Salvation

First Draft – Jan. 18, 2019

I step back from the worktable and clap a hand on my assistant’s shoulder. It’s finally done. My life’s work is completed.

“This is it, my friend. This will be humanity’s salvation.”

Salvation, as I’ve named her, is a genetically engineered quadrupedal reptile with wings and the ability to travel trans-dimensionally. A dragon.

“How?” Metal scrapes as Fate tilts his head at me. I’ll have to oil that joint.

“Once she grows big enough, she can take us all to a different dimension, where we can rebuild.”

Salvation blinks her big golden eyes at me and purrs.

I smile as I pick her up. Her scales are still soft under my fingers, but they’ll grow hard in just a few months. Maybe weeks, in this environment. Soon she’ll feel just like all my other creations. But she’ll be the only one that lives and breathes. She’s my crowning achievement in so many ways.

I set her on my shoulder and her claws dig into the acrylic of my shirt. Fate follows me as I head through the hangar, combat boots clanging against the metal floor.

“Good morning, Destiny. How’s the packing coming, Truth? Radar update, Faith?” Yeah, I give all of my inventions abstract names. It’s something of a signature, though around here it’s not really necessary.

“Still blank, Master.”

I still haven’t programmed her to call me Simon? “Thank you, Faith.”

“Simon!” A small droid jumps in front of me, the most life-like I’ve been able to build.

I grin and pick her up, twirling her around once before settling her on my hip. “Good morning, Gracie! How was your evening?”

“Destiny taught me to play cards.”

“Oh really? That sounds fun. Did you do any charging?”

“No.”

“You’re going to fall asleep if you don’t charge.”

“I know. But Destiny didn’t tell me to charge.”

That’s not good. That means her programming faulted. It could be nothing, but it could be…

I set Grace back down and take her hand. “How about you come watch the sunrise with me and then go charge. Sound good?”

Grace nods and we head for the hangar gate. I press the code into the keypad when we arrive and the heavy doors slide open, their grating accompanied by the beeping alarm, allowing in the first bit of sunlight for the day. The sun is barely peeking over the grey horizon, dim through the perpetual haze of dust and ash. I look up at Salvation. She’s sitting still as a statue on my shoulder, watching intently as the sun creeps further into the sky. As it rises above the horizon, Salvation’s eyes seem to glow in its light.

I smile. She looks the part of humanity’s savior.

I only glory in the moment half a minute before I remember Destiny’s programming fault and tap Grace’s hand with my thumb.

“All right, to the charging port with you. I’ll see you when you’re done.”

Grace lets go of my hand and runs back into the hangar, into her bedroom. When I follow I close the gate behind me and set Salvation on the floor. “Fate, oversee Salvation.”

Fate nods and again there’s a scraping of metal on metal. I step into the kitchen, where Destiny is whipping eggs for breakfast. I come behind her and set my hand under the bowl before clicking the switch on the back of her neck. I catch the bowl as it falls and set it on the counter. Taking a screwdriver from my toolbelt, I pray to the gods that have abandoned this planet that it’s just a glitch. A broken wire, a disconnected circuit…

When I open up her control panel for inspection, however, there’s nothing visibly wrong. I curse.

As I close her access port, I think through the problem. She should have sent Grace to bed at ten p.m. Neither she nor Grace would have noticed the blackout, just rebooted and moved on. Fate was with me while I worked on Salvation all night, but I was paying more attention to Salvation than I was to the bot. He could have blacked out while I wasn’t paying attention. Truth was probably still packing. That leaves Faith and the radar.

I put away my screwdriver and click Destiny back on. She immediately gets back to work on the eggs, and I head for the radar room. Both Faith and the radar would have gone down, so I should just have to check the logs.

“Master, there’s something approaching.”

Well that’s not what I was expecting. I look at the radar. Sure enough, there’s a blip moving toward the center. A large blip, moving fast. I curse again. Forget the logs. This is happening now.

My first thought is for Grace, but my concern quickly shifts toward Salvation. In the case of things going south, Salvation needs to remain safe. She’s all this world has.

“Faith, man the security controls. Make sure no one enters without my permission.”

“Yes, Master.”

I open the gun cabinet behind the radar desk and grab my automatic. It’s fully loaded. Good. I slam the cabinet closed and slam the padlock shut before heading back into the hangar hallway.

“Fate!” There he is, following Salvation as she toddles down the walk.

