The clockwork god thundered along the well worn dirt track. It made the ground shake as it raced by. Dust and dirt flew in its wake. It’s long, segmented body was supported not by legs, but by wheels. Hundreds of black, elastic wheels made from a strange substance that was both hard and spongy.
I called this particular god centipede. Some might think it blasphemous, but I’ve yet to hear the god complain.
I turned to my companions:
“He will cut a sharp corner at the base of that mountain soon. And then go along a section of track that always washes out in the rain. That’s where he always loses some of his rocks.”
Sierra Firestorm, a black haired teenager dressed in clothes too good for a trek out into the wilderness, groaned.
“Why are we out here with this scrap collector? We’re alchemists! We should-”
“Enough!” spat Sonoma Farseer. The tall Khet woman in her late twenties to early thirties was growing tired of her apprentice’s incessant whining.
“He knows this area, and this god, better than anyone else.”
Her voice trailed off as she thought out loud, mostly to herself. “This rock must be important. Why else would the gods want it?”
“Perhaps they want pigments for their pant?” suggested Sierra.
“So you were paying attention to be the other day… You’re right, but the clockwork gods use orange, white and red for the most part, Sierra. With the occasional black markings, green and blue. It can’t be colours that they're after. And even if they were after the colours, why would they need so much?”
“Of course I listened to you! I always do!”
While the alchemist and her apprentice bickered, the god did as it had always done. And lost some rocks where it always did. The large, silvery coloured rocks shattered into thousands of fragments as they hit the ground. Dust hung around for a few moments. We waited before approaching. The gods were immune to many of the fumes that they made – and it paid to be cautious.
We got there just in time to hear the distinctive humming of the smaller flying clockwork gods flying towards us. Their red lights flashed in the darkness. And moonlight reflected off of their silver bodies. Sonoma and Sierra watched in awe as some of the rotary winged gods flew back and forth in a grid pattern, while others flew off far into the distance.
I muttered bitterly under my breath. “I’d give anything for him to carry scrap metal again...”
“Perhaps if you prayed more they would provide for you” offered Sierra.
“I may as well pray to the tools in my mothers workshop.”
I had to raise my voice and talked over the top of Sierra. The kid was really starting to rub my fur the wrong way! She may have meant well, but I was getting tired of the preaching.
“These so-called ‘gods’ are tools. Tools controlled by a loving, caring deity that has healed our world for who knows how long, but tools none the less!”
Sonoma flicked her long slender ears. It caught my attention.
“Any idea where that clockwork god goes?”
“Of course! Centipede loops around the mountain off in the distance… no, the smaller one. Then it goes to a god city. A strange place! Perfect streets, lots of buildings, but most have no walls. And there are no fields, no fences… Anyway, we can get there by taking a short cut through the woods over here.”
I knew this area like the back of my hand. I could have made the trek in a few days had I been by myself. But the alchemists insisted on bringing a small lab with them! And more rations than were needed. It really slowed us down. Not as much as me spraining my ankle jumping over a log though.
And it was the kind of log that anyone should have been able to jump over too…
I tried to hobble along on my own at first. But I had to swallow my pride in the end. Sonoma and Sierra took turns half carrying me. Sonoma’s wrapped her tail around mine several times. She even groomed between my ears with her tongue from time to time. She was flirting, but it was chivalrous. Tender. Caring.
I’ll admit… I liked it… I even managed to purr despite the pain I was in.
If anyone else had tried the exact same thing, however… Sorry… I’m getting side tracked…
Once we were finally out of the woodlands we made our way into the god town, where the clockwork gods hailed from.
Large sheds out of thin metal plates, pressed to a wavy form, filled the valley behind us. In each, one of the larger clockwork gods stood, sometimes lifting one of its round feet or one of its metal track-feet in the air, sometimes hanging from strong chains from the ceiling of a sturdy hall. And all over them, smaller gods crawled, replacing various bits and pieces.
Smooth, black and grey paths criss-crossed the ground between all the buildings in a grid pattern.
Behind us, a clockwork god roared. The earth started to vibrate as it moved. Sierra tried to dart away, but I grabbed her by the collar. So much for strong, brave women! It barked at us, in a hoarse honking tone and flared its eyes. The caravan-long god moved out of the shed where minutes before it had hung limp from the ceiling. Now it rolled on 18 khet-tall wheels down the valley and over the hill crest to do whatever gods did.
