Hireling

    Edward growled at the man that had been seated on the other side of the table he had been wheeled to. "Look at me when I'm talking to you." Everything he felt had come to this moment. Here finally within arm's reach was the man who had taken almost all of the joy in his life. Yet it was not enough. He wanted the man to know that he had been found and that his life, worthless and seemingly empty of any redeeming quality, was Edward's to take or leave as he chose. "I said look at me!" His fist came down barely an inch from this man's head.
    "Yea I hear ya." He slurred his words and looked at Edward through unfocused eyes. "I hear ya I hear ya. Whaddaya want... ungrateful bloody...."
    "Do you even know who you are, or has drink and drug taken all your wits?" Edward's voice was harsh, something was wrong here. Where was the pleading and begging? What of the lunge for his throat by this man in an attempt to finish what he had started? Edward shook as he met this man's unfocused gaze.
    "Course Ah do. Call me Thomas Flynn." His face split in a wide grin as he offered Edward a hand. "Dun git many visitors these days. All mah old boys got dead, or dun wan annythn' ta do with me." Edward shook his head at this man in front of him. It was all wrong. Why did he feel like crying? Surely he had hoped to see this man brought as low as a man could and still live. "Hey. Ya look old 'nuff to haf seen fightin. where were ya?"  Thomas sounded friendly, at least Edward took the change in tone to be friendly.
    "Did a bit here and there, but mostly stayed in Georgia. At least, well... I doubt you'd want to hear a sob story from a has bin about how he lost his legs now would you?" What could the truth hurt here? The man was obviously harmless, save only to himself, and maybe that knot of emptiness would leave Edward's stomach if only the man would remember.
    "I knew a guy like that. Reb got caught by Jim. We had fun with him and... had lots of fun... Could almost remember how he looked" The memory must have had a sobering effect, no matter how temporary. That had to be the reason behind his clearer speech in that moment. However even the sweetest of remembrances fade, and poor Thomas was left staring at the man in front of him. " I know you." The man called Thomas slurred his words as he spoke while his eyes focused ever so slightly on Edward's face. "I know you don't I?" He sounded like he couldn't decide whether to be joyful at one of the few things he could remember being true and not some opium hallucination, or if old ghosts were finally catching up to him.
    When Edward's nod confirmed Thomas's suspicion he looked, happy isn't the right word considering this poor soul's sorry state, but what else do you call it? "I knew I knew you. I knew I knew I knew you..." His glazed eyes widening when he finally recognized the man seated in front of him. "It ain't you, it can't be you!" His voice quivered and weakened as he continued his mad meanderings, "It can't be... You're dead. We killed you!" A ragged breath caught in the poor man's throat as the words came tumbling out. "...there ain't no commin' back..." This last phrase repeated over and over in a horse whisper as his eyes unfocused.
    What was Edward supposed to feel in that moment? Triumph that despite being wholly dependent on others for even basic mobility that he, in that moment, was better off than the man who had  maimed him? Contempt for his sorry condition? Now that he had confronted the man  who had plagued his nightmares for the past twenty years of his life Edward felt nothing other than the urge to be anywhere else. He Leaned back in my chair he signed for the aid that he had been provided, a dark skinned woman named Mable, that the meeting was over and that he was ready to leave. After all what would the point be in staying? Gloating? Reassurance that the man would never hurt anyone again? No. It was past time for him to be gone from this place, for he felt unclean by being here.
    Once he was out of the Sanitarium Edward leaned forward and vomited. The dark suited man that had accompanied him here offered a hankerchief to wipe his face with. Edward did this and looked up at the man, "You knew?"
    A nod.
    "No man should be left like that." He shivered, a thing that had nothing to do with any sudden chill. "That could have been me," His voice was a bare whisper when the realization came over him. "Had I not the sort of wealth and family I had I would have ended up in a place like this." Tears slid down his cheeks as the dark suited man wheeled him to the waiting coach. He would say nothing to Edward, for he was experiencing a very personal and painful revelation, and it is always best to leave people to deal with those things in their own ways uninterrupted.
    Their ride went on in silence from that point till Edward had boarded the train that would carry him from that place, after several transfers and a few days travel after the last switch to where this mystery employer would make his offer. Most sane men wold not consider going halfway across the country and spend weeks, if not possibly months, out of their lives on a simple offer, much less one made by someone that next to nothing is known about.  Edward's silence wasn't one of sulkiness or depression, he had made this clear to the man that had bee n sent to both talk to him of his future employer, and to act as something of a personal assistant for the many things that Edward simply could not manage alone.
    It could be argued that Edward made this trip out of some sense of wanting to be useful outside of his estates. I am merely a storyteller gentle and fair reader, and I cannot pretend to know what goes on in the man's head. His life was made more difficult by his injuries, but I make it plain now that he never, not for one moment, felt sorry for himself. It may still hold true that he wanted free of what he might have seen as the confines of a routine he couldn't easily escape on his own, but I'm not convinced it's that simple.
    In any event Edward's trip went largely without small talk or, in spite of the man's insistence that he was to brief Edward on the nature of his work, talk of what what would be required of this supposed job. Edward was puzzled by this, but seemed to view all of this as one grand distraction and a puzzle of sorts. At least that's how he seemed to act, and considering much of Edward's self imposed duties before the small well dressed man had shown at his door involved seeing that things were as they were supposed to be this could be either natural deduction, or a mere uninformed guess. Six of one, a half-dozen of the other if you want honesty on the matter.



