– CHAPTER THIRTY-EIGHT –
The soup box preacher that restrained Wendy—a dent in his forehead where a rock may have hit him during a badly received sermon in some market—shook the other conduit till Clara thought Wendy’s teeth might start rattling inside her head.
“The lord should not wait because of these intruders,” he professed with hair-thin annoyance to the Reverend. “We should give the coppertops to judgment. Why do we entertain such trash, Reverend?”
Dented Preacher spat at Kell’s feet. Kell raised an eyebrow then yawned from boredom.
Reverend Jimmy sighed ruefully. “I agree, Brother Rensford. This has gone on long enough.” He addressed Kell and Marty. “Why did you even come here? You’re delusional. Don’t you know? If you repeat history, you don’t receive an alternative outcome. Kneel now! Accept His ministry. Ask for the Second Chance. Wait… What are you—”
Kell was brandishing a pistol in one hand, the barrel leveled at Jimmy Boy’s chest, his aim as sober as any marksman’s, while his other hand swatted the air in front of his face like he was trying to bat away a pesky fly. Kell was tired of the charade, Clara saw as much in his hard expression. The seriousness of road pirate’s angular face drew his scared and metal infused flesh tight, a revolting sight for sure.
“What you ask? You want to know why?” Kell said.”That’s obvious. We are distracting you, brother!”
“Clara! Get to the wagon!” Marty told her, pulling free a hammer from a loop in his belt. The weapon was same heavy forge hammer from his smithy in the back of the Wrench Works. Today he intended to strike heads instead of ingots on an anvil.
Recognizing that the negotiations had come to an abrupt end, the His Hand soldiers drew their own weapons. Five or so soldiers pulled the Reverend into a protective circle of armor and were backing away from the parley area. The remaining men lunged at Kell and Marty.
The abrupt explosion of hostilities had stunned the Dented Preacher. His jaw went slack with incredulity and he looked ready to turn to the sky for answers.
That was her moment. Clara popped up in front of the preacher, grabbed Wendy by the wrist and yanked her from the thumper’s grasp. She heard Wendy scream. Something—flesh probably—ripped. With Wendy in tow, Clara made a dash for the Junker wagon.
“Are you—” Clara started to ask Wendy as they ran.
The two conduits couldn’t stop. They needed to get clear. Clara didn’t hear the crossing of blades or smell black powder—yet—only the increasing volume of arguing voices firing off threats.
“Fine. Fine. Go!” Wendy urged.
The meager rabble of Junkers was charging passed the girls, leaving their places at the wagon to engage the His Hand soldiers at their captain’s side.
We’ve gotta get to the wagon and quick.
They had several reasons to make a quick dash to the wagon. First reason, Kell, Roos, Uncle Marty, and their other rescuers were moments away from being ran through with blades and ripped apart by lead shot. There were aggressors with superior numbers on the ground and between the merlons on the compound ramparts. No one had started to attack but when words broke down and the tense rope snapped bloody conflict would erupt. The knocking of her shoulder blades warned Clara of such.
The final reason for their haste was the legion of His Hand soldiers marching toward the tarp covered wagon. The Reverend had his followers planned to box in their enemies and offer no escape.
“Plan still on?” Clara shouted to Roos as he rushed past her with the rest of the Junker crew. He was drawing his pistols, red scarf a tail wagging behind his neck.
He didn’t look back as he responded. “There’s a wagon back there with trouble underneath. Yeah!”
Clara didn’t break her stride as she stuck her tongue out at him from between her lips.
As Clara and Wendy arrived at the wagon, they found two Junkers had stayed behind with the wagon. One Junker lay underneath the wagon. He was using a rife to pop off shots at the approaching legion. He was a good shot but the rounds did no good. Each lead shot bounced off the soldiers’ sheep-wool-white kite shields with the palm and cross painted red on the front. The lead did slow down their approach, a little. Covered by one of the wagon’s big wheels, Turnip Head was scattering rounds with a single pistol. He held a knife in his other hand, the blade ready if the soldiers managed to get too close. And the soldiers would. Turnip had numerous pistols on a wide leather belt hanging across his torso, ready when he expended the rounds in a single weapon, eliminating his need to for reloading.
