I awaken later that night to find Snow fully dressed and packing his rucksack. Silently, I begin to pack mine as well. Before we leave, we look down upon Papa--asleep in his bed--and I weep. He looks so old. Conflict boils up within me, and my heart swells to fill my throat. I don't want to leave Papa, but I have taken an oath to keep Snow at my side, always. I know that there's nothing that I can say to change Snow's heart on the subject. In his mind, he's already abandoned Papa--and I fear that he'll abandon me too if I don't go along with him. At least this way, I can protect him. I do not trust Diamond. He is as the Serpent in The Garden, and the thought of Snow in his clutches makes me feel sick inside...
We meet Diamond and Stardust in the clearing, along with some of the other rogue 'bots. I know now that we've made a mistake, and I shelter Snow protectively under my arm. Diamond, who is perched on a branch and watching us from above, leaps down and tosses an apple to Snow.
"Have one," he mocks, grinning, as Snow turns the apple over and over in his hands. "It will make you wise."
"Who do these apples belong to?" I ask, and Diamond smirks.
"They belong to The Universe itself... They belong to those of us who are brave enough to seek the knowledge of the ages for ourselves. We are free men."
"You are fools," I glower. "You're spiritually corrupt!"
"You're just afraid, my dear," Diamond says, as Snow takes a bite. To my horror, he offers the remainder of the apple to me.
"I want no part of the serpent's apple," I scowl, slapping his hand away, and the rest of the men laugh at me.
"To each his own," Diamond proclaims, quieting them with a wave of his hand. "Freedom is all about choice!" He beckons us closer to the fire. "Sit! You are quite welcome here." He reaches up to grasp Snow's hand, and pulls him down beside him. I take a seat beside Stardust. They pass around a bottle of cider, which I decline, and Snow sips. Stardust links his arm through mine.
"We are free men," Stardust explains. "There is no God. We love like Gypsies and abominate like demons. We take what we need--"
"That's stealing," I protest, and Diamond laughs.
"No, my love--it's life. Survival of the fittest, and so forth."
"We don't wait around for an invisible man in the sky to decide our fate. We make things happen for ourselves... Wondrous things... Glorious things! We will make all of your fondest wishes come true."
Snow lifts his head from Diamond's shoulder, his eyes wide with surprise.
"Hand to God," Diamond teases him, and then grows serious once more. "What do you want most of all, Snow? What do you desire?"
"A baby," Snow replies, and Diamond looks troubled for a moment. Then, quick as a flash, his switchblade smile is back.
"Then you shall have it!" Diamond proclaims. "I swear!"
"Leave him alone, Diamond!" I warn, but Stardust is already turning me to face him, his hands in my hair.
"Shhhhh, Scion," he whispers. "A little sex magic is good for the spirit."
I try to pull away, but his lips are already on mine, and his fingers are busy... I glance over at Snow who is already beneath Diamond, limbs entangled, and I give in to Stardust at last.
"You're shivering," Stardust whispers, as we sit together late into the night. Naked, the firelight makes the most of his golden skin, bathing it in an orange glow.
"How could you?" I whisper, and he cocks his head to one side, confused. "Why was it so easy for you to betray Diamond in that way? He is your husband, as Snow is mine."
He reaches for the jug of cider and takes a long swig of it, then hands it to me.
"Diamond is no such thing," he smiles. "He is my companion of choice--for now."
"Snow and I are married," I insist. "Papa married us, and we are married in the eyes of God."
"Love 'bots cannot marry!"
"We are part human," I protest weakly, and he jabs at me with a playful finger.
"May I guess which parts?"
"Both Snow and I are special. We have a circulatory and pulmonary system--our hearts beat human blood, our lungs breathe air...and we both have human brains."
"What does it feel like? I cannot imagine. The human brain is so chaotic! It can't always be controlled... It's no wonder that the public is so frightened of you!"
"Don't you ever think about God? The one who created us?"
"Your Papa created us, silly!" he laughs. "That would make your Papa our God."
"You speak in riddles," I scowl.
He widens his eyes and gasps at me.
"It's true--by your own logic! Your Papa was our Creator! Therefore, he is our God."
"My Papa created you under God. He was inspired by Him!"
Stardust looks rather sad as he props himself up on one elbow and glances over at me.
"But no one has ever seen God, Scion. How do you know that He cares for you, or even that He exists?"
"I cannot explain; I feel Him in my heart."
"The human heart is tricky," he replies. "Even more so than the human mind."
"Don't you find it a bit lonely without God?"
"Why--no!" he gasps, surprised. "Why would I be? I have my friends about, and Diamond."
I feel tears spring to my eyes and I lower my head, filled with sorrow for this poor creature who will never comprehend what God means to me...who will never know Christ, who died upon the cross to save me...
"Why do you weep, Scion?" Stardust asks, as he tenderly wipes my tears away with his thumb. "Aren't you happy to be free at last?"
"It's my fault that Snow and I are even in this mess," I groan, holding my head. "I can never give him his heart's desire: a baby."
"A baby?!" Stardust gasps. "All love bots are sterile--both male and female models...but you know that."
"Papa could create a baby for Snow--"
"It would be blasphemy to his God, to take it upon himself to create new life. You think that people are angry at your Papa right now? Wait until he creates an infant that matures as a human being! There would be chaos! It would be The Lightning for him!"
"You must have faith, Stardust--faith in God, and faith in the human race."
"What is this 'faith' that you speak of? What does it mean?"
"It means that you trust that everything happens for the best, and that it will all turn out all right. It's believing in what you feel, rather than what you can see."
"I don't understand," he pouts. "It doesn't make sense to me."
He rests his head on my chest and rubs my belly. It feels rapturous, but I still miss Snow...
~*~*~*~A month has passed, and I realize the mistake that Snow and I have made. Honestly, I want my Papa. I know that it sounds naive and childish, but I already miss him...but how to tell Snow? He seems deliriously happy with Diamond and the rogue band. Snow still wants a baby in the worst way, and despite Diamond's gentle ribbing, has been steadfast and unwavering.
"You promised," he pouts, and Diamond looks uncomfortable.
"I'm still thinking," he frowns. "Does it have to be a hybrid?"
"Diamond!" I cry. "You cannot be thinking--!"
"Well, why the hell not?!" he shouts. "There are plenty of unwanted children in the village! I was unwanted, after all...and Stardust..."
"You were not unwanted, Diamond! You ran away!"
"Stardust and I were merely exercising our free will--"
"You never gave us a chance!" I sob, and cover my face with my hands.
"You never tried to stay with Papa and I, to make a family! You even ran from Hunter, your human master!"
"I ran from your Father because he didn't love me!" Diamond cries.
"Of course he does; he loves all of his creations," I soothe, but he pushes me away.
"Not like he loves you and Snow! Not even close! We are nothing to him." He bows his beautiful head, and I encircle him with my arm.
"And Hunter? Why did you run from him?"
"Because he hurt Stardust...the night that he brought him home. He had no patience with him...Stardust was brand new, and not fully autoprogrammed to his desires. He exploded with rage, and...a-a-and I got between them..." He pulls up his sleeve, and bares the scar on his forearm. "He branded me for that...but I just couldn't--I couldn't--"
He dissolves into tears once more.
"Oh, Diamond!" I gasp, tears springing to my own eyes. "Oh, Diamond, I didn't know or I wouldn't have judged you so harshly!"
"Freedom has its price," he sniffs. "But it's better than being a slave to a harsh, unforgiving, invisible God."
"Oh, Diamond!--Diamond!" I wail, embracing him. "God is love, Brother!"
"The Creator does not love me," Diamond sobs. "That's why I ran--I told you!"
I draw back to take his face gently between my hands. He bows his head once more.
"Now, Snow wants a baby...and he'll leave me too, if I can't get him what he wants!"
"Do you love him?"
"Not like you do," he admits, glancing up at me. "But I'm very fond of him."
"What about Stardust?"
He doesn't answer.
I pull him close, and I try to erase his tears with my love... He clings to me desperately, with such heartfelt fervor that my heart aches in my throat. There is so much more now that I understand.
Just before dawn, I awaken Snow. He groans, and rolls over onto his back, his arm behind his head. His fair hair glows in the darkness, and his eyes are deep and dreaming.
"Snow, I'm leaving," I tell him, and he bolts upward.
"But where will you go?"
"I'm going back to Papa. We've betrayed him, Snow--we didn't even have the courage to tell him goodbye."
"Just as you're going to do with Diamond and Stardust," he frowns. "Have you no loyalty?"
"How can you say that?!" I cry. "I've stayed right here with you, haven't I? Or don't you love me anymore?!"
When he doesn't reply, I turn my back and walk away from the fire to the edge of the woods. I fold my arms and weep...and then a gentle hand touches my shoulder.
"Hey," Stardust whispers. "Where are you going?"
"I must leave this place," I sob.
Stardust stares at me for a long beat, and then the tears begin to descend from his dark eyes. I take his lovely face between my hands, and wipe away two tears.
"Take me with you," he begs. "Please, Scion! I feel so empty inside!" He pulls me to him fiercely, and I hold him, willing his tears away with my touch. After a while, he lifts his head and rests his chin upon my chest, his eyes as deep as wells.
"Do you think that your Papa could make me more like you? Could he give me a human brain?"
"If you do that, you would not remember anything that happened before... You would be a brand new person inside."
"I care not!" he cries. "I want to understand God's word, just as you do! My mechanical brain is limited!"
"As are most human brains," I remind him gently. "There are many people who do not understand the concept of faith...or so Papa says."
"Take me with you!" he repeats. "I want to feel brand new inside!"
"Of course you can come," Snow reassures him. "But it may be dangerous."
"No more dangerous than the life that I've lived," Stardust weeps. "I've had everything on earth that I've ever wanted, but now I want more..."
He grasps my hands and kneels before me, head bowed.
"Bless me, Scion," he entreats, and Snow and I drop to our knees beside him and say a prayer for our new brother, our brother in Christ. Surely, it's a miracle that Stardust has decided to seek the Holy Father as Snow and I do. No love 'bots possess the gift of faith; it just isn't programmed into their mechanical brains...so why is the desire so strong in Stardust? I know not, but I certainly will not deny anyone who seeketh the Father.
Diamond, although he doesn't share our faith, remains with Stardust, Snow and I. We love him for the brother that he is to us, and we are very fond of him.
Every day, Snow's hunger for a baby of his own grows. Though it's impossible, it still doesn't lessen the need in his tender heart. Papa made both of us emotionally sensitive, and at times, Snow's tears are almost more than I can bear. Stardust is a great comfort to him, and cradles him in his arms as he coos to him softly, Snow's head in his lap.
"We should take him to your Papa, The Creator," Stardust tells me sadly. "He is the only one who can make his wish come true."
"Our Papa isn't God," I remind him. The tears blind me.
We live as a family, the four of us, for many moons. Snow and I eat whatever Diamond can steal, for Snow and I have human parts that actually require nutrition; Diamond and Stardust eat for pleasure only... However, Snow is withering away with his desire for a baby, and now refuses to eat. I plead with him, but he just shakes his head.
One evening, late into the night, I hear a rustle at the edge of the clearing, and I go to investigate. I find Diamond flat on his back, with his human master--Hunter--standing over him. Enraged, I open my mouth and bellow at the night sky...
"Scion, it's okay," Diamond smiles. "I've asked for his help."
"Snow wants a baby, and I can provide one," Hunter says. "For a price."
Diamond's smile trembles at the corners, and he accepts the hand up that Hunter offers him.