* * *

    He had been beaten within an inch of passing out. They had killed the men that rode with him, but seemed to take great pains in keeping him alive. His wounds had been cleaned and bandaged, he had been fed, and they apparently had someone set to keep an eye on him till he woke. What did they want? He was just a quartermaster. Wasn't the war over? His eyes darted first this way then that as men surrounded him.
    Questions.
    Where was he from? Didn't he know the war was over?
    He was from, and on his way back to a farm in Georgia, and yes he knew the war was over.
    Silence while his captors fed him some sort of revolting mash.
    What did they want?
    "Oh don't worry your head none Jonney Reb." He would remember that voice so full of pride even now that he had finally tracked its owner down and found him to be a pitiful waste of human life. Life's revelations didn't seem to penetrate his dreams, at least they hadn't yet. "See? We've taken real good care of you." Course laughter followed. He saw something in a nearby fire.
    Pain. He never remembered the actual events. Blessed darkness blotted out what actually happened, small blessings considering that he remembered the pain, screams, cries for anything but this. Sometimes in the dreams when the blackness came he fought like a wild man till he was knocked out. Other times he meekly accepted what was about to happen as an alternative to having a rifle slug put between his eyes. His memories of the event were clouded so much that at this point he didn't know which was true anymore.
    When he could see again it was done and, oddly, they had bandaged the stumps of his limbs. There was laughter and joking from these men as they carried him, weak and more than likely close to death no matter what measures they had used to keep him alive, to the side of a nearby road. "Make enough noise and I'm sure somebody'll give you a lift son."
    They rode off, for which he was thankful. He would die, but he wouldn't have to give them the pleasure of seeing it.
    No. One of them was coming back around. He saw the rifle. He felt the bullets impact. Why had they tended to him so relentlessly if they were just going to kill him? Why had any of this happen? The war was over for pity's sake!

* * *

    Edward's face was streaked with tears and sweat when he woke. the little man apparently was still asleep, for he heard soft snoring drift from the other side of the room. There was a moment when he thought he hated the man for insisting on staying by his side, but thought better of it. He had to just live with the fact that the supposed catharsis from finding his tormenter had done nothing to put him at ease. He used his arm to work himself up into a sitting position so he could look out of the room's windows. It was still dark out, and though his dreams had been troubled ever since he had left that awful place, Edward decided it best to try getting a little more sleep. Tomorrow was the day that all of this traveling had been for after all. Best to be rested and ready to make a good impression.