Turnip Head was tossing away one pistol and drawing another when Clara and Wendy arrived, heads low, breath short and thready from their quick sprint. They took cover underneath the shade of the wagon, a foot from the Junker armed with pistol and knife.
He spared them a glance and crocked-mouth sneer. “You here to recharge my weapons or are ya gunna be speed bumps to trip these metal-strapped thumpers?”
Did no one clue you in on the plan?” Clara asked with bite.
“‘Course the captain did!” Turnip snarled. He leaned out past the wheel and squeezed the pistol’s trigger. The large weapon barked twice before the top of the wagon’s wheel exploded into splinters the size of fingers from the return rifle offered by the legion’s riflemen. Turnip managed to miss having wood sharpness cut up his face. He was back underneath the wagon as more chucks of wheel broke away and leapt into the air.
“Ha! That all you got, thumpers?” Turnip taunted. He cursed and chuckled madly as if each hurled insult was an iron round.
Finally able to breathe and think, Clara turned to Wendy. The other conduit’s left cheek was torn open, the wound shallow but still bleeding enough for her to worry. Wendy would have a scar and not a pretty one. Quickly Clara tore away part of her follower skirts, folded the thick cloth into a square, and pressed it against Wendy’s cheek, telling her to hold the cloth in place to staunch the flow of blood.
Back underneath the wagon just in time to avoid addition return fire, Turnip’s eyes went to Clara’s collar. He bit down on his lip and spat more curses. “So much for the ‘plan’. We’re no better than a napping golem on the side of the road! You got yourself collared, coppertop.”
“Relax,” Clara assured him. “Keep me covered and I’ll get us some backup.”
“How did the burning thumpers get that junk around your neck, coppertops?” Turnip asked as he peaked out from what remained of the shattered wheel.
Clara considered how much information to let slip and decided to stick to her original plan of staying loyal to a fellow conduit, regardless of that person’s loyalties. She had been through too much because of her abilities and how they marked her, she would not out Eve Powell. That didn’t mean Clara couldn’t be vague and strike a blow to the His Hand.
She nodded in the direction of the compound. “They got a conduit in there.”
Turnip snorted. “Many conduits, all ready for a neck stretching or the barbeque. What’s new?”
Head shaking, Clara clarified. “One of the followers is a conduit.”
Under the vegetable flesh and below the meat, there was a pit of a brain in Turnip’s noggin. He got her meaning and grinned like a boy having caught his parents being intimate. “That is juicy.”
“Less talk more shooting,” the rifleman Junker complained at them, his attention only diverted for a second.
“You’re useless to us,” Turnip said to Clara, though it sounded more like a question. He raised the thick barrel of his weapon to his cheek, ready to spring out to meet death in honorable combat. The pistol’s barrel went clink against the metalifications at his temple.
“Can you get the collars off?” Wendy asked Clara hopefully. The blood from her wound had not soaked through the folded square of skirt.
Teeth showing, mouth ready to bite playfully, Clara answered, “What do you think I was doing for two days while the thumpers held me below the church? Listening to Bible passages?”
“First lesson, sparkplug,” Clara remembered her father telling her when she was no older than five years old. She had looked up at him eagerly that day, eyes shining, bouncing with energy. “Life is energy. The Field is energy. Both are on a continuous loop, perpetual. Don’t worry about what perpetual means… think loop. Point is this: to live and act, we must take in energy, when we live and act, we give out energy. Take. Give.”
Eve Powell had unknowingly given Clara the information she needed to unlock the collar. Her father’s words, though, had snapped everything in to place.
Naked and with nothing put time in a dark closet of a room, Clara had lots of time to think over the problem. Time to meditate.
The inhibiting collars blocked the Field. But the collars also fed off the Field, drinking in Nite energy to power the junk tech hidden within the ornately carved metal ring. When Eve Powell had teased Clara by unclasping the collar for a split second, she’d disrupt that cycle. She’d severed the magnetic link, sliced through the bound. The act was brutal and harsh, like chopping wood, brute strength and no brain. A simple task.
Clara couldn’t use the Field. Yet her own body was drawing on the Field. That’s where the name conduit came from. A conduit was a means of access. A channel. A channel to access the Field. That is where the collar sipped at the Field from… her inner Field. And the amount of Field was so minuscule that she couldn’t even perceive the sipping, the collar also helped block her perception.
