I began to think of it as. My ability to shift myself into the spaces left between the clockwork tock of the Haunted Dolls around me. It was as if I'd found the exact right places to stand in -- the exact right state of mind to stand in -- where I was invisible, entirely off their radar. And at the same time had slipped out so seamlessly of my own part in their play that it never raised their alarms.
And so it was, invisibly, secretly, that I armed myself with a pair of ship's axes strapped to my back, and a ship's axe in each hand, and made my way to the bridge.
Follow my whistle, oh skeleton crew! Dance, oh puppets of stick and bone!
How gleefully I play the pipe to lead you to your doom. To the doom of your ship, and to the doom of your people.
And the survival of mine.
You will never be there to lead your people against us. The Mare Tenebrarum will never be there to lead your wretched bone armies across the Murk to murder millions. You will never be there to be the face of the Great Unionization Battle of the Luxury Murkship Travel Industry.
Because I'm sending you down the drain, diverting us all from the path of your graveyard future.
Aya's madness was made more clear with each day that passed. For what reason it amused her to keep me alive I feel I may never truly know. Did she need me in case something went wrong with the ship in our long descent into the Drain? Or did her sadism demand that she keep at least one other living being nearby to torment? Or, could there be one final sliver of her brain that was not unhinged, that called out to solace, for companionship...
While certainly "animated," it was clear that her army of so-called "haunted dolls" were no companions for sane folk. Aya commanded them with her whistle, set to a tone only clockwork people could hear. While able to execute quite complex tasks of any sort, they did not provide what one would call "good company." In their default, inactivated state, they would revert to their cover programs--one of the 500 person passenger manifest, each with a deeply developed backstory and exquisitely realistic portrayal.
One could spend hours quizzing them about their lives, in the most minuscule detail, and they did not fail to provide an entirely convincing performance. In pairs, they performed exquisite routines: a lover's spat, sharing a joke, honoring an elderly family member over shuffleboard. But left alone long enough with one, you realized they lacked all outward interest in other people, or the world around them. Never did they ask a question about me, my life, where I was from. Nor, for that matter, did they inquire as to my skeletal visage, or scream, or accuse me of devilry as we always imagined your kind would do upon meeting us. Indeed, it was like they never really "saw" me at all.
So it was with jolly "ho hos!" that they performed their task of isolating me, and preventing me from coming in contact with any of the controls over the ship's functions--anything I could do to prevent this hijacking, with its subsequent mass murder and kidnapping. I sparred with the robots over backgammon, gin, even charades. And on the occasions where I saw my moment and dove for the controls, I found their inhuman strength.
Still, their companionship was preferable to the literal monster who murdered my crew and sent us down this path towards hell.
There's that blasted whistle again. I've... I've got to go...
Haunted dolls. Certainly word had travelled about them. They had been featured in the press, including the travel magazines we provided passengers on the ship. The so called "haunted dolls" were the latest wonders created by Uberfabrik AG, one of the technology companies that had contributed to the design of the Mare Tenebrarum. They were wonders to be sure--the most realistic human shaped robots ever invented. But they were by no means haunted. They had the uncanny ability to mimic life, but they were the result of science, not spirit possession.
But apparently the rumors involving fringe death cults were true. And Aya of Ieeooiai was one of their priestesses, my ship was full of them, and now I was steering us all to the Heart of the Drain, with a blade at the base of my skull.
"We'll never make it," I said. "We'd need to refuel. I can plot a course--"
"I've done the navigational math. Is it not clear how much planning has gone into this? Already the eddies in our path will be enough to draw us in."
"But it will take years. Neither of us will live to reach it."
"You speak to me of years. Ha! I have yet to be born, and your people, you so called dry-bones... it's unclear you die natural deaths at all. At least until your skulls are cleaved from your necks."
She was wrong about that. Could she be wrong about more? Perhaps wrong about everything? It seemed impossible that my people, the people of the Planet of the Many-colored Grass, could ever become the scourge she described. Or was it even true that she was able to travel through time as she described? I was sure once again this force of nature was merely mad, and not the savior from the future that she described.
"In any case, it will take quite some time. Do you intend to hold me in this seat--at the point of your blade--for the duration?"
Her arm relaxed.
"No. No I do not."
With her free hand, she reached into the neck of her tight-fitting assassin cat suit and pulled out a tiny whistle strung around her neck. She put it to her lips, and blew.
I could hear nothing.
"Our entertainment will be arriving soon," she said.