From Ashes

          My fake sisters call me Cinderella. I’ve never before heard a name as appropriate as it is cruel. It has a sense of heat to it, like it’s burning into my soul, marking me even while it changes me. At least I’m sure it would feel that way if I had a soul to burn.

          My birth name is Ella, and I was one of the thousands of children born each year with the disorder Careo Animus. In essence, I was born without a soul. It’s a rare birth defect, but not so rare as to be unheard of. You probably know at least one person who was born with the disorder, although they are unlikely to admit it. There is a bit of a stigma around having been born soulless, but we have the same rights as anyone else. Well… Most of us do.

          I’m a bit different. I’m a Construct. When my parents learned about my genetic deficiency, they did not follow the law and adopt a soul from the waiting pool of corporal applicants. They took me home, and forged a brand new soul for me. A few microchips, a couple gears, a pinch of magic and voila! Instant soul.

          Only one problem. I’m not supposed to exist. Their plan, while brilliant in execution, lacked a thorough consideration of the consequences. They viewed the act of creation as a miracle. The world viewed it as murder. My body could no longer house a real soul, leaving in its place a pale and artificial imitation. Like so many other foolhardy parents, their crime was discovered, their souls were impounded, and their bodies given over to the next applicants. Unfortunately, the gift of corporal form came with some unwanted baggage; me.

          To mark my shame, and the damaged state of my soul, my entire wardrobe has been singed. I can’t even go to the market without everyone staring, whispering, judging. I would know. I am the one who goes to market every week. I am the one who does the laundry, cooks the meals, washes the dishes, and scrubs the floors. Along with anything else my new family demands. A Singed Construct has no rights. We are lucky to exist.

          I am going to change all that though. Today I’m making a gambit for my freedom, and, win or lose, I’m all in.

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          I study the stranger in the mirror with a critical eye. She is wearing a charcoal colored cloak that is dark enough to disguise its burned edges. The garment looks ragged, but it appears to be due to wear instead of intentional disfigurement. Curly black hair covers the left side of her face. The only sparks of color on her are her pink lips, and her dark blue eyes.

          I nod in satisfaction and turn away from the mirror. It will do. In the darkness I will fade into the shadows, and, if seen, will be remembered as a homeless girl in shoddy clothes. I walk to the small chest in the corner of my small attic room, and climb on top of it. Grunting, I jump and catch one of the exposed beams, pulling myself smoothly up. Balancing on the beam I cross to a support post and untie a black bag. Then, it’s out the window, and into the frigid October night.

          As I drop from the lowest branch of the walnut tree I glance over my shoulder. The light is on in the room that used to be my mother’s. No shadows though. I don’t think I was heard, and I know no one will check on me before breakfast. If my death wouldn’t mildly inconvenience her, my fake mother would probably have pushed me out of the window herself. I turn my back on her and approach the sidewalk.

          I begin walking toward the city lights, keeping to the edge of the pavement, as far from the magnecourse as possible. The laptop has a cobalt chassis that should provide adequate shielding for the internal components, but near such a powerful source of electro magnetism I tend to err on the side of caution. I’ve always been slightly nervous about my own internal components, but the nanobots in my blood have done a good job of keeping my circuitry undamaged. I would have been found brain-dead and soulless on the road years ago, otherwise.

          I pick up the pace, jogging now. I have to be back before morning. When I reach the field at the end of the block, I wade into the bushes. Rolling a large rock over, I reach into the dirt, and pull on the tarp buried in the soil. I peel it back carefully, and haul the hidden magnebike out of its shallow grave. I replace the tarp and take precious minutes moving the displaced earth back into a semblance of normalcy. Staggering under the weight of the magnebike, I slowly walk it to the road. I don’t want to leave a visible trail in the grass.

          At last I am able to climb onto the bike and throw it into hover. Twisting my wrists on the handles I reverse polarityand lean forward, shooting into the night. I laugh, exhilarated and terrified. Piloting a magnebike is dangerous and illegal unless you have a license with two conditional permits; one for manual navigation, and one for the magnebike itself. I dont have a license at all. I’m not even legally allowed to obtain one. And to think they call me soulless.

          As the wind whips my hood from my face and my hair streams behind me like Old World exhaust, I am tempted to just keep going. To sail through the night with the wind in my hair, free and unbound. My clockwork heart is full of longing. But I can’t. I’d be leaving behind something too precious, something I’d never find again in all of my wandering. They say my heart is empty but for smoke and gears, yet I can’t leave. Not yet.

          I set my eyes once more on the city lights. They are closer, now, and I can see the glass towers of Stratopolis with its latticework of polarized rails that form the circulatory system of the city’s elite. I reach the upramp, but I pass it by. Below the sparkling towers of Stratopolis lies the Undercity, and that’s where I’m headed. As I approach the city limits the light fades to a milky gray.

          The end of the magnecourse is ahead. I ease my foot onto the brake, causing the polarized engine to slowly retract into its cobalt casing. I hit the ground and there is a small jerk when the wheels start rolling. I look down at the glowing display, checking the power level. It’s at 87% which isn’t bad considering it was left idle in the dirt for the last week. Still, once the power runs out I’ll have to rely on polaric travel only, until I can find a way to recharge it. It will last the night though.

          I hum through dark alleys, and unlit streets. The Undercity doesn’t have access to the magnecourse, and isn’t able to generate enough solar power to light the streets at night. They have to purchase a good portion of the electricity from the city grid, but the prices are exorbitant. Power is an expensive commodity here, and many criminals find ways to siphon power from the city above. Some are so desperate that they even risk burning fossil fuels. I shake my head. Criminals who burn fossil fuels can be subjected to imprisonment or corporal eviction. Even to a rebel like me it seems foolish.

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