Upon the instruments of death, The sunlight brightly gleams
rating: +22+x


The expedition team did not expect to find a hovering fetus today. The Ophanim lay naked, unembellished. The rings, once circumvolving circuits, shivered gradually on the ground. They were seven sets of still-smoldering topaz circles embedded into the sand. At the epicenter hovered a foetal core, and orbiting it were small conduit extremities, refusing to fall to their own weight.

Though the heat blurred Maxwell's sight, he saw what he saw. So did Margarette. So did the entire Fellowship with them. Words did little to justify the sight of it as they watched the foetal core disintegrate and reform itself in tandem with the ambient chiming of Church bells.

Onlookers pondered. Did the dizzying dissonance resonate from the intersecting polyhedrons that made the Ophanim's spine? Or from everywhere around? The bells rang close to the ear yet none could spot the steeple nor the ornament that produced it.

Gasps and befuddled groans spurred anxious air.

Was this God?

Beyond the Ophanim's core lay fragments of twisted metal a good five meters away. Attempts to investigate a contiguous set of gears by a soldier were made. A shriek followed. His prodding fingers melted clean, replaced by integument layers of animate silver that climbed the raw bone. If a simple component abhorred flesh, what madness did the whole possess?

Was this God?

"What in hell's bells is all this?" Charles exclaimed, breaking the silence.

Ernest traced the rim of his hat. "Rather faint, but I reckon the chimes weren't expected, Father?" His pincer pointed at vibrating air.

"Feels like I drunk a gallon of cider," Charles added, the vibrations riding up his plastic joints. He tried, then failed, to light his tobacco stick and yelled, "SON-OF-A-GUN" as it tumbled to the ground.

Maxwell's face creased. "On the contrary, my esteemed Brother Ernest, it is a sign."

Charles grimaced at being skipped over. Ernest simply nodded.

Maxwell continued. "Genesis 11:1-9. That is why it was called Babel —because there our Lord-God twisted and separated the Schema's binary. So that someday, the common Signal, God's Signal, would be found once more. We are pioneers are we not? Leading the path, sowing the seed."

Maxwell paused, bent-down, and shoveled clumps of desert into his hands, and upon rising, he stared at each member of his congregation. He did as all Shepherds did when the sheep meandered and their attention strayed. Set the boundaries and show them the fence. He spoke with renewed fervor, shaking the "gift of land" in his hands as sand leaked through the gaps between his fingers.

"Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, today — what I hold in my hands — is a gift of God. In lucid dreams, the Angel Amoni told me of the grand Schema and that it's central processing node starts here. At the very spot God made landfall, at this very spot, we will forge the Temple to Zion. Not Babel. ZION. Like Noah who christened the first cogwork hull to the first Ark. Like the exodus of the Israelites to the Promised Framework! When the Tribes of Mekhane unite, they will hear God's Signal, and it is we who will usher paradise from the garden of Gethsemane!"

Maxwell stood stoically, planting the butt of his rifle into the ground. When it audibly clapped the ground, he expected the casual applause. However, coughs and murmurs hung in the air as if stifling the heat from his oration's ignition.

Several seconds passed and the Scribes adjacent to Maxwell began kneeling and praying. They were the ones who prostrated themselves underneath majestic wonderments shaped from iron. Back when Bumaro cast consecrated oil over them, molding them into a liturgy.

Others stood, gazing at Maxwell in skepticism. They were recent converts. Trinitarian hold-outs. Those who still fixated on the son's crucifixion, the father's forgiveness, and the spirit's contract. They were the ones who joined along the way — benefiting from the safety, food, firearms, and surgery only the Fellowship provided — now silent and dissident at the end of the journey.

Margarette blinked profusely. She gawked at the small conduit extremities that hung in the air. They were hovering, dipping and diving like a merry waltz.

Margarette leaned forward, reaching out her fingers unevenly. Some part of her wished to melt. She bent down, gasped for air, fluttered faux eyelids, peering at something.

The vision was only meant for her.

Her chest pistoned, her arms creaked.

Reality's fabric slipped underneath her gasp, and in its place, she felt herself melting into liquid ore, which further bled into molten rivers that led into a smelting furnace.

She shuddered, in isolated elation, awe, and fear.

O daughter of Babylon, doomed to be destroyed, blessed shall she be who forges you with what you have done to us! The whispers rolled down vacant bronze cylinders that allowed her to hear.

She yearned to experience the loving heat of the hypnotic stars caught in their dazzling dance. Faces illuminated themselves in the spin.

"Made in heaven," she whispered. "I see Gerald and my son, remade in heaven."

She muffled her mouth, fell backward, and held herself. Once empty sockets twitched as tear-ducts flooded by the crest of her eyelids. Maxwell went to her, oblivious as the rest of his flock. What they saw was a heat-stroke or a twinge of mental exhaustion due to the fragility of her gender as she spasmed on the ground. The Signal was lost to them.

She waved him off, going "I'm fine" with her attempts at a reassuring smile.

Silicate steeds escorted the autocannon wagons to the left and right flanks of the team. Each faced away from the commotion and purveyed the view beyond the "Rhyolite Mercantile" sign. Since arrival, the buildings seemed damp, soft like skin. The pungent aroma of death and decay lingered everywhere, but bodies? Nooses hung from the vacant gallows. Inside the saloon, scantily clad corsets rested on the floor. Bowler hats sat on bar tables next to tall pint glasses, half-full of lukewarm whiskey. Clearly, the reaper had visited but hid the coffins and the graves.

By the day's end, the Shepherd allowed those on the expedition team to scour the ghost town entirely. They were even welcome to stay inside the odd households after Ernest checked them for stability and potential dangers (which he assured all that there were none.)

Diggers, gun-toting militiamen, the pious from Utah and the pious from Baltimore all seemed to quickly volunteer to explore the Saloon (and liberate its unguarded alcohol cabinets), much to the chagrin of the Shepherd. He could not arbitrate his negative views on over-indulgence, nor could he sacrament their wine — his flock needed time away from the Ophanim.

Away from that ringing heart on the outskirts of town.

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