After that unexpected confrontation we continued along until we came across a house of some kind. It was as large as minor nobles house, but long and narrow, unlike the square, symmetrical houses our kind favour.
Sonoma knocked. My hand was on my revolver, just in case… But no one answered. Sonoma opened the door slowly. A few minutes passed. Nothing. So, we went inside.
Lights came on as soon as we entered the room. Small, obnoxiously bright lights that were embedded into the ceiling. It took our night adjusted eyes a while to adjust. The scents were old. The air a little stale. Strangely, everything was clean. There was little dust on anything. That gave us confidence enough to look around.
There were several houses within this house! Each with their own bed, living area, and wash chambers. The layout was strange, but who cares? We had beds to sleep in now! And we could store most of our stuff here!
I threw off my backpack and walked around for a bit. That’s when I found the kitchen. It was unlike anything I’d ever seen! Chests were built into the walls and built under the tables. The range was made from thin metal and glass. There was nowhere to put the wood or coal. No water heating container at the back. A gigantic oven built directly over the top of hot plates that couldn’t be moved or lifted.
But that wasn’t going to stop me from using it! A hearty, home cooked meal is just what we need! Hell, anything other than rations!
I hummed happily as I looked over my ingredients. Humph! More limited than I thought! Nothing but rations and whatever edibles we had managed to find on our way here. But there is nothing wrong with vegetable and grain stews. And we could use the last of our flavoured cheese with some biscuits… and have some candied flower petals for desert!
I still couldn’t work out how the range was supposed to work. But that wasn’t going to stop me! I’d just use the oven as the firebox and cook on the hotplates.
I had barely got the fire started when everything started to go wrong. Rather than heating up the hot plates, the firebox started making acrid smoke. It burned my sinuses and left a foul taste in the back of my throat. I didn’t know what I did wrong. Nothing like this had ever happened to me before!
I closed the firebox’s door. The glass cracked from the heat. Smoke had filled the room. A small disk on the ceiling started screeching, and then it started raining! Inside the building! As water poured over everything I rushed to save the the ingredients as Sierra and Sonoma came running in.
“What the hell did you do!?”
“I light the range to make a meal!!”
“Why is it raining!?”
“HOW THE HELL SHOULD I KNOW!?”
Then the rain stopped and some gods came in. They were strange, even for the clockwork gods!
Squat, rectangular metal bodies ran along on legs made of small metal wheels wrapped in segmented metal belts. Three different sized, ball like heads jutted our from the top of their bodies, each looking around at different things.
One of the gods opened the range and sprayed the fire with a bubbly foam. The other gods carried us outside. Then went back to rescue our possessions.
I was almost in tears. I had just wanted to make a nice meal for us… how could that have offended the gods? The shouting didn’t help… Sonoma held me like I was a small child as the gods ushered us into another nearby building.
The inside of this building was large, and very clean. It smelled faintly of bleach and some kind of acid. There was a slab like table, and a large selection of tools on the wall behind a insect like god that hung from the ceiling. Lots of blades, and a few medical devices that I recognised. Those things made me think of a surgeon’s theatre, but after the incident in the ‘kitchen’, I wasn’t so sure.
The mantis god came to life. It moved quickly, but quietly. A long slender arm reached out and patted me on the head. It gestured to me to follow it. I hesitated, then meekly did as it wished. Once I was by the table, it picked me up by the scruff of my neck like a kitten. A bright light was shone into my eye, my teeth were examined, and something was put into my ear briefly. A cold metal disk was put against my chest for several moments. Then it bit me! It bit me and sucked out some of my blood! I wasn’t hurt, but I wanted no more of this. I tied to get off the table, but was grabbed and put back.
It started to cut my clothes off. I tried to escape again. To protect my modesty if nothing else. After all, I’m not a man of ill repute! And this is no brothel! It held me firmly in its grasp as one of its arm like tails stung me. I felt warm and fuzzy for a moment, then suddenly drowsy. I struggled to stay awake as it spun silk over my now naked body. The last thing I saw was Sierra and Sonoma running over.
