Act of Penance
(c) 2013 Michael Haynes
You created me. An act which I suspect that even you now know was your greatest sin.
Even as I stand here, naked, hunched in through habit against a winter’s chill I no longer feel, I smell the megahounds and hear the distant footfalls of the mercenaries who follow those beasts’ lead. They’ve hunted me down, back almost to the place of my birth, your home. They think they will capture me, their perfect soldier, their perfect weapon. Capture me and return me to the work for which I have been crafted, the skulking and the stealing and the killing. The killing, the killing… They will be too late.
I stand only yards from the chasm through which flows the Mosarn River, the one in whose waters you first taught me to swim. I loved those lessons, though even then seeds of doubt must have lingered in my mind. I wondered why I could swim beneath the water so much longer than you ever could. If I had been around other children, I’d have seen even more clearly my difference, but you kept me alone. I had thought it my home as well as yours but the mansion, whose lights I see burning on the far side of this void, was really my prison.
It looks like a prison now, with its new fences and the lights and the guards patrolling the grounds. Someone had considered I might try walking up to your door someday for a reunion and made sure my way would be quite difficult.
I wonder if the others, those men who paid for my creation, have protected their investment by protecting you thus from me. Or did you realize what I was capable of and fear for yourself?
There are other questions I would ask you but I know there will be no chance for that. My body — your design — is wonderfully adaptable, more than you had imagined, or so it seems. But I cannot change the physical laws of the universe, cannot force time to stand still for everyone but you and me. If I could, then I would get my answers. Would they cause me to reconsider my decisions? We shall never know.
I draw deep lungfuls of the frigid air. The smells of this land bring back memories. They were pleasant when they were formed and I feel a dissonance between that recollected feeling and the reality of those memories in light of later events. Just as I remember learning to swim in the Mosarn, I remember all of the other things you taught me as a boy. To run and jump and climb. To move silently and disarm a man. To pick locks, to set traps, to improvise killing tools. You made these all seem like games and I loved the challenge, loved seeing what new things I could accomplish each day.
But I grew and became more a man than a child and when the others came their challenges were not games. I learned I was not just your special child, truly one of a kind but not truly human. For a brief while I’d hoped you would protect me from those other men; that perhaps they were one of your games, one much more complex than any before. But you grew ever more distant and when they told you I wasn’t good enough in some way, you took me and forced me to learn, even when I tried to refuse. You forced me to change.
When they took me away, I did not shed a tear. I already hated you then. The years since, the sins I have done in their service, only served to make fuel my enmity.
The sounds of the hounds and men are still faint, but I will wait no longer, risk no failure. One more deep breath and I race for the precipice. My legs power me toward the open air with a speed to shame the great sprinters and when I push off from the ground almost as if I could reach the ground on the other side solely through their strength and the strength of my will.
But gravity takes hold, as it always must. The soaring gives way to falling and even though I know what’s coming my stomach clenches and my pulse races.
As it must.
For with those reactions comes your glorious creation’s latest feat of adaptability. Pain rips through me as the wing-like structures burst through my skin. I steady myself in the night air and then inch slowly higher. My wings are just enough to support my own weight, and the pain of their unfurling is matched by the pain of using them to fly. Still, as I turn toward your lights, I can’t help but let out a great cry of bloody joy.
The echo fades and I fly closer to your encircled home. The guards’ postures are wary, but even they do not think to look to the sky. The pursuers I left behind are still a mile away. No one has seen. Will they suspect? I suppose some will. But no matter. I will have all the world to hide in after tonight.
But first, Father, I am coming for you. Prepare to receive your penance.
Michael Haynes lives in Central Ohio where he helps keep IT systems running for a large corporation during the day and puts his characters through the wringer by night. An ardent short story reader and writer, Michael has had over 20 stories accepted for publication during 2012 by venues such as Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Orson Scott Card’s Intergalactic Medicine Show, and Daily Science Fiction. His website is http://michaelhaynes.info.