In the darkness of her cell, Clara asked herself what if she cut herself off from the Field, bent the pipe that fed the Field to the collar? It might work.
It has to work!
Wendy tried to get Clara’s attention by shaking her upper arm. Turnip Head asked when Clara was going to fail at unlocking the collar. With a sharp shush, she quieted both distracters. There was enough commotion around without their chatter in her ears.
She closed her eyes. She inhaled deeply, slowly. Then Clara reached down to her inner self, the place she normally would have felt her Field radiating from, where she drew the Nites from. She imagined a pipe, one end sticking out from her chest, running to the Field place within her inner self and finally protruding from her back. The end leading inside her she pinched off with a hard grunting yank from her mind. Then she widened the pipe’s exit out her back. The Field within her emptied quickly, as if she’d created and let loose hundreds of Nites.
The strain of such a large outpour forced Clara to gasp. She fell forward, catching herself with her hands flat on the ground. She gulped at air. Someone might as well have punched her in the stomach for all the arguing caving in her gut. She soon felt empty. Not hungry empty but the lack of energy, will.
Even with much of her inner store drained, Clara sensed, she felt the Field wrapping around the world.
For days, the world had been dim around Clara. The clouds had hovered low in the sky, pressing down, suppressing the earth, curling her emotions into a suffocating ball. Now the clouds were parted. The world beamed. The world sprouted to life. A ribbon made from the brightest of lights—the Field!—flowed and wove itself around her. Clara’s body shuttered from the warmth. She began to weep.
Kneeling beside her, Wendy rubbed Clara’s back and tried coxing her to sit up straight, she told Clara her lungs would expand easier if she wasn’t bent as if pitched over an overturned barrel.
“Are you alright? What happened, Clara?” Wendy asked worriedly as she checked Clara’s person for bullet holes.
Taking in a deep breath, then another, one more, just another, Clara finally bobbed her head. She was fine.
Clara’s hand went to the collar at her throat. The seemingly single band of metal was unclasped. The parted space between the metal ends was an inch only, an insignificant amount, girls skipped further, to Clara the space was a canyon. She righted the figurative pipe inside her then touched the Field greedily. A chuckle bubbled up from deep inside her belly.
Wendy gasped as her eyes found where Clara’s hand had gone.
Hastily, wanting—for the first time—to throw away good metal, Clara pulled the collar from around her neck. After taking one last look, Clara tossed the vile thing as far away from the wagon as her meager strength allowed.
Although she felt as weak as she had been on the Junker golem, Clara never imagined feeling better. Absence does make you fonder of the constant things you take for granted.
Wendy sighed and fell flat against the shaded ground under the wagon when Clara used a bit of what remained of her inner Field to sever the link in the other conduit’s collar. A deep exaltation nearly lifted Wendy off the ground. The Junkers no longer had her locked inside a cage—a useful battery—and the inhibiting collar was no longer cutting her off from the sweet life flow of the Field. Springing off the ground, Wendy fell into Clara’s arms and the two shared a hug.
Sending pings out through the Field, Clara called to Tink.
In an instant, the Nite shot underneath the wagon like of the shots the His Hand legion was using to keep them pinned underneath the wagon. Only Clara and Wendy noticed the Nite. The abruptness of Tink’s entrance startled Wendy. She leapt in the air, smacked her head on the wagon’s bottom, and came down so hard on her rear end she toppled backwards to the ground. Turnip Head, albeit he didn’t witness the Nite’s sparkling arrival, was startled enough by Wendy’s ground dive that he rocked back on his heels too far and fell on his rear too.
Tink’s spark form skidded into Clara’s face, blew apart, and reformed in to the thump-sized wispy young woman form.
You can sense me again, Clara! You can sense me for true!
As Clara attempted and failed to embrace Tink. Turnip Head was dusting himself off when he caught sight of her and raised his eyebrows in confusion. She probably looked to be hugging herself. Talking to Tink—what looked like talking to herself—made her seem that much more insane to normal… probably to conduits too.
“The Field…” Wendy trailed off. She was staring at Clara and Tink with befuddlement to equal Turnip Head’s own. “It’s—It’s pulsing oddly, irregularly. Is the Nite…”
She’s communicating with me. Her name is Tink,” Clara clarified.
Ah! The rude one who points and pokes. Clara, you’re still hanging around with her?