Fate’s head screeches around. “Yes?”

“Take Salvation to the bunker. Don’t come out until I say so.”

Fate grips Salvation around the middle and the dragon squeals. I imagine his metal fingers aren’t a comfortable carrier, but there’s not another option right now. Grace is the only other bot I want to save. She’s charging. Is she safe there?

Something screams over the hangar, something big enough to shake it to its foundation. It’s here. Whatever it is, it’s here. There’s no time to worry about Grace.

I cock my gun and take up position with it pointed at the hangar gate.

A moment later I hear the scream coming from the back and then a massive crash as the entire back of the hanger is crunched. I jump and roll away from the thing’s path, through Grace’s doorway. I risk a glance back at her, resting in a charging port I designed like a crib. She’s peaceful and quiet. At least she won’t know if she’s destroyed.

Whatever it is stops at the hangar door and I scurry out of the immediate bedroom doorway, so I’m hopefully out of the thing’s sight. I can hear it crunching through the rooms on the other side of the hall, and breath nearer to me, so it must be turning this way. My heart pounds. I’d close my eyes and whisper a prayer if I weren’t afraid to miss seeing the thing. I can only hope that Fate and Salvation are locked securely in the bunker.

A sudden thought makes my heart sink into my stomach. What if the thing caused another blackout? Fate could have failed to get Salvation all the way to the bunker. He could be fallen in the hallway, leaving Salvation to wander out in the danger zone. No, no, no, no, no…

Another thought and I feel like my heart is going to stop. Why hasn’t the thing attacked yet?

Everything is quiet. I can’t hear the thing breathing. There’s no metal crunching. There’s no whirring of engines. I’m about to peer into the hallway and see where the thing went when it erupts through the doorway and I scream. A scaly body fills the room and it smashes itself into Grace’s crib. My heart is pounding as I raise my gun and start shooting the thing, but the bullets only ricochet off and I stop a moment later, afraid I’ll end up shooting myself.

The thing turns a golden eye on me, the iris easily the size of my entire body. Recognition spills through me and the blood drains from my face. My vision goes spotty. It’s a dragon. A real dragon, not an engineered dragon. I collapse and the last thing I feel is my head slamming against metal.

*****

Buzzing fills my ears as I open my eyes. The dragon is gone. The room is demolished. Grace is smashed. Salvation… SALVATION! I get up and run halfway down the hangar before dizziness catches up to me and I have to lean on the wall and close my eyes. I wait for the throbbing to subside before continuing toward the bunker. I pass Fate, collapsed in the engine room, and my hopes sink. I keep going and find the bunker hatch wide open, completely untouched.

She’s got to be around here somewhere.

I search every room in the hangar, calling her name. Searching for her teal scales. Listening for her screeching or purring. I think I hear her, a couple of times, but my hopes are promptly dashed when I rush into an empty room. No Salvation. She’s gone. The dragon took her.

I collapse next to Grace’s crib, leaning against the mangled piece of metal and allowing myself to sob. My droids are dead. Grace is beyond repair. Salvation is gone. This wasteland hangar is all I have, and I am alone.

When the despair has left me numb, I take a deep, ragged breath and look at the demolition across the hall. I grit my teeth, eyes still wet, and clench my fists. The dragon will pay, and I will get Salvation back.

I snatch up my gun on the way out of the hangar, step into the blinding sunlight, and stride east. I will not abandon humanity’s salvation.

 

Polished Draft – Jan. 23, 2021

I’ve done it. My life’s work is completed.

Stepping back from the worktable, I clap a hand on my assistant’s hard metallic shoulder. “This is it, my friend. This will be humanity’s salvation.”

Salvation, as I’ve named her, is a genetically-engineered quadrupedal reptile with wings and the ability to travel trans-dimensionally. A dragon.

“How?” Metal scrapes as Fate tilts his head at me. I’ll have to oil that joint.

“Once she grows big enough, she’ll give us access to another dimension where we can rebuild.”

Salvation blinks her big golden eyes at me and purrs.

I glance at the open book beside Salvation on the desk, then back at her. She matches the image almost exactly, but she has a couple of unique traits I’ve given her so she can fulfill her purpose. Assuming the genetic engineering part worked.

I smile as I pick her up. Her scales are soft under my fingers, but they’ll grow hard in a few months. Maybe weeks, as they react to the harsh sands and winds that grate against the hangar. Soon she’ll feel just like my other creations; but she’ll be the only one that lives and breathes. She’s my crowning achievement.