* * *

    "I apologize for being as close-mouthed as I have with information Edward." The man was tall, lank, and in spite of his age Edward thought the man lively compared to his traveling companion. "What i am going \to tell, then show, you must not leave this place." Edward inclined his head slowly at the man. "I mean it!" The man's tone was firm as iron with those words. "Not One Word." Again Edward nodded. "Care for anything to drink while we walk? I know what I am going to tell you will be hard to take in even with the demonstration, but at least this way you should be a little more accepting."
    Edward toying with his tumbler of whiskey as he was wheeled along. "You know of those treasure hunters, looters, farmers, and other folk that find remnants of the civilizations that came before ours?" They passed out a pair of doors into a large clearing. Paths extended between several of the buildings, and there were more than a few people scattered here and there, but Edward's group stayed clear of both building and people. "We existed, if not quite in the fashion our founders wanted, since the sixteen hundreds."
    Edward stiffened at this, "Wait, you mean like the Masons?" His tone spoke of no love between him and the oft-maligned and mystified society.
    His host laughed lightly, "No, dear lord no. We may have had connections with them at one point, but our ambitions are less politically minded. Where they amassed power and prestige by who they have as members we've decided that other more interested parties are better at shaping current events. Instead our efforts, up until now, have focused on finding bits and pieces of the past, either in histories and story, or in artifacts." Edward sipped his drink as the man continued, amused by the level of enthusiasm the man showed in his narration. "Several years ago one of our members went to South America chasing rumors of Atlantis." He held up a hand in warning. "Yes I know, if they had existed wouldn't there have been more than whispers and a scant handful of stories about their race? If they had been as great, mighty, and widespread, wouldn't they have survived, even in a fractured state of being?"
    "Sir," Edward took time to choose his words, no sense in offending a man that had him as a guest. "What exactly is it you want of me? My beliefs in where a thing comes from shouldn't matter if you want me to help catalog, organize, and sort these things." It wasn't that he was impatient, but after spending so much time wondering what he would be about, if he took this job, he wanted the man to get to the point where his presence here was needed."
    His host turned and smiled, "I'm sorry. Age must have taken my brevity along with my vigor. Where are my manners? You've been a long time in coming, and here i am making you sit through a school-room lecture." They went at almost a run along a path leading deep into the woods. "Not much further. Hurry Hurry!"
    What Edward saw, even covered by hundreds of yards of canvas, tore all thought from his mind. It was more or less man-shaped by his judgment, though the arms were too long, and the legs short by an appreciable amount. Though it must be a statue of some sort he refused to believe that someone would craft something that monstrously huge in the proverbial middle of nowhere.
    "Edward Fawkes. This is what my esteemed friend and society member has found, at great personal hazard and loss." His host gestured to a rope ladder leading up the kneeling man-shaped lump of metal. "We've got men in the internal compartment ready to pull you up. Think you can manage a basket?"
    The rope pulled up into the belly of the giant then, after a minute or so, lowered again with a wide wicker basket tied at the bottom. Edward inspected this and frowned before allowing himself to be helped inside. He wiggled, jostled, and attempted to find a way to throw himself out of the thing. Once he was satisfied that he could not he motioned to be brought up.

* * *

    "So," Edward's voice was a  rumbling thing from all over the metal giant. "I'm stuck like this?" He couldn't move the construct's limbs, nor could he do more than speak, or sense the world immediately around him. The men that had helped raise him inside the machine now threw his now-dead body from the machinery that had torn his mind free, making it a part of the body he now wore.
    He hadn't meant the question for anyone, but he heard several men both on the ground and inside of him explain, with a mix of confusion and more than a little fear that he had died inside the machine they had hooked him into.  Edward growled, a low rumbling thing that shook the earth around his new body. He wanted to be left alone, and other than people posted here and there to keep an eye on the construct he was.