I guess chivalry isn’t dead...
I woke up in an animal pen. The god had spun a thin layer of form fitting silk over my body. I slowly stood up. That’s when I realised that I had been chained up like a pet! I had a collar around my neck, and it was connected to a chain tethered to the wall.
I heard a groan. It was Sierra.
“Nnnngh… Whaaa… hap… happened?”
I tried to give an answer. I don’t think anything intelligible came out. I was groggier than I am when hung over.
“A crazy god is what bloody happened” muttered Sonoma.
Sonoma was more lucid than Sierra or myself. The women had the same kind of clothing I had now. The older woman unleashed herself, then Sierra and myself. She steadied me as I stood there. Just as well. I would probably have fallen otherwise.
She groped my back… or rather, something that was on my back. I heard her slice something with her teeth, followed by the tearing of fabric. Sonoma sighed in relief.
“It’s just a backpack! Thank heavens. I thought it had laid eggs in us.”
Sierra sat up. “If I didn’t know better...” she said, “I would swear that god thought we were pets!”
“Like I said, the god is crazy. But at least we’re all safe.”
“Hey! Your standing on your sore leg!” said Sierra
It took me a moment to realise that she was right.
Sierra jabbed Sonoma in the ribs with her elbow. “Guess you will need to come up with an excuse to get close to him, hmmm, mistress?”
After several minutes I was back to my usual self.
Sonoma soon opened the pen door. It was held shut by nothing but a latch that could be reached from both sides of the pen. Clearly the pen was made for animals, not sapient, sentient beings like the Khet!
As we walked out a small clockwork god hovered over to us. It looked at us, then flew over and examined the pen. Then it came back to us, scratched it’s head as far as I could tell, and then flew off.
“Let’s find out what the gods do with the rocks… then leave...” said an increasingly unamused Sonoma.
We walked by some sheds, and managed to get cross to the path of centipede. It was reassuring to see a familiar god again! His back was filled with enough stones to build a small fortress. He slowed and stopped as we got close to him. Sonoma climbed up onto the side of his head, trying to find somewhere to hitch a ride. She slipped and fell, and managed to grab hold of a small protrusion on the gods head.
The side of his skull opened. Inside was empty. No brain or organs. There were a couple of unusual seats with no holes for tails. And a few gadgets and slabs of glass that produced lights and images on their surface.
I couldn’t understand why anyone would want to sit inside a god’s head, but the seats were there… and Sonoma had gone inside… her apprentice had followed her… so who was I to argue?
"कार्गो कॅरिअर पंधराची सेवा आहे" said the clockwork god.
Sierra flicked her ears. "Do you understand what it is saying?"
Sonoma raised an eyebrow. "How in seventeenth hell should I know!?"
I was just as perplexed. "This is the first time I hear one of them speak actually. Usually they only make buzzing or honking noises."
"एक आसन घ्या आणि आपण कोणत्या इव्हेंटला भेट देऊ इच्छिता ते सांगा." The voice sounded monotone and lacked any inflection, anything that would indicate the emotional state of the speaker.
"असमर्थित भाषा आढळली. नकाशा इंटरफेस उपयोजन करत आहे." The clockwork god said, then colourful lines appeared on the glass panes that connected the front of the god with the roof, and which would keep the wind away from anyone sitting in the front seats.
"There is a blue ring thing.. there’s white lines.. there’s yellow blocks. It could be a map... There the woods... here’s the buildings... But what do all those green lines mean?!"
“What’s this over here?” Sierra touched the screen with her finger tip. “Its a red triangle.”
Sonoma hadn’t even got half way through her reply when the god cut her off.
"गंतव्य निवडक स्मेल्टर व रिसाइक्लिंग सुविधा 521 9 क" said the god before it sped off with us inside his head.
Centipede took us to two large buildings. One had been damaged by storms. Parts of the roof were still missing, but many small gods were crawling all over the building to repair the damage.
We emerged from centipede and looked around. One of the buildings was a factory of some sort. A large god sat inside. It took up most of the building. It reminded me of an ant queen. Several servant gods were feeding it wire at one of its… mouths? And it was being fed small glass spheres at another mouth. It was surreal, watching the gods food go down what I assumed was its digestive track, and emerge out the other end. They food hadn’t been broken down, but combined.
A number of gods sampled the ant gods shit, which bizarrely, produced a blinding light when another god placed it into one of the many white, tube like ant hills that lined a table it was next to!
Sonoma got closer, and took one of the shits.
“Is that what I think it is?” I asked. “Because if it-”
“I’ve seen these… things before. The gods use them to keep warm and dry off. They’re mini suns… and look! Inside the glass!”
I looked and saw two thin silvery coloured wires. And one larger wire coil.
“Wait… wire? How does wire make light?”
Sonoma smiled. “Sorry handsome. Trade secrets.”
“What do the silvery rocks have to do with this, mistress? Gods make metal from scrap!”
“Or from the bones of long dead gods from the mythic era… or from what they mine in the devil cities...”
I shuddered. The devils made our people in ages gone by. I had seen one of their cities years ago. Some of the things I saw there still haunt me…
“But something changed… they want rocks now…”
“I wonder if it has something to do with the explosion in the nights sky several weeks back?” I mused to myself.
“Probably. Let’s get going. We won’t find anything out standing around talking.”
We followed our noses to the nearby smelter. It was inside a large building located some distance from the ant god. I had seen smelters before, but nothing like this! It was both familiar, and strange.
Vast cauldrons the size of houses carried and poured molten metal into ingots of various shapes and sizes. Some were carried off by smaller gods. Some were made into wire. Some into sheets of metal. The two alchemists began discussing what was going on. It was the kind of conversation that only another alchemists would have been able to follow. They used many trade words that I was not familiar with. I guessed by their excited voiced that they had figured out what they needed to.
The ore was being pulverised by a series of mechanical hammers. It was deafening! I was glad to be a southern Khet! My long ears hung down around my head. It helped a little, but it was still deafening. I pities the two northern women with their erect ears.
The rock was added to a cauldron. That was heated. And then metal was poured out!
“Metal… comes from rocks!?”
“Why would anyone bother with rocks when they can use scrap?” I asked.
“Some places don’t have scrap metal near by…” said Sonoma. “And transporting scrap is expensive.”
“Mistress? Aren’t rocks like this usually found in poor, tribal areas? And in the less important cities and states?” added Sierra.
“Yes. This could not just rewrite alchemy, but our entire economies!”
I sighed. It may have been exciting to them, but it was unbearably hot. And they would get the glory, and me, the humble scrap collector, would be forgotten.
I began moving towards the large entrance that we can come in through. I hoped that I could get the two women to follow me. And I didn’t pay attention to what was happening around me. So it really was my own fault when some small drops of molten metal splashed into my back…
I screamed in pain. Sonoma and Sierra ran over. Sonoma tore open her water bladder while quickly examining my body. She poured the water over my back as we quickly exited the smelter. Sierra cut off the backpack the mantis god had made for me, and cut open the back of my skin tight clothes. I was in such shock from my, admittedly minor, injuries that I didn’t object to Sonoma scolding me. Or even to her leaving a red hand print on my backside. I even felt I deserved it…
Sonoma kept a close eye on me after that. I followed her like a young kitten that wanted to be in their parents good books again.
We had started making our way back to our camp when a group of fast moving, wheeled clockwork gods began to herd us like farm animals! I followed Sonoma and Sierra as they tried to run back into the building, but we were quickly cut off and chased back outside. Panic set in. We ran from the gods behind us. Then we ran off to one side to avoid the gods that were moving up along our flank. Right into the large empty back of a god the size of a trade caravans trailer. Which is, for a clockwork god that ran on wheels, it was a dwarf.
It took us back to towards our camp, then took us to the edge of the wood. We were dropped off in a paddock that hadn’t been there when we first arrived.
Rounded up and fenced in… like a herd of ganadu1...
Sonoma’s ear flicked. Her snout wrinkled into a snarl. “This is a bunch of BULLSHIT!”
“They’re insane!” muttered Sierra. “Or not gods...”
“...you alright, boy?”
“Yeah..” I meekly replied.
Sonoma smiled. Her expression softened. “Chin up, handsome!”
She scuffed up my hair. “You’ll be alright, Mr Independent!”
That really lightened my mood and my confidence soon returned. I guess its easy for me to go back into meek male mode when around women. Don’t get me wrong! I like my independence and freedom. But I am no woman hating political agitator. And… well... these are two very beautiful women…
“If I had known what we were going to find out here, I would have asked for more pay...”
Sonoma wrapped her tail around mine and licked my ears. “Oh don’t worry about that handsome… There will be a surprise for you when we get back.”
There was something in her voice that made me blush. It was… more than flirting… It made me weak at the knees, and made my heart flutter.
There was little in the paddock. Some food and water troughs. But I didn’t fancy eating animal food. Our stomachs were rumbling, and what few supplies we had were back in the houses we had found. There was no suitable food in the paddock we were in. We would have to break out. Again.
I feared that it would be a lot harder to break out this time. But fate had either smiled on us again, or the gods were as stupid as they were crazy. The gate to the paddock was locked – but the key was in easy reach!
A wind had picked up. Dust was blowing around and getting into everything! It was in our eyes, our noses, our clothes… that said, I knew it could work to our advantage. Although sunrise nearly half the day away, most of the gods were asleep.
I studied the lay of the land. Then an idea came to me.
“We can sneak back into the building” I said. “We can use the wind to keep the gods from smelling us. And we can hide behind the vegetation and the sleeping gods… Just take it slowly, and watch where you step. Come on!”
Sonoma didn’t seem convinced. Nor did she argue. We slowly made our way along the fence, making sure we stayed in the vegetation. Then we moved down the side of one particularly long god towards a small cluster of rocks. They weren’t partially large. We had to crawl on our hands and knees to stay hidden.
My plan had worked, but not as well as I had hoped. A few dozen paces separated us from the building, and the supplies and beds inside.
Sierra had a sour look on her face. I paid her no heed.
I decided that if nothing was ventured, nothing would be gained, and gestured for the women to follow me.
We walked silently to the building, crouching the whole time. My heart was pounding in my chest. But nothing bad happened. We made it without incident.
After what we had been through I was desperate for a proper meal. But as the range was cursed we settled for cold rations and water. Still, it was more than welcome in our hungry bellies. After so long without food, I wasn’t going to complain.
The women stayed up longer than I did. I was physically and mentally exhausted. I curled up in bed and wrapped my tail around by face.
Sleep never felt so good!
Sierra woke me up the next day. I wasn’t happy about getting up this early. But I didn’t complain. The sooner we left the better. I had had enough of the clockwork gods for one lifetime. Don’t get me wrong – I appreciate them! They are healing our planet to this day! They healed the rivers and streams, and are now removing the poisons and the rocks that cause sickness in the young and the old and frail. They care about us… unlike the devils that made our people… But I was weary from interacting with them. I just… want to go home...
And the sooner we were back in Sonoma and Sierra’s village, the sooner I would have the second half of my pay. And I’ll be damned if I’m not getting the rest of my pay after all this!
I prepared a cooked breakfast. Outside. On an open fire. Away from that accursed range. We finally got to have the hardy meal that the gods decided I wasn’t allowed to cook inside!
Sierra collected wood for me. Mostly from the furniture that had been damaged during our stay. I’m sure the gods won’t mind! Sonoma fetched water from inside and put it into a metal trough she found for our morning bath.
After breakfast I was feeling a little daring. I also caught a glimpse of Sonoma trying to spy on me as I bathed. She pretended that she was doing other things, but I knew better. I put on a provocative show for her. If she was watching, she would be flustered by the time I was finished.
I could just imagine her blushing like a teen with a crush!
“A gentleman shouldn’t be so risqué… not that I mind!”
I turned around. It was Sonoma!
“Hey! I’m not done yet!”
“So? And no issue that I’m in the bath naked with you?”
Well… now it was my turn to blush.
She wrapped her arms around me. My fleshy sword was starting to stand up. I blushed as she kissed me.
“When we get back… how about a date, handsome?
“I… I… I...” I couldn’t get the words out!
“I’m not hearing a ‘no’...”
I would never had said no to her!
I smiled and kissed her back. I groped her posterior. I all but melted in her arms as she returned the favour… and did more… so much more to me…
Pardon? Go on!? No way!! What do I look like? A man of ill repute!? What happened after that is none of your damn business!!