I set her on my shoulder and her claws dig into the rayon of my shirt. My combat boots clang against the metal floor as I walk through the hangar. Its walls are unfortunately blank, for the most part, though a childish mural just outside the workshop makes me smile. The buzzing fluorescent lights flicker overhead and I glance up to make sure it’s just their usual fluctuation. As I turn onto the main hallway, I call for updates from my other inventions.

“Good morning, Destiny! How’s the packing coming, Truth? Radar update, Faith?”

“Still blank, Master.”

I still haven’t programmed her to call me Simon? “Thank you, Faith.”

“Simon!” A small bot jumps in front of me, synthetic brown curls bouncing as she beams up at me.

I grin and pick her up, twirling her around once before settling her on my hip. “Good morning, Gracie! How was your evening?”

Grace’s shining blue eyes are as flat when she grins as when her expression fades, the one detail that stands out as artificial. “Destiny taught me to play cards.”

“Oh really? That sounds fun. Did you do any charging?”

“No.”

“You’re going to fall asleep if you don’t.”

“I know. But Destiny didn’t tell me to.” Grace tilts her head.

That’s not good. That means something interrupted Destiny’s programming. It could be nothing, but…

Grace gently pokes Salvation’s nose and the dragon recoils with a blink. “What is it?” Grace asks.

“This is Salvation. She’s a dragon.” I set Grace back down and take her soft hand. “How about you come watch the sunrise with me and then go charge. Sound good?”

Grace nods and we head for the hangar gate. I press the code into the keypad when we arrive and the heavy doors slide open, their grating accompanied by the beeping alarm, allowing in the first bit of sunlight for the day. The sun is barely peeking over the grey horizon, dim through the perpetual haze of dust and ash. The soft whisper of wind over bare sand is the only sound. I look up at Salvation. She sits still as a statue on my shoulder, watching intently as the sun creeps further into the sky. As it rises above the horizon, Salvation’s eyes seem to glow in its light.

I smile. She looks the part of humanity’s savior.

I glory in the moment half a minute before I remember Destiny’s programming fault and tap Grace’s hand with my thumb.

“All right, to the charging port with you. I’ll see you when you’re done.”

Grace lets go of my hand and runs back inside the hangar and into her bedroom. When I follow I close the gate behind me and set Salvation on the floor. “Fate, oversee Salvation.”

Fate nods and again there’s a scraping of metal on metal.

I breathe in the scent of cooking bacon as I step into the kitchen, where Destiny is mechanically whipping eggs for breakfast. I come behind her and set my hand under the bowl before clicking the switch on the back of her neck, then catch the bowl as it falls and set it on the counter. Taking a screwdriver from my toolbelt, I pray to the gods that have abandoned this planet that it’s just a glitch. A broken wire, a fritzing circuit…

When I open up her control panel for inspection, however, there’s nothing visibly wrong. The error report screen shows “Unknown Cause” beside a handful of missed commands around ten p.m. I curse.

As I close her access port, I think through the problem. She should have sent Grace to bed at ten, but must have been blacked out. Another of those blasted interruptions between the power lines and the remote generator; something keeps flying between. Neither Destiny nor Grace would have noticed, just rebooted and moved on. Were the others affected? Fate was with me while I worked on Salvation all night, but I was paying more attention to Salvation than to the bot; he could have blacked out while I was distracted. And if it was while I was working on her physical tests, I wouldn’t have noticed the computer go down and reboot, either. Truth was probably still packing. That leaves Faith and the radar.

I put away my screwdriver and click Destiny back on. She returns to the eggs, and I head for the radar room. If the blackout was widespread, the radar would have gone down, too, so I should just have to check the logs.

“Master, there’s something approaching.”

Well that’s not what I was expecting. I look at the beeping radar. Sure enough, there’s a blip approaching from the east. A large blip, moving fast. I curse again. Forget the logs. This is happening now.

My first thought is for Grace, but my concern quickly shifts toward Salvation. In the case of things going south, Salvation needs to remain safe. She’s all this world has.

“Faith, man the security controls. Make sure no one enters without my permission.”

“Yes, Master.”

I open the gun cabinet behind the radar desk and grab my automatic. It’s fully loaded. Good. I slam the cabinet closed and the padlock shut before heading back into the hangar hallway.

“Fate!” There he is, following Salvation as she toddles down the walk.