* * *

    “It has been so very long since I have had a pilot.”
    What? Who's there?
    “Do not be afraid Pilot. Even with most of my subsystems ruined my ability to hold your neural pattern has not been impaired. You will be safe.”
    You're the machine? I...how...why?
    “Though I can tell what your surface thoughts are, I cannot 'read' your mind. Even with it stored locally rather than connected via neural webbing I cannot do more than what we're doing right now. Because I am only aware of the passage of time between my last activation and this I do not know what has happened.”
    If my mind and soul are wedded to you, who or whatever you are, I suppose it is best we be friends. I do not know what happened to bring you where you are now. I suppose they wanted me to test this thing in case it somehow proved fatal.
    I can do no more than guess at why you are here, but you must give me answers before we degenerate into long drawn out conversation. Is the war still going on?
    There may be war in Europe, but right now we're at peace.
    “Who won?”
    I'd say neither side really did, not with how many died, but the Union is whole again, though Lincoln never got to see much of what came after. Pity. They've been hard on us with him dead.
    “Union? Lincoln?”
    Right. They said they were looking for old things. Trouble is I'd always thought the further back you went the more primitive things got, but that doesn't explain you or this thing we're in. We can't build anything close to this anymore.
    “So, their worst fears came true. All of their accomplishments reduced to nothing. It is a good thing that we found each-other. Though it was a grave risk they included most of their collected knowledge within each of us in case the empire fell.”
    Can you explain?
    “We each have information that the other doesn't, and with you in your present condition it seems that unless another total power failure occurs we will have at least Fifty Three Orb- Years. Yes thank you for that correction. Right now you need to learn how to pilot. Difficult since you lack a body to work everything, but they made allowances for situations like this. That and, unfortunately, it seems most of the internal controls are either broken or missing.”
    Wait. Why can't you just make this thing move around?
    “One of the many fears of my makers was an uprising by the things that they had built. Considering what some of us are capable of in proper working order it is a justified precaution. Even in your state you are a human mind, so have full access and control of everything. All I can do is guide you.”
    So you're a kind of tutor with their hands tied if I mess up?
    “Something like that. Should we start, or do you want to sit and wait for them to come back with prybars and explosives to try seeing our inner workings?”
    In that case learning how to move seems like a good idea.
    “Just be aware that though they know you somehow inhabit my shell they feel that if you can't do anything that you would eventually go mad from inaction and would see their actions as a mercy. Who’s to say they wouldn’t be right?“