“The Nite is alive?” Wendy asked, not believing. “Nites are just… just part of the Field. They’re not people.”
The Junker laying on his belly, rifle cradled in the crux of his shoulder, expertly targeting the soldiers rather than using Turnip’s method of spraying fire in a sweeping arch, huffed with impatience as he squeezed off another shot. The space under the wagon reeked of powder. The Junker rifleman was un-chambering that spent round when he turned his head toward them and said with an impatient snarl, “Get moving, coppertops! These thumpers are bar—”
Blood sprayed from the back of the young man’s head along with bits of brain and flesh bristling still with hair.
Next to Clara, Wendy screamed. Clara grabbed the girl by the shoulders and held her so she wouldn’t dart out from underneath the wagon and become an easy target for the legion.
One look at the Junker rifleman lying dead in the wagon’s shade and Turnip Head lost control. He bellowed with grief. He pulled at the tuft of hair at the top of his head. Caution and empty pistols tossed away, Turnip Head pulled free two fresh pistols from the belt across his chest. He eyed Clara purposefully—an urgent plea—then he rolled free of the wagon and began to return fire. In that split second, Clara realized how young Turnip Head was—probably only a few years older than Roos, no more than ten years her senior. The dead rifleman was even younger, nearer to her own sixteen years.
Gently but in a rush, Clara pushed Wendy away from her. The girl—about as old as Clara and the dead rifleman Junker—was heaving, gasping for air after letting out such a long breathy scream. Clara shook Wendy until her eyes latched on to her own.
“Stay here. I need to help keep as many of us alive,” Clara told her, as much for Wendy’s benefit as for herself.
“Come on, Tink,” Clara beckoned. The Nite had shriveled back to her firefly-like form and was now blinking with what Clara thought of as fury. This was as close to an emotional response to the sudden death as Tink could manage. This was significant for an intangible representation of raw energy. Clara had long figured out Tink was unusual. “Let’s go Wake up a golem.”
It’s time for baby to take his first steps. If we’re lucky, baby’ll throw a punch or two.
Puffs of dirt plumed around Turnip Head’s feet where bullets bounced uselessly against the ground, missing his ever-moving feet.
The legion marching ever closer to the wagon, thankfully, was distracted by the screaming, cursing Junker as he emptied what rounds he had left in the weapons he held and the few pistols strapped to his chest, waiting in reserve. Legion outnumbered and out gunned Turnip Head. Despite all this, somehow his revengeful anger and youth gave the legion pause. Turnip would not last long, though. Clara had seconds.
I have one chance at this, Clara warned herself mentally. She didn’t need to voice her trepidation. The sweat on her brow and slipping down her back was enough of a giveaway.
You can do this, Tink encouraged through furious blips in the Field. What are you doing anyway?
Clara stuck her hand underneath the tarp tied down over the contents of the wagon.
Her right hand went flat against metal warmed by the afternoon sun beating against the tarp, while her left braced her against the side of the wagon. She was so tired, and she was almost out of Nites. An unbidden memory rose to the surface of her consciousness, of the day her father had attempted to bring to life the Mathers’ tractor. To Wake the tractor, Mo Danvers drew too many Nites from his inner Field. He created enough so he remained alive, plenty to Wake the farming golem, but not sufficient to control it. Clara had much less of the Field to draw on, which meant fewer Nites for her use.
Then I’ll need to pull from another source, she told herself.
When she was on the Junker bus golem, strapped in to the mechanism that turned her into a battery for the golem, Clara had provided more Nite energy than any other conduit Kell and his crew had abducted during the time on the road. She was strong, sure. Except, she didn’t have such a large store to allow her to go on for the hours she had gone without rest or food. How did she survive? She’d even strained the golem’s engine, fed it too many Nites, gave the machine indigestion on multiple occasions. Then, on the last day, she’d overloaded the engine completely! Her inner Field spent, the only way she could have strained and eventually overcharged the golem would have been to draw from an outside source… from the Field itself. It was a reflex to keep her alive, to prevent a burn out. As far as she knew, this was not possible, though. The Field recharged a conduit when sleeping, resting. No one had ever used the Field directly. But why not take from the Field itself? Clara imagined a conduit could burn out two ways. She could empty herself of her Field. Or, like the Junker’s beastly golem, a conduit could burst her store taking too much in. Resting seemed to be an unconscious safety check to prevent a conduit from refilling with too much of the Field, taking only to her limit.
