Flash Fiction Challenge: Ash

This story is brought to you by FLASH FICTION CHALLENGE: THE RANDOM SONG TITLE JAMBOREE at Chuck Wendig’s Terrible Minds. This is work in progress, part of the history of scars in Psychomachina. Let me know what you think — FY

Darkness. Static. Bright light. A woman’s voice. “Goddamn it! I need more time!” Pain. A scream. Her own? Darkness again. Static. Laughter, maybe, or sobbing. A whisper. “…my redemption…” Silence. An eternal moment. Awareness. Light, spawning hordes of shadows. Heat. Fire. Voices, in the distance, mingling with the stomp of heavy boots. Panic.

The being opened its eyes. Her eyes. She felt relatively certain of “she”, reinforced by a countless reflections in the shattered glass door of the steel tube surrounding her.

“Where am I?” her voice rang hollowly.

“Location: UNKNOWN” flashed red across her vision, some sort of heads up display.

“Who am I?” The question didn’t seem right. “What am I?”

“Designation: UNKNOWN. Automata. Promethea Class. Version 3.6.” The words crawled across her vision in a light blue font.

“System, run diagnostic.” She commanded.

“Memory fault error. Main memory files dumped after restart.”

“Great…” As she stepped out of the tube, a faint beeping filled her ears. A man lay sprawled beneath her, covered in blood and broken glass. His brown hair matted to his scalp, his black eyes staring unblinking at the ceiling. A name floated to her lips. “Dr. Balanova…” Her vision blurred as she felt dampness on her cheeks.

She reached down to close the man’s eyes, unable to quell the emotion she recognized as sadness. She paused a moment to wonder how she had known him before grabbing his lab coat from the ground and wrapping it around herself. As she cinched the coat, she noticed a pair of hands poking out from the rubble on the far side of the room. She tossed the chunk of the ceiling aside, amazed the person underneath still breathed.

The being turned the person over and pulled it from the rubble, revealing a woman in her early twenties, dressed in the same lab coat that now wrapped around herself, the woman’s ebony skin contrasting starkly with thick cotton fabric. The being’s heart beat faster, her breathing quickened. Another new emotion.

The woman on the ground struggled to produce a breathy whisper. “Redemption?”

The Automata felt a strange sense of deja vu. Herself, standing in this room, this laboratory, Dr. Balanova next to her. The woman, Dr. Mallory Larson, hand outstretched, Redemption’s name on her lips. An explosion. The ceiling coming down. Mallory diving towards her, pushing her towards the stasis pod, pushing her to safety.

Redemption looked around, realizing that the constant beeping came from her internal alarms. “The fires. The building is no longer safe. We must leave or you may die. Will you stand?”

Mallory grinned sardonically. “Would if I could. I can’t feel my legs. Save yourself. That’s an order.”

The blue HUD flashed purple. “No.” Redemption ripped a first aid kit off the wall and pulled her companion free of the rubble. “I think you’re the only one left alive that knows what I am. I’m not leaving you behind.”

Mallory’s eyes widened as Redemption spoke. She nodded, numbly, no longer protesting, wrapping her arms as tightly as she could in her weakened stated. Redemption grew comfortably aware of the other woman’s body pressed against her as she raced for the door. They burst onto the street moments before the building collapsed into sparks and ash.

“Close call, ladies.” The speaker, a lean woman clad in black body armor with a distinctive red lining, leaning against a streetlamp, surrounded by a grizzled cadre decked out in cheap brown armor. “Hey Thrusher, what do we have here?”

“Mercenaries.” Mallory hissed.

One of the men, head shaved, covered in scars, smiled wickedly, showing jagged teeth. “Coming out of them buildings, wearing them coats. I think we got ourselves some Auto lovers.”

The woman spat in their direction. “Fucking traitors. Love machines more than their own kind.”

Redemption lowered Mallory to the ground, pressing the kit into her hands. “Have your laugh, walk away. I do not want to hurt you.”

The woman laughed. “We’re not afraid of no goddamn scientists.”

The mercenaries stopped leaning. Redemption smiled as they circled her, drawing blades. “Do not -“ The HUD flashed purple again. “Don’t say I didn’t warn you.”

The five men stuck almost as one. Time slowed to a crawl. Redemption grabbed Thrusher’s arm, pivoting and thrusting, burying his knife in the guts of one of the mercs. She ducked under the next fighter’s arm, kicking hard, her foot connecting with a satisfying crunch. Another arm flashed by her face, a blade brushing one cheek. She responded with a fist to the throat. Redemption spun, grabbing the remaining toughs and slamming their heads together.

Their leader backed away, eyes wide. “What the hell are you?”

Redemption noticed something dripping down her cheek. Her fingers found a gash deep enough that her chrome cheekbone showed through. The purple glow faded from everything, the HUD returning to a normal blue. “I’m… I’m…”

A shot tore through the air, catching the mercenary in the head. Redemption turned to see Mallory, first aid kit tossed aside, gun in hand. “She knew. We couldn’t let her live.” She waved the gun at the fallen mercenaries. “None of them can live. Finish them off, strip her down and armor up.”

Redemption numbly complied. “I don’t know what came over me.” She slumped next to Mallory, her head in her hands. “The world’s gone crazy. What are we going to do.”

Mallory lifted her chin, forcing Redemption to meet her eyes. “What do we do? We go to ground. We hide. We fucking survive long enough to find out what the hell is going on. We live.”

Redemption felt a new emotion growing, warmth spreading through her body as she gazed upon her valkyrie, her phoenix rising from the ashes of the night.

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3 thoughts on “Flash Fiction Challenge: Ash

      • I have the same problem writing the series over on my blog. It’s forcing me to cut plot points that aren’t vital, and sometimes forcing a rewrite–so I guess that’s good. In either case, I thought you did a good job considering the ambitious limit.

        Liked by 1 person

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