The Immune – Prelude

Whoever had put this machine together was either borderline suicidal or completely insane, Corban thought. But either way, they were certainly a demented genius. He had grown up as a fighter, standing against the Turned every night, sometimes coming close enough to embrace them- mainly to keep them from embracing someone else. They were an eternal enemy, things to be resisted, fought, destroyed, perhaps even exterminated someday.

But not here. In this place, they had been harnessed.

It was such a simple concept at its core. Attach the walking dead to a machine that keeps it in comfortable darkness, then aim a beam of light through a hole in the ceiling to hit the floor just behind the creature. Its aversion to heat and light would drive it the other direction, and it would walk in an endless loop. A band of steel around their waists held them fast to the spokes of a great wheel, which would turn a giant steel shaft in the center of the room. The interlocking brass gears would turn, adding power to a steel and wood flywheel whose kinetic energy would power other machines throughout the village.

And when the sun went down? Use the other primal driver that will move the Turned- put a piece of meat in front of it, just out of reach.

They needed no rest. They needed no breaks. They would march all day, all night, with no food or water, for decades before the disease that slowly consumed them would finally wear them down. And there were always more of the Turned to take their place.

This was the third such machine in the village. With such an abundant supply of energy, more and more demands had been placed upon the clockwork engines. This one was dedicated to the grain mills. A fourth would be built within the next few years.

Corban looked down into the “pit”, where the Turned were. On a sunny day, as it was this afternoon, getting this close wouldn’t cause any problems. The sunlight was a greater driver than their hunger, apparently. But at night, a living body being this close would draw their attention away from the meat placed before each of them, and the wheel would stop until he left. The side walls of the pit were formed by wooden planks, and they were smooth enough and high enough that they knew they wouldn’t have to worry about the Turned climbing out. Almost everything else that was down in that pit was of heavy iron or steel- they needed to be able to fire flame weapons down there in case something went wrong. It never had, but it would eventually.

This machine was set up to hold 12 of the Turned, each one connected to evenly spaced spokes that would drive the central shaft. This one was different from the other two- instead of using chains, this one connected its spokes to the harnesses by jointed steel bars. Currently, there were only five places filled. Corban was in full armor, as were two other fighters, just to make sure everything went smoothly as they filled the sixth place.

Corban knew her only in passing. Her name was Natalya, and she was old enough to have raised three children- the youngest of which was now in her training to become a fighter. Her husband had died years ago. And two nights ago, she had nearly been taken by the Turned herself. It had been near enough that she was both scratched and bitten.

There was no question that she had been infected. The skin around the bite on her left shoulder had become a sickly grey within a few hours. Her eyes had begun to darken the very next day. She had passed the time within the confines of the wooden cage, near the Eastern gate, and had taken the time to say goodbye to those she was close to. And now, she was taking a place in the machine, willingly putting the harness on herself before her mind was lost. Her last act would be one of great honor and sacrifice- to dedicate herself to powering the village until she quite literally rotted apart.

Her children were here today, too. They would mourn her, just as they would have if their mother had chosen burning instead of this. But they would go on with their lives. They’d seen death come for friends and family before- everyone had- and were thankful for their last days with their mother. They knew the value of being able to say goodbye that many were denied when loved ones were taken.

One of the village councilors stepped up next to Corbin, looking downward into the pit. “Is everything ready?”

“Almost,” Corbin said, nodding towards the armored defenders who now circled the pit. Each carried a long steel chain with a large loop in one end, and as they moved into position around the five walking dead already imprisoned below, one of the Von Allen family- the youngest one, Hannah- pulled down on one of the many overlarge wood levers that controlled the machine. A moment later, the hatches that let in sunlight slid closed, and the Turned stopped their endless march. Almost as fast, they twisted outward, straining against their harnesses, moving toward the defenders nearest them and lifting their arms up. Some clawed at the wooden planks, vainly trying to climb out, others merely tried to walk through them, repeatedly bouncing their heads and chests on the wall. One, whose hand had been missing since long before being placed inside the machine, battered the stump of his forearm against the wood, adding to the stains that marred its surface.

The fighters lowered their loops, easily ensnaring their marks, then pulling the chains tight and looping a link over one of the large iron hooks set into the wood ballusters. Each called out his readiness, and after the last had made his shout, Corbin faced the councilor, then the small group behind them.

The three children still had tears in their eyes. Natalya’s vision was beginning to fail, and it made Corbin sad that no one could embrace her- they couldn’t take the chance. The youngest child had thought of this, though, and had brought the finished pieces of her own armor- the torso, arms, and helmet would be enough for today. She placed her hand on her mother’s shoulder, guiding her into an embrace and whispering something. Natalya clung to her daughter tightly, whispered back, and then backed away.

She climbed over the wooden railing, then down the ladder that had been set into place a moment earlier. At the bottom, she moved into her place, shackling herself to the machine and closing the straps with the bolt. Once she’d Turned, she wouldn’t be able to operate the closure, and would move only to avoid the sun and try to reach the meat in front of her. She sat herself up on the wooden arm of the machine, making herself as comfortable as possible – she would only have to endure it for a few hours. Then she would move away from the beam of sunlight that would shine on that arm, and help to pull the machine.

Corban watched her intently, and when she looked up and nodded her readiness, he returned the nod. Hannah Von Allen returned the lever to its earlier position, and sunlight streamed down into the pit again. Natalya shielded her eyes from the light, and the Turned tried to move away from the light, struggling against their chains until the defenders freed them. The poles were pulled back up, and the machine began to rotate again as the Turned got back to work. Natalya didn’t look back up from her perch on the rotating machine. Her children watched for a few rotations, then moved toward the door, and out into the sunlight.

He’d seen this happen before, but it always struck Corban to watch it happen. It was the most honorable way for a person to accept their own death. And when his time came, he hoped he would be given the same chance.

2 Responses to “The Immune – Prelude”

  1. I’m sooo excited that you have started on the 3rd installment!!

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