I’m a conduit, a funnel, Clara told herself. I’ll draw the Field to myself and direct it into the golem. As long as I don’t hold on, I won’t burn out… right?
She was willing to place the bet. Her friends were here, dying for her, waiting for her to help them win the day and go home.
Clara’s mind processed these thoughts in less than a second, then…
She opened herself to the Field, becoming a true conduit. She became a funnel for the Field, a force no one but someone like her could perceive, sense, and interact with. She filled herself up until she thought she might vomit the power. Far away, past a meditative fog of concentration, Clara thought she heard Wendy say she was glowing. Clara was convinced she’d burst any second… pop buttons, rip fabric. Inside she felt the Field divide in to hundreds, thousands of Nites. She felt itchy. Every pore on her body wanted to gape wide and sweat out the power buzzing inside her. Let it go now, Clara, Tink advised with an urgent whisper. Give them their commands and let them loose. Let each one know you need them, why you need them, how important this is. Put a part of yourself in each. Done. Loose them! Let my brothers and sisters go, Clara!
Clara did. The itch grew too much not to scratch. The ache deepened until she wanted to double over and relieve her stomach of its meager contents. An exhalation left Clara and with the release of air went the Nites—all the thousands she’d taken from the Field. She sensed them rushing into the golem sitting underneath the tarp. The very same humanoid golem from her workshop below the Wrench Works.
Like a beast after a long hibernation, having taken no food or drink for generations the golem gobbled greedily its first meal.
Unlike her father when he attempted to Wake the tractor for Rancher Mathers, Clara kept the little strength she began with. She had not used one bit of her inner Field to mold the Nites she’d released. In fact, she’d kept for herself a few of Nites from the larger Field so she might stand without the aid of the wagon.
Now the question was… would the golem’s hodgepodge of salvaged metal body parts work together? Clara had not tested the limited code she’d written for her creation either. At least, its metal skin would stop projectiles for sure and she’d lubed its joints recently.
Hand reaching up, Clara grabbed hold of the tarp and yanked the covering away with a flourish, revealing the man-shaped golem she’d had Sleeping in her workshop for over a year.
The golem sat with metal legs bent, the bended knees made of reinforced cables thicker than her wrists pointed to the sky, bucket-shaped head titled so the bottom rim lay on a wide chest made of two road golem hoods welded together. A couple tailpipes extended from the man-golem’s upper back area and curved up on either side of its bucket head. With all the layers of metal panels and recycled—preserved and rare—rubber from old tires stacked on a broad steel frame, the man-golem looked to have strength and tough-as-nails durability. A junk knight. A junk knight that continued to sit Sleeping on the job!
Clara deflated with failure while the battle between the Junkers and the His Hand continued to rage around her. She had absolutely no control, a hurricane crashed around her and she could do nothing.
Turnip Head took a round in the chest, below his collarbone. The Junker spun around and lost his balance. His collapse saved him his life from a second shot that grazed his temple, leaving only a graze.
His Hand soldiers moved in to crowd the wagon, their bodies safe behind their kite-shaped shields, the nozzles of firearms peeping over the tops and aimed at Clara. They shouted for her to fall to the ground. One soldier came forward, stomped a boated foot on Turnip’s wrist just as he reached for a pistol he had dropped upon collapsing from the shot to his chest.
Hands raised, Clara slowly lowered herself to one knee.
Another soldier was dragging Wendy out from the wagon’s underside. She resisted little, knowing well a dominate force would always beat the defiance out of people it wanted to subjugate. Junkers operated similarly; Wendy was used to being cowed. She begged them not to clamp the collar back around her neck. Anything but the collar. Don’t take the Field away.
Around the Sleeping golem Tink fluttered in examination, refusing to believe Clara’s efforts were for not. Clara had created plenty of Nites. She’d sent those Nites inside the golem. The burning bucket of bolts should at least Wa—
Blue steam, Nite exhaust, puffed out of the golem’s tailpipes. Each spurt lasted several seconds, accompanied by a high-pitched whistle that silenced the battlefield outside the compound. The crack of pistol and rifle fire cut out. Blades ceased ringing. The soldiers around the wagon peered at the sky, likely expecting the actual Second Coming their faith promised. Turnip Head cackled, having expected the man-golem Waking, knowing the plan. Tink shot up through the Nite exhaust, curling the fumes into corkscrews.