Fate’s head screeches around. “Yes?”

“Take Salvation to the bunker. Don’t come out until I say so.”

Fate grips Salvation around the middle and the dragon squeals. I imagine his metal fingers aren’t a comfortable carrier, but there isn’t another option right now. Grace is the only other bot I want to save. She’s charging. Is she safe there?

Something screams overhead—something big enough to shake the hangar to its foundation. It’s here. Whatever’s been interrupting the lines, it’s here. There’s no time to worry about Grace.

I cock my gun and take position with it pointed at the hangar gate.

I wheel around when I hear the hawk-like scream coming from the back and the massive creak and crash of metal as the entire back of the hanger is demolished. There goes my workshop. My heart pounds as the weight of that sinks in. If Salvation doesn’t make it, I’ll have no alternative.

I jump and roll away from the thing’s path, through Grace’s doorway, as it continues through the hangar. My shoulder hits the ground a little too hard, but I’ll be content if I face only a bruise when all this is over. I risk a glance back at Grace, who rests in a charging port I designed after a crib. She’s peaceful and quiet. At least she won’t know if she’s destroyed.

Whatever it is stops before it reaches the hangar door and I scurry to the side, hopefully out of the thing’s sight. I can tell from the sounds of crunching and breathing that it must be turning toward this room. It’s an effort to keep my breaths steady, especially as the scent of rotting meat starts to fill the air. I’d close my eyes and whisper a prayer if I weren’t afraid to miss seeing the thing. I can only hope that Fate and Salvation are locked securely in the bunker.

A sudden thought makes my heart sink into my stomach. The thing almost has to have interrupted the currents again and caused another blackout. Fate could have failed to get Salvation to the bunker. He could be fallen in the hallway, leaving Salvation to wander out in the danger zone. No, no, no, no, no…

Another thought and I feel like my lungs have stopped working. Why hasn’t the thing attacked yet?

Everything has gone quiet. I can’t hear the thing breathing. There’s no metal crunching. No whirring of engines. I’m about to peer into the hallway and see where the thing went when it erupts through the doorway and I yell. A scaly body fills the room and smashes itself into Grace’s crib. My pulse is pounding as I raise my gun and start shooting, but the bullets ricochet off the creature’s scales and I quickly stop, afraid I’ll end up shooting myself.

The thing turns a golden eye on me, the iris easily the size of my entire body. Recognition spills through me and the blood drains from my face. My vision goes spotty. It’s a dragon. A real dragon. I collapse, and the last thing I feel is my head slamming against metal.

*****

Buzzing fills my ears as I open my eyes. The dragon is gone. The room is demolished. Grace has become collateral damage. Salvation… SALVATION! I get up and run halfway down the hangar before dizziness catches up to me and I have to lean against the wall and close my eyes. I wait for the throbbing to subside before continuing toward the bunker. I pass Fate, collapsed in the engine room, and my hopes sink. Moving on, I find the bunker hatch wide open, completely untouched.

She’s got to be around here somewhere.

I search every intact room in the hangar, calling her name. Searching for her teal scales. Listening for her screeching or purring. I think I hear her, a couple of times, but my hopes are promptly dashed when I rush into an empty room. No Salvation. She’s gone. The dragon took her. The dragon that’s supposed to be extinct.

I collapse next to Grace’s crib, leaning against the mangled piece of metal and allowing myself to sob. My bots are dead. Grace is beyond repair. Salvation is gone. This wasteland hangar is all I have, and I am alone.

When the despair has left me numb, I take a deep, ragged breath and look at the demolition across the hall. Eyes wet, I grit my teeth and clench my fists. The dragon will pay, and I will get Salvation back.

I snatch up my gun. There’s little chance that the rest of my guns and ammunition haven’t been destroyed, but I check anyway and manage to salvage some parts. The kitchen is largely untouched, though it smells like burning bacon, and I step over Destiny’s still shell to reach the cupboards. I stuff as much food as will fit into a bag and extinguish the stove, though it barely matters now. I stop by my quarters only long enough to snatch up a handkerchief, which I tie over the lower half of my face, and sunglasses. It’s not enough—none of it is enough—but I storm out anyway.

Sand filters down on me from the mangled tears in the roof as my boots echo against metal and I pound the code into the keypad. I straighten my shoulders, step into the blinding sunlight, and stride east. After all these years, I will not abandon humanity’s salvation.

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