Friday Flash - Angels of the Junkyard

Friday, 15 July 2011

Image by John Uhri
Edits by me
Pot holes line the road to the Vertigo City Yard of Scrap Metal. I bounce around inside the hand cart whenever the front wheel finds a rut. Jones whistles a mournful tune as he cajoles the cart along the pitted track. The servant begged his master not to dispose of me, but Mr Pickard was not to be prevailed upon. I am not entirely surprised. What master would allow a servant to keep a battered and broken automaton found in the street near a known lair of the Meat Beast? Indeed, Jones made several impassioned pleas on my behalf, promising Mr Pickard that he could repair the damage. Yet here I find myself, riding in the hand cart. I fancy I hear a funeral dirge nestled inside Jones' melody.

A portly man in an ill-fitting jacket sits in a small booth beside the gate. A tiny pork pie hat perches on his bald head. He clutches a newspaper more than a week old inside his beefy fist.

"What've yer got?" he asks.

"An automaton," replies Jones.

"What's wrong wi' it?" asks the guard. He sniffs the air, looking for all the world like an overweight yet suspicious rabbit.

"A few dents, some scrapes...mostly its internal damage to the mechanism. It looks like he was thrown against a wall, y'see, and-"

"He?"

"Well, it. I've tried to repair it but Mr Pickard insisted I leave it here," says Jones. The threat of tears thickens his voice.

"Best place fer it then. In yer go," said the guard. He waved us past his booth with the ageing newspaper.

Jones leaves me lying in the cart as he opens the gate. The guard sits back in his booth, his bulk spilling over the waistband of his bulging trousers. Such a man is allowed to feast with impunity, and yet I am to be discarded through no fault of my own? Vertigo City was once a place of fairness, though this is no longer the case. I wonder when I developed the capacity to feel. My maker did not install such abilities.

The servant wheels the cart into the yard. Towering piles of rusting metal rise either side of us, threatening to blot out the sun. Forgotten machines of industry cluster near the gate, and piles of scrap rise and fall like rolling hills of twisted metal. Bronze arms and legs stick up among the junk, reaching for a saviour that will not come. I regard my own brass limbs with nostalgia. How long will it be before I too become buried, my arms the only part of me to witness the sun?

Jones pushes the cart a short way up a low pile. He pauses and tips me onto the slope. Toothless cogs grind against the metal of my torso, while rusting blades scrape my limbs. Jones looks down at my prone form and lets out a single sob. He turns and runs down the slope, hauling the cart behind him.

I lie on my bed of scrap, staring up at the sky. Bilious grey clouds loom above me, grumbling to one another in thundery tones. I longed to see the sky when I worked for the Resistance. I think of brick-lined tunnels far below the City, devoid of sunlight and air. I remember the savage attack of the Beast, and dragging myself above ground. I sought my maker, and salvation, yet I found only abandonment. A drop of oil wells up beneath the rim of my eye lamp.

A fat raindrop explodes against my exposed torso. Another hits my face, chasing the droplet of oil across my cheek. Raindrops hit my eye lamps and I curse the sky for her cruelty. The water will surely damage what circuits I have left, and I picture myself as an empty carcass, spotted with rust. I wish the Meat Beast had not so thoroughly destroyed my vocal mechanics. Without my voice box, I cannot beg for release.

A crash and a clatter disturb my silent prayer. I cannot turn my head to see but the splintering of glass and the rending of metal is enough. Something is coming for me, though I know not what. Is this to be the end of me? Oh, let it be so, for I cannot take this slow descent into decay and ruin.

Two figures lean over me, blocking the rain. One is a collection of scrap metal in the rough form of a man. Cogs stare at me in the place of eyes, and it stretches out fingers of pistons and spark plugs. The fading light streams through the other as it stretches multi-coloured wings of broken glass.

I do not know how much time passes but twilight streaks the sky when they finish their repairs. I sit up, and look around. The sea of scrap no longer looks as melancholy as it did. I flex my fingers, pistons hissing at my knuckles. Clockwork beats within my chest. My voice box is beyond repair, but I can move. I am myself again. I am Four.

The gates of the junkyard screech open. The angel of broken glass gestures to the freedom beyond. I shake my head, and delight in the new range of movement. I cannot leave. I will remain here, a guardian of the junkyard. I will protect the angels, and help others. I will save as I have been saved.

* * *
If you've read my steampunk story, The First Tale, then you'll already be familiar with this particular automaton. If you want to know more (and find out exactly how he got here) then The First Tale is just 99c from Smashwords and Amazon.

34 comments:

Carrie said...

Beautiful! Love the return to Vertigo City. Anyone that hasn't gotten the book is silly. C'mon, it's ninety-nine cents. Dig in your couch or something. ;)

Donald Conrad said...

Sticking around to help others as we had once been helped is such a human trait. Applying that concept to an automaton is akin to doubling down. It'd be cool to read about the tinkerers of the scrap heap.

Icy Sedgwick said...

Carrie - I'm glad you liked it!

Donald - I honestly can't tell if that was a criticism or not.

Cathy Webster (Olliffe) said...