The man-golem’s bucket head rose to look past the fearfully rearing horses that had pulled its wagon to the battlefield. Stumbling out of the wagon with the grace of a weed addict after the closing of the pubs in the early morning, the man-golem stepped on the pole and evener hooking the horses to the wagon, shattering the pole. The two horses, spooked by the creaking and cranking of the engine in the machine’s glowing chest cavity, darted off for safer pastures while Wendy and the soldier holding her shuffled a safe distance away.
Out of the wagon and standing on its feet, the man-golem stood tall at nearly seven feet, shoulders wider than the strongest blacksmith. Fumes from the Nites within spurted from the exhaust pipes, creating a blue cloud around the bucket set on its bookshelf shoulders. That might make sense since the man-golem seemed in a deep haze from a long night sucking on a weed pipe.
Clara licked her dry lips, waiting for the golem to rampage at the soldiers loyal to the His Hand.
It stood still, looking off in the distance as if contemplating its existence, what it should do next after such a long nap. The only signs of life were the blue glow escaping through the thin seams in the furnace-like chest and from deep within the tilted eyes cut out of the bucket on its shoulders.
Fear quickly evaporated from the soldiers who heartbeats ago were ready to run for the safety of their compound’s walls.
The legion opened fire, unloading the ammunition in their long muzzled pistols and wide mouthed scattershot rifles.
The shots pinged off the man-golem’s armored chasse. The blue, red, and green paneling Clara had salvaged from rusting road golems and that she had Marty weld together did the trick. Minor pitting and scraps were all the armor sustained for damage. Still, Clara was annoyed that the soldiers were scuffing up and damaging her work, thinking of the golem as no more than useless junk for them to toss away and forget about. How long could the man-golem take the punishment anyway?
For whatever reason, the commands she’d provided to the Nites were not synching with the man-golem’s minimal programming. The man-golem required a brain filled with knowledge instead of the year of elementary schooling Clara had managed to write into its mechanical brain.
Using her Field sense, Clara sent through the Field a quick series of orders to Tink. The little blue spark was buzzing around the man-golem’s bucket head like a bee looking for a way into the hive. When Clara finished blipping and beeping through the Field, the spark settled with deep consideration and purpose. Then the all-too human Nite plunged into the man-golem’s bucket head.
Nothing to do but hope, Clara told herself.
The man-golem at least offered a suitable distraction. Turnip Head still lay on the ground, bleeding from high up on his chest, a soldier’s boot keeping him held there. Even though the soldier pinning Turnip down was busy empting ammunition at the demon-possessed junk pile his faith warned him against, the Junker couldn’t get to this discarded pistols. Pain, boot, and the weight of the soldier’s gleaming white plate kept him down.
Skirts gathered up and showing plenty of—what followers considered indecent—knee, Clara bounded two long paces and dove into a roll. She scooped up the knife dropped at some point by Turnip Head. Coming out of the role, Clara found herself feet, she was a couple paces away from the distracted soldier. She closed that distance, gripped the knife with both hands—point up—and slipped the foot of steel underneath the soldier’s armor and up into a kidney. She twisted for good measure.
A gaping black hole swung in front of Clara’s face. She smelled burning powder and hot metal. The pungent odors caused her eyes to water. Her breath, her last one, caught in Clara’s chest and she closed her eyes, waiting for the angel-masked soldier to pull the trigger.
She heard a shot fire—amazing since there were hundreds of rounds leaving dozens of projectile powder weapons—followed by the heavy clunk of armor crumbling.
Clara opened her eyes. Lying beside her, the hilt of the knife sticking out of his lower back, the rear of his helmet dented, smoking, and leaking blood, was the soldier who’d been ready to shot her in the face.
“Thought I told you to get that damn golem on its feet,” Turnip Head growled ungratefully.
lara sucked in what she had thought would be her final breath and shook her head. “Nicest thank you anyone’s ever offered, Turnip.”
He looked at her quizzically. The name she’d called him was unexpected and he didn’t know if it was an insult. “It’s the name I have for you.” She shrugged. He ran a hand through the tuft of hair on his head and his flat, round face scowled; she thought he might have taken a big bite from a raw turnip.