* * *

    The first and last warning that anyone had when the construct started moving had been the sound of the great sheets of canvas covering it from inclement weather, or spy balloons, ripping away. It moved slowly, deliberately, and only after making sure that none of the fleeing watchers were where any part of it would land. As it moved it left great dents in the earth from it's footfalls. As it moved it bellowed like an elemental fury loosed from it's bonds. "WHERE IS MALEK!"
    Malek, the man that had spoken with Edward, and escorted him to the great metal beast, was currently in the main building of this outpost shivering and shaking in his finely laundered suit. He didn't need the spyglass that his left eye was pressed to for him to see the metal monster as it lumbered out of the woods he had it hidden in, but he used it anyway in vain search for some hint of human emotion across what could be considered the thing's face. He had hoped that the man he had given to the great beast was in command of the creature instead of a passenger unable to abate the thing's rage.
    "MALEK. I WOULD HAVE WORDS WITH YOU." Edward slowly made his way to the building Malek was in. His gait was unsteady and slow, for he was still getting accustomed to his new body and in spite of advice hissed to him by the resident intelligence he was having trouble here and there. "I AM NOT ANGRY. I MERELY WISH TO SPEAK WITH YOU." In truth he was more than a little angry with himself at not asking more questions before allowing himself to be strapped in. However he had to make do with what he had, so no sense taking it out on a possible friend and ally in matters.
    "I'm here Edward." Malek didn't raise his voice when he stepped out into the open, but then he didn't have to. "What do you want to talk about?"
    Edward considered his options in that moment, a low rumble being an audible cue for Malek and the others of this process due to the lack of expression on the construct's face. "I believe you had intended me to work this metal monster. Am I correct?"
    "We didn't know how functional it was, but if it hadn't corroded to the point of uselessness I had considered you for that job, yes. Are you still interested?" Malek seemed calm and collected, but beneath the thin veneer of calm was a mass of worry and more than a touch of fear.
    "I see." Edward rumbled low and thoughtful as he continued to think, or at least to give the impression that he was thinking "Considering I have just proven this construct is mobile, and not likely to be damaged by all but the most powerful of weapons of our day what would you have me do?"
    Malek's outward calm wavered a moment, outwardly showing by his hands fidgeting with the buttons on his vest. "Well, Even though the army has managed to keep the westward expansion in good order there are, well, things out there they aren't equipped to deal with. Natives still roam here and there, some able to call on huge and angry creatures." Edward snorted dismissively, but said nothing. "There are madmen, men of science as well as political minded folk that have gained technology similar to that which constructed the body you now inhabit. No government knows we exist. That gives us freedom to work unencumbered, to go anywhere we wish to keep America safe."
    There was a moment, albeit a very slender one, when Edward considered refusing. None would be able to stop him. Through agents he could mete out the vast knowledge this thing possessed. NO! It clamped down on his mind like a vise. I cannot prevent you from piloting as you wish, but I cannot allow you to give these people knowledge to build more. They would destroy themselves, and very likely cause another Collapse, if not a total annihilation of the species. Edward sighed inwardly.
    Maybe he could give advice here or there, possibly hints to the great thinkers of the day for peaceful applications. He sensed the other consider that notion for a time before speaking. They would still very likely find ways of applying that knowledge to war, but maybe a hint here or there in the right direction to people with the right temperament might help, but only small hints. It wouldn't be right to just hand people great and powerful knowledge, it would cause too many questions and possibly lead back to us. Then it would be a race by everyone to chain us down, cut us open and try prying loose everything. That or they would destroy us to keep our knowledge from falling into anyone else's hands. Edward grumbled, but agreed with the other's arguments.
    "If I agree to work under you I want a few things settled, preferably in writing." Of course, Edward knew, that considering everything the very idea of anything in writing as a way of gaining leverage was madness, but it might help to remind this man of how serious Edward wanted him to take his requests.
    Malek smiled ever so slightly. Even if it was conditional he would get his help. "I'm listening Edward."
    "First, and this is something that I absolutely will not negotiate on, I do not want you or any other to try tricking me to go after women, children, or anyone that clearly does not pose a threat to anyone." He lowered his front end so that the construct's face was only slightly above Malek's head. "Try crossing me on that and I will not hesitate to kill you, your family, and everyone and everything you care for." He growled to emphasize how monumentally angry he would be if that were to happen. Malek nodded shakily, though in reality Edward need not fear Malek using him as a giant bully stick against personal enemies.
    "Good." Edward sounded pleased as he rose back to his 'normal' posture, forelimbs held fist down to support the construct's weight as it sat upright. "Second, I need a personal secretary as well as a dedicated telegraph line to whatever location I will remain at while I'm not out in the field."
    "This was something I had wanted put into place anyway," Malek approved of this request, not only because he had already thought of it, but it showed Edward had presence of mind to think about how to communicate while he was to remain isolated.
    "Lastly I want your assurances that I will be consulted of any other unexpectedly advanced technology, either from a dig by your people, or by persons that your operatives come across." Edward remained motionless, and his voice was conversational while he spoke of this request. "If you found this construct surely others have found other pieces of lost technology. It would be a disaster of biblical proportion if somehow whole armies of beasts such as these," He raised a forelimb to indicate himself, "were fielded in war." Edward lowered his forelimb and chuckled softly, at least softly for him. Everyone else described the sound as comparable to the rumble of a storm "That and I like to keep abreast of the latest scientific doings. I may not understand much of it, but the progress in my own lifetime, just makes my mind wide with wonder."
    "It won't be easy, but it is a sensible thing that you ask, so I will see what I can do about this." Malek clasped his hands behind him as he walked to the construct. "We will do everything possible, as men, to see that the power you wield does not turn us into tyrants. I've seen my share of blood too Edward, and I don't have the stomach for it."
    There is more, much much more, that could be spoken of these early days. Right now though it is best to leave the tedium of training, conversing about knowledge gained and lost, as well as the bore of waiting on buildings to be constructed and groundwork lain to the spaces between one story and the next.
Post a Comment