Sign me up in the "LIKE" department. This was great! So much so, I read it twice. The humanity you write into the machine is touching and real and really quite lovely.

Donald Conrad said...

No crit there; merely an observation of nailing motivations in my reckless and pre-caffeinated morning. I really did like this one.

Still think it would be a cool tale from the point of view of the tinkerer. Can we call it a prompt? ;-)

John Wiswell said...

Smiled for the oath at the end. Kind of an automaton Green Lantern.

Deanna Schrayer said...

"Bronze arms and legs stick up among the junk, reaching for a saviour that will not come." Love that line Icy, indeed, every line. Not one word wasted here, just beautifully rendered.

Sam said...

Gorgeously done! Tugs at the heart strings does this one, I really felt for Four when he was dumped on the scrap heap. Beautifully written, as Deanna said, not a wasted word anywhere. I do enjoy your Vertigo City stories, this one sits perfectly alongside the e-book.

Icy Sedgwick said...

Cathy - I hated Four when I wrote him originally in The First Tale but he's mellowed out with time.

Donald - What do you mean by 'tinkerer'? Do you mean the angels themselves?

John - Who says he isn't one? Oa have eyes and ears all over the place!

Deanna - I'm glad you liked it.

Sam - It's kind of an "alternative scene" after I left him in the tunnels under Vertigo way back when.

Sonia Lal said...

It's wonderful! Somehow missed that the book was out. LOL Really like the last line. Will have to look for the book now.

Matt Merritt said...

Great emotion. Lot of humanity in this. Well told.

FARfetched said...

Lovely — Four lives on! I too would like to know more about these saviours of the scrap heap, hope there's more coming. Maybe without his voice box, Four won't annoy so much now…

Bev said...

Looks like I'm gonna have to go to Amazon and shell out 99 cents! ;)

laradunning said...

Great last line - strongly defines character motivation. I like the drop of oil in his eye, nice human touch. Looking forward to more.

lmstull.com said...

What an abosultely love tale. I agree, so much emotion in this, really nicely done.

Julie (O-kami) said...

I guess First Tale moves to the top of my list - it's on my Kindle, just need to get to it - this gives me incentive. Wonderfully done.

Sulci Collective said...

some cracking visual evocation here Icy. Tips hat to you

marc nash

Anne Michaud said...

I just bought it - can't wait to dig in:)

Steve Green said...

I had echoes of A.I. reading this Icy, the thoughts and emotions of the robots and automatons drawing the audience to their cause.

Michael A Tate said...

There seems to be a very strong line drawn between the humans and machines here, yet you find a way to cross that barrier on the emotional level and it really makes this pop. The humans act like the machines, and the machines act like the humans. Well done!

Harry said...

Just went to Amazon and bought the Kindle dealy. Would love to be buying the book!

Icy Sedgwick said...

Sonia - It came out in the middle of last year but I've been a bit bad at promoting it.

Matt - Thanks!

FAR - I hadn't planned on doing anything with them, but that doesn't mean I won't. And even without his voice box, I think Liss will still dislike Four!

Bev - Hope you find it's worth it!

Lara - I love humanising my robots.

Lisa - Glad you liked it!

Julie - Enjoy!

Marc - *doffs imaginary hat back*

Anne - Hope you like it!

Steve - My automatons always make me think of Wall-E...but then I'm a sucker for that little guy.

Michael - I guess it comes down to the idea of the ghost in the machine...but what happens if the human has no soul?

Harry - Hope you like it!

Helen said...

Oh I'm so glad he got repaired. I felt the automaton had more sensitivity than the humans who handled him. I really felt for him as he was being carted off to the junk yard. You stirred emotions in me, for this character. Well written piece Icy :)

flyingscribbler said...

My first foray to Vertigo and loved it. Your range of themes and styles always amazes me Icy.

Stephen said...

"I will save as I have been saved."

If only we all would pay it forward. A good story this, Icy. I enjoyed it.

foregoreality said...

Oh wow Icy, such a deft touch with this one. Really well written, I loved it :D.

Tim VanSant Writes said...

Your descriptions are so lush and breathe life into the characters.

pegjet said...

Strong story telling and vivid descriptions. You plunked me into the story/this world.

Aidan Fritz said...

Great description, I love the title of angles of broken glass. This is a great world you've got here.

Jen Brubacher said...

I love this fate! It could have been cheesy but you avoided that completely. And hooray for a little bit of closure on a great character.

brainhaze said...

Another great piece Icy - hadn't read the first tale, but will be purchasing it on my kindle this evening, if its anythign like this piece - nice work :)

Raven Corinn Carluk said...

Even machines can feel.

Stephen said...

Hi there Icy - lovely story. A real delicacy of language in here. Never thought I'd find myself rooting for a (near) deactivated automaton. Interesting world, too.

BTW - I nominated you for 'The Versatile Blogger Award' (http://cafeshorts.co.uk/news/the-versatile-blogger-award/). Pretty sure you've had it before, but wasn't about to leave you out. No need to pass it on.

St.

Adam B said...

Love coming back to Vertigo City and Four. Such tenderness and evocative imagery. Four seems so much more "human."
Adam B @revhappiness

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