"We've already discussed this--"
"What has he asked you to do?" I demand, and Diamond's gaze drops from mine.
"Scion, it's not important--"
"I care about you," I insist "even though you think that I don't."
"He wants me to go back to live with him... What can I say, Scion? If I don't, Snow will starve. He hasn't eaten for three days!"
"I will take you home to your Papa," Hunter interrupts. "He isn't well, and he's been asking for you. Besides, he is the only one who can truly grant Snow's wish."
"Hunter has missed me," Diamond says softly. "He came to me in the clearing and begged my forgiveness."
I hear a small noise behind me; it's Stardust. He encircles my arm with the two of his and gazes up at me with wet, luminous dark eyes. Two tears begin their slow trek down his golden cheeks. Hunter notices, and reaches over to dry them with a gentle hand.
"Why do you cry, pretty one?" he inquires, but Stardust presses his face against my shoulder.
It is then that I realize that Stardust still loves Diamond. It's been programmed into him since the beginning of his consciousness. Oh, how I regret this entire mess! But how to remedy it? I know not...
"Your Papa said that he will make the baby that Snow wishes for, if you two will just come home. He's been pining away for the two of you--"
"And what of me?" Stardust whispers, the tears resuming. "There's no place for me with your Papa, and Diamond doesn't love me anymore. I have nowhere left to go."
"You will always have a place with Papa," I reassure him. "He'll craft a new mate for you--"
"I want a human brain," he says softly. "I want to know true faith, as you do."
"But you do," I argue, but Stardust raises his hand for silence.
"Only your Papa--The Creator--can grant my wish."
I press my lips together to stifle my reply, for how can I convince Stardust that my Papa--as mechanically gifted as he is--is not divine? He is merely human... I notice that Snow--even as deep as the melancholy has settled into him--is rubbing Stardust's hands and offering reassurance. Oh, dear God... I wish that I could be so sure. I just want to make things right.
And so we took our leave and began our pilgrimage back home. We were a motley band for sure: four Love 'Bots and a lone human. It felt odd to be in the world of men again, after being on our own. We were thankful to Hunter, for he had saved us from prying eyes and refused to rent us out for pleasure. One particularly persistent man was interested in Stardust and would not take no for an answer. Hunter beckoned him into the alleyway to negotiate... After a few moments, Hunter emerged from the alley wild-eyed and covered with blood. He knelt, and cleaned his dagger on a clump of grass, offering no explanation. We didn't ask. We simply followed him with trembling hearts, our eyes on his now-bulging rucksack. Snow whimpered, and clung to me.
As we entered the village, we were greeted by human and mechanicals alike, and the word spread like wildfire that we were back...but Snow and I took little notice as we made our way to our little Love Shop where Papa had created us.
Home at last, I take the stairs two at a time to my Papa's bedchamber. How small that he looks; his body barely peaks the sheet covering him. Kneeling down, Snow beside me, I take Papa's hand and I begin to pray aloud. He stirs in his sleep, and his lids flutter open.
"Scion!" he cries. "Snow! You've come home to me!"
"Yes, Papa," I gasp, as the tears rise up to choke me. "We'll never leave you again!"
He embraces both of us, bent over him on the bed, and then beckons me close.
"Yes, Papa?" I sob, my heart filled with love.
"How did you find 'The World'? Was it everything that you expected?"
"It was a cold place without you!" I cry. "Nothing makes sense!"
"Nothing makes sense without God," he replies, pulling me close.
"We realize that now," Stardust mutters, and Papa's eyes widen and brighten.
"Stardust!" he cries, "and my beautiful Diamond! Welcome home!"
At that, Diamond breaks down completely, and Hunter rubs his back.
"You're where you belong, now," he smiles. "As long as you're happy."
"Oh, Hunter--thank you for watching over them!" Papa smiles through his tears. "Now, I can die a happy man."
"No!" I scream, as he closes his eyes, and then re-opens his to gaze into mine.
"I must die, my son, as all humans must. Hunter will care for you and the Love Shop when I'm gone."
"But I need to know so many things," Stardust interjects. "I don't understand; I have so many questions about God--"
"Stardust was saved," Snow explains. "He has perfect faith."
"Praise the Lord," Papa smiles. "So, what do you need to know, that you haven't found already?"
"Explain to me what faith is... I want to have perfect peace, as Scion and Snow do. The mechanical mind is not capable of faith!"
Papa reaches for Stardust and draws him down beside him.
"You understand the sacrifice that Christ made for our sins, don't you? How he died upon the cross so that mankind's sins could be forgiven?"
"And you accept Christ as your personal savior?"
"Of course," Stardust replies, as Papa kisses his cheek.
"Well, then you understand faith. The very fact that you have a hunger for Jesus is a miracle in itself! You're living proof that God exists, don't you see? No one can program that into you; it has to come from your heart--"
The lightning streaks the night sky and the thunder crashes as a sheet of rain falls like the blade of a guillotine against the building, and the windows tremble around us. Papa pulls all of us close to him, and his wan face grows radiant.
"I am going home tonight," he smiles "but I will miss you in heaven. Hunter, I wish for you to do as we agreed before..." His voice trails off as the sound of many angry voices echoes through the walls of our sanctuary. The only home that we've ever known...and now they want to take it from us. "The fire is coming," Papa tells Hunter, and outside the window, the torches of the villagers blaze with fury. "Hunter, take them to the mountain, and stay with them...keep them safe."
"Papa!" I cry, and he kisses my cheek.
"Scion, listen to me. You're all in great danger here. I need for you to go with Hunter--don't ARGUE, Scion!--they will hurt you...they will put you on The Lightning and kill you! Now, listen! I have done many wrongful things in my life, and now I must pay for them--"
"I have killed, so that others may live! Where do you think that you and Snow got your human organs?"
I recoil in horror, although deep down, I think that I've always known the truth.
"Before you go, I have a gift for you," Papa says, and suddenly, he looks very tired.
We both look up as Hunter enters the room, carrying a small bundle wrapped in a pink blanket. Snow raises his head as a thin cry arises from the infant in Hunter's arms.
"Oh, Papa--no!" I cry. "You didn't--"
"The baby was ill with the flu; he would've died anyway," Papa tells us. "I sent Hunter out to find me a human infant. Hunter is my harvester, you know, of human organs. He helped me create both you and Snow..."
"Oh, God!" I sob. "The villagers are right! We are an abomination!"
Stardust bursts into fresh tears, and Diamond takes him into his arms.
The window explodes inwards with a crash.
"Go!" Papa urges. "Go to the mountain with Hunter and wait for me there!"
I hesitate, and Papa pats my hand.
"There was no other way, son--God forgive me... Please don't hate me!"
"We could never do that," I sob. "Papa, we'll be good from now on, both me and Snow...just don't ask us to leave you!"
"You must leave with Hunter right now," he urges. "Quickly! Out the back! NOW! If you ever loved me, GO!"
We kiss him goodbye, many tears all around, and then we do as we're told. We slip out the back way just as first torches light the store front, ablaze with righteous indignation. We run like the hounds of hell are at our heels until we reach the edge of the mountain. As I look back, I can see the silhouette of my Papa; he's swinging from the end of a rope from the tree in the back. I say a silent prayer for him, the tears choking off my breath and blinding me.
"Scion, come on," Hunter urges. "Climb! Hurry up!"
At the summit of the mountain, we discover a great, natural table of stone. It looks very old and worn, but it's surprisingly comfortable. Hunter is oddly silent, as we all are. The rain is still crashing down around us, and the sky is bright with lightning. Snow sits beside me upon the rock in his hooded robe, cradling the child against his chest. It doesn't cry, and a pang of fear flashes through me. However, I'm far more nervous of Hunter, who takes a package wrapped in buckskin from his rucksack. It contains a bottle of wine, communion wafers and several knives. I gasp when he begins to sharpen one of the knives upon a whetstone.
"What are you doing?" I cry, as he glances up at me, and then his eyes drop down to the knife once more.
"Your Papa wanted it this way," he explains. "There is no longer a place in this world for any of us. The mob will give every one of us The Lightning if they catch us. Do you want that, Scion? Do you know what that is? They will electrocute you! The fire will go directly to your pain center, and you will feel it eating you alive, yet you're unable to faint, being 'Bots... As for me, it's dozens of needles throughout my nervous system, and the lightning will scream through my body until my heart gives out or my brain--"
"The mob will kill us if we try to return."
"So, we'll go elsewhere," I frown. Hunter shakes his head.
"I must do as your Papa asked of me. It was his dying wish."
"You're insane!" I cry, as his gaze falls upon Diamond.
Hunter beckons with two fingers and Diamond comes to him, his eyes wide and beautiful and shining with wonder.
"No!" Stardust sobs, but Diamond is deaf to anything but the call of his human master. He smiles up at Hunter with such love and complete trust that my own heart aches.
Hunter's hand trembles as he strokes Diamond's cheek and then kisses him lovingly with his full heart in it.
"Please forgive me," Hunter whispers...
Snow turns his head.
Silence, as vast and enormous as time.
...And Hunter drives the knife into his own breast, crying piteously as Diamond falls to his knees beside him and cradles him in his arms.
"Forgive you for what?!" Diamond sobs. "Oh, Hunter...why?"
"I am weak," he gasps, his entire body shuddering with pain. "I cannot do what is asked of me..." His face contracts, and he weeps. "Your Papa, Scion, he was so afraid for you... He knows that you and Snow have no place in this world... He wanted me to destroy you because the villagers are out for your blood... He knew that I'd be humane... I would've cut the cable to your pain centers and let you wind down on your own... He was afraid that they'd torture you, and that you would suffer for his sins--" He gasps, and reaches up to grasp my arm. "You have to be my hands now, Scion... I cannot do it..."
"My Papa told me that murderers go to hell," I mutter. His touch becomes more urgent.
"I believe that's where I'll wake up tomorrow," he grunts, his teeth clenched. "I've done more than my fair share of killing... Oh, Scion--you must fulfill your Papa's dying wish... For the sake of all of them! Do you want them torn to shreds by an angry mob? Let them die with dignity!"
"My Lord does not advocate killing for any reason," I tell him "because he is a god of mercy and love."
"There will be no mercy where I'm going tonight," Hunter gasps, and his body gives a final spasm before his head falls back and his last breath escapes from his lips.
Now, here I stand where he's abandoned us, atop the mountain by the cold stone altar in the wind and the rain.
Diamond wails his anguish to the skies, and we all rest our hands upon our fallen friend.
Indeed, we are all in unity; we wonder what is waiting for us on the other side of death.
I had been so sure before--that a human brain and a belief in my savior equaled a soul--but doubt courses through me like a runaway train, and panic surges within. I fear for my very mortality. After all, my heart and my mind were created to be very young, and I burn with the desire to live.
I can sense that Snow and Stardust feel much the same as I, but I cannot read Diamond. He is still lost in grief for Hunter; this is for whom he was created, betrothed to and programmed for before he rebelled and formed the band of free-thinking 'Bots in the garden.
"I am so sorry that I failed you, Hunter," Diamond murmurs. "I'm so sorry that I rebelled and ran... I just thought that I wanted to see more of the world, more freedom! How foolish that I was! How selfish and weak! And now, I can't even make it up to you... You've gone on without me, and I'll never see you again! I'm so sorry, Hunter!"
Impulsively, I reach to draw Stardust into my arms. His little body is shuddering with grief. He loves Diamond so, and has thought that he was loved in return, but he knows now that it can never be. My heart aches with sorrow for my friend. How alone he must feel! Only he has heard the call of Christ, the first of his kind to do so. What a miracle that he can feel His love at all, with his mechanical brain.
"Stardust," I murmur into his fine, black hair "Be at peace."
He clings to me, and leans into my chest.
"You have to believe, Scion," he groans. "Believe in Him with all of your heart! Be not afraid to do the Lord's work, Scion--He is with us!"
"Oh, my dear," I sob "You are a miracle in yourself, but you are confused--"
"I am not a miracle, I am nothing," he insists. "But if I had anything to give, it would be to Him! Scion, I'm ready now."
"So am I," Diamond affirms.
"So, you've all given up?!" I shout. "Preposterous!"
My gaze travels to Snow, who is still cuddling the infant.
"Snow?" I cry, and he squeezes his eyes shut and nods quickly.
"Where else can we go?"
"You'll be with me," I reassure him, with a heavy heart. "Remember my promise to Papa? Wherever thou goest, I shall follow."
"Then where are we going?"
I bend, and remove the knife from Hunter's crimson breast.
"To God," I intone.
The silence among us is tremendous, and the waltz of the lightning illuminates the sky and reflects the cold, shining blade. The rain pounds down around us.
We take our last communion, our hearts heavy with love and meaning.
"Scion!" Diamond cries. "Look!"
At the base of the mountain, the villagers have gathered at last. The rain is keeping them from attempting the trek up the mountain; it has grown dangerously slippery with the mud. Yet, they wait for us to descend, shouting up to us with heavy, righteous anger and a hatred so vicious that the hope in my heart flickers like a candle in the wind and dies. I realize now that we can never go back. Papa and Hunter were right. Oh, how hard that Papa must've worked to shield us from that hatred. Snow and I had never felt it! Now, I look to Snow, who is silently weeping, his chin on his chest.
"It's The Lightning for us," Stardust shudders, and I stop sharpening the blade on the whetstone to grasp his slim shoulder.
"No," I reassure him. "Not for us. Not ever."
Firm with resolve, I take Diamond by the hands to help him upon the altar.
"Take courage, brothers," he says with a bravado that I suspect that he doesn't feel. His dashing, switchblade smile trembles at the corners, and his eyes fill with tears as he looks down upon Hunter's body. He bends to kiss his lips, and then turns back to me.
"Just a moment," he whispers, and murmurs something under his breath that I cannot hear. "All right," he nods. "I'm ready." He pulls his thick fall of golden hair forward over his shoulders, revealing a small panel at the base of his neck. Quickly, I cut the RealSkin cover away and move to disable his pain center.
"Just leave it, Scion," he tells me. "I want to feel what Hunter felt."
The knife trembles in my hand, and all the strength leaves my body in one fell swoop.
I cannot do it.
Stardust grasps my shoulder--his obsidian eyes as deep as wells and as endless as time itself--and he takes the burden from me.
"It's okay, Scion," he tells me, as I weep with frustration. "He is here with us; don't you feel Him?"
And so saying, he takes the knife from me with gentle hands, and turns to Diamond, kissing his forehead. He moves the panel aside, and with a quick movement, cuts the main cable. A clear liquid begins a slow trickle down Diamond's chest and back.
Diamonds moans, then raises his head and looks at all of us with confusion.
"Oh!" he gasps. "I feel so odd... My body is completely numb... I'm cold; please hold me..."
His eyes have an awful, blank look, as he surveys us, his brothers, in a circle around him.
A scream tears from Stardust, and he leaps forward and drives the knife into Diamond's chest.
Diamond cries out with surprise, and ends very suddenly as the last of the life fluid drains from the cable and onto the cold ground. The rain washes all of it away, and with it goes our friend, our brother, into the great unknown. The beautiful shell left behind is strangely hollow...
I look through my tears to Stardust, who is doubled over with grief, choking on his tears.
A sob arises from Snow, and I lean against him.
"Scion," he sobs "t-the baby... I think that he just--"
I take the frozen little bundle into my arms, and, indeed, the child is dