Thursday, June 15, 2017

Short Fiction: The Clockwork Ballerina

The Clockwork Ballerina
by Void Munashii

    I was not always as I am now. I was once a mere attraction at “Aristotle Hercules’ Clockwork Circus”, although “mere” is selling myself short. The circus was a marvel, not that I understood that then. Back then I did my program every night, and then returned to my winding station to have my spring rewound. That was my world, my entire world. I knew of nothing outside the theater, and would not have been capable of wanting more even if I had known.

    I was the final act. After to acrobats, and the lions, the jugglers, the trapeze, and the clowns; a the end of all of the other acts the lights would dim, and I would slide onto the stage in a giant snowglobe. It would open, and I would leap twirl as the steam orchestra played. The audiences would cheer at the beauty of my engineering.

    And then they stopped cheering.

    One day no one came. The lights were not lit, the seats were not filled, but that didn’t stop us from performing. The theater had been closed, and we had been abandoned. The Clockwork Circus was completely automated though; we only needed humans for maintenance, so at the appointed time we took the stage and did our routine before an empty theater.

    I did this six-hundred and eighty-four times.

    By the end, I was the last one left, and even I, as well built as I was, has numerous faults that I had reported but there was no one to fix them. My programming compensated.

   The steam orchestra was the first to go, then the clowns, the lions, the juggler… one by one all of the other acts either stopped coming to the stage or became too damaged doing their routine to continue. The edges of the stage and the front rows were littered with broken metal.

    By the end, it was just the trapeze and me. Then, during one final backend gazelle, the cables on the catcher’s bar broke, and both of the acrobats crashed into the third row of the audience.

    I did another one-hundred and fourteen performances by myself. It was luck that the mechanisms to wind my springs and deliver me to the stage never broke down, even when the ceiling of the theater collapsed in a rainstorm and the first five rows flooded. I danced in silence, compensating for my own worn parts. I was not unhappy with this; I did not have the ability to be.

    One night there was someone in the audience. I could not see them out there in the darkness, and their presence meant nothing to me. I danced for them in my tattered and dirty costume by the light of the moon that shone through the hole in the roof They applauded my performance, not that I cared.

    The person, it turned out to be a man, came backstage after my performance. Normally only maintenance personnel and the owner ever came backstage, but it had been a long time since any of them had come around.

    This man took me before my spring was completely wound. He loaded me into his steam carriage, and before we arrived at our destination I wound down completely.

    The next memory I have is of being strapped to a table. All of my faults had been cleared, but things were different. I was heavier than before and could not detect my clockspring. This confused me.

    The fact I could feel confusion confused me further.

    “Hello, my little clockwork ballerina,” the man said to me, “You probably have a lot of questions, including why you have questions.”

    I tried to nod, but my head was restrained.

    “Let me try and answer some of these for you. You are noticing that your body is different: it is. Your old body, beautiful as it once was, was badly worn, and even if I repaired it, it would be too fragile for what lies in store for you. I have installed you into a new, sturdier body, but one that is otherwise exactly like your old one. You will see that you look the same, but no longer will a simple fall risk destroying you.”

    “You are wondering about your clockspring; you no longer have one. Now you are wondering how you are active with no spring in you. I have replaced it with one of these,” the man held up a fist sized rock. It was smooth and shiny and seemed to glow and put off no light at the same time, “This is a focus stone. A rock just like this now resides in your core where the spring used to be. Can you feel it?”

    I realized that I could feel it;  a heat in the center of my being. I tried to nod.

    “That stone is the reason you have a sense of wonder as well. It has given you a sense of self awareness you did not previously have. I have given you this gift, this wisdom, and in exchange you will work for me.”

    My very existence was forever changed then. After explaining more about his plans for me, and his expectations of me, he released be from his work table.

    He was true to his word: my body is identical to my old one, only heavier, stronger, and it is no longer limited by my old programming. I can do whatever I want, or at least whatever I am told to do.

    I do not know his name. He has given me nothing to call him, and why should he since my face remains a solid, expressionless mask. My mouth is nothing more than a crease of metal, I cannot speak and so cannot call him anything that he can hear.

    My lovely old costume, with its pink lace, is gone. I now wear a suit of black and brown with a hood to obscure my painted on smile and molded, metal hair. I like the ability to move among the humans on the streets and in the markets unnoticed. They are far too concerned with their own affairs to realize that one of them is not really one of them.

    I have learned many things from my master. He was a thief in his younger years, but as his wisdom has increased with age, his body has become less useful. I will be his hands now, and I am more agile and resilient than he was even at his peak.

    He has taught me how to traverse the city by rooftop, pick locks, defeat traps, work on his steam carriage, and fight with both fist and sword.

    I quite like sword fighting; it is very much like dancing.

    He has also taught me to cook and clean. I feel I am wasted in these activities, but I must do the things he directly tells me to do, just like I must not do that which I am specifically forbidden to do. I have only limited free will.

    My first task for him was an easy one. I was to rob a bank.vault. Everything went exactly as planned, up to a point.

    I entered through the roof of the building, bypassed the alarms, broke into the vault, and the specified deposit box just as I had been trained. I had my target in hand when a guard happened to wander by.

    He told me to freeze.

   I did.

    He told me to put my hands up.

    I did this as well.

    The look on his face when he grabbed my wrist to place it in shackles and found unyielding metal beneath the sleeve instead of soft, warm flesh was… interesting, but short lived. A quick punch to the jaw followed by a kick to the chest sent him sprawling on the ground. He did not get back up.

    The guard was still breathing when I left.

    I was not rewarded for my success. How would one even go about rewarding me? I do not need any more reward than the freedom I have at night when he is asleep and I can roam the city. I frequently return to my theater and retake the stage. I am now capable of appreciating the marvel and beauty of my own engineering.

    I think that I will be happy with this arrangement.

    For now.

Author's Note:

That's right: this is the second story for the same Clever Fiction Writing Challenge prompt. You get two for one this time around.

Just like "The Guardian of Farsee Mesa", this story took multiple attempts to create, and even then this is not the whole story. "The Clockwork Ballerina" was originally conceived as a character for another, longer story; this is essentially only the introduction to that story.

Maybe someday I will take another run at that story.

At least I have the intro to it done.

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