Against her better judgment, Clara helped Turnip Head to his feet. His arm was hanging uselessly at his side, tucked against his stomach. He sucked in a painful hiss.
“You stop referring to me as coppertop and I’ll drop the Turnip and call you whatever you like. ‘Kay?”
He answered her with a huff. Not many people could toss aside bigotry for tolerance.
Are you going to thank me properly or what, Turnip?” Clara asked, emphasizing her nickname for him.
He mumbled his appreciation and nodded to the battlefield. “Nice work.”
Head shaking, Clara sighed regretfully. “Don’t rub it in,” she replied, looking up at the Junker. “The golem did less than a rotten log.”
To her surprise, Turnip Head was regarding her seriously. His eyes moved to the battlefield and her gaze tracked along with his.
Very few shots were ripping through the air currently, only screams.
His Hand soldiers were fleeing on ragged wings, tossing down their arms and fleeing over the flat expanse for whatever cover they could find. Driving them away was the man-golem. Eyes feverish with angry Nite light, chest furnish stoked and aflame from the rush of battle, fumes puffing from its back tailpipes. The golem was a wrecking crew. Power and grace coupled. Its metal junk body was hunched and rushing like an enraged bull wanting to skewer soldiers on its horns. Both arms swung in wide arches, plowing soldiers and pitching them to either side, harvesting the battlefield.
Many soldiers lay about unmoving, armor crushed after having caught full blows from the shovel-sized hands of the man-golem raging through their ranks.
A small cluster of soldiers—angel masks scared and pitted, white armors scuffed brown with dirt and no longer gleaming—stood their ground. Clara heard them calling for their god’s blessing against the devil they faced.
Two soldiers emptied the remaining loads in the scattershot rifles but the man-golem only threw up its mix-matched steel arms and deflected the rounds. One of their fellows caught some of the ricochet in the neck and collapsed backward. The remaining men surged forward, shouting desperate cries, asking for places in Heaven for their bravery against the devil-sent machine.
Great swords drawn high over their heads, ready to chop off metal limbs, the soldiers closed in.
The man-golem brought one of its large rubber wrapped fists down hard on a solider, breaking his back with a loud crack, creating a crater that another soldier tripped into. A third soldier’s blade glanced off the junk machine’s thigh, only scratching the armor. Dual pistols hissed and spit as the golem rotated around and punched the solider square in the chest, sending him flying several feet back.
“You didn’t Wake the golem?” asked Turnip Head.
Clara nodded slowly, amazed, giddy, but horrified at the gore painted across the field before her eyes. Caravan and transport raids by Junkers and other bandits were one thing; true battle was a massacre and a waste of human life. No god would sanction this mess. “I Woke the golem but the programming was too simple for the commands I suggested in the Nites.”
She shook her head. The Junker didn’t understand. “No. It’s not… most golems run on autopilot with instructions from a conduit, through the Nites. This golem is being driven.”
The last two soldiers, those who’d emptied their last rounds seconds ago at the man-golem driven by Tink, skidded to a halt in front of the golem. Their angel facemasks peered up at the junk monster as if they were listening for a proclamation from God, the lips on their masks shaped like shocked O’s.
They shared a look. Then they threw away their swords with the large crossguards, turned, and ran after their brothers who had the good sense to flee early.
“Driven by who?” asked Turnip, truly confused. Golems were not controlled moment-to-moment by a person. Conduits wound a golem up and let them loose. Most times a golem was erratic and uncontrollable.
With a long burst of blue-colored exhaust from its tailpipes, the man-golem shifted its cumbersome metal-laden girth to face the conduit and the Junker. It settled in what amount to a double shoulder shrug, pushed its knees forward to bend, and sat precariously but firmly forward on the balls of its metal feet like a four-legged beast sitting up for a treat. Turnip Head jolted back, worried one of the commands carried by Clara’s Nites was to eliminate the Junkers after the His Hand soldiers.
Clara chuckled and smiled wolfishly at Turnip. Her eyebrows bobbed up and down before asking him, “Do you think she likes raw turnips?”
Wanna read more? Turn the page to Chapter Thirty-Nine by clicking here.
© 2015 Clinton D. Harding, All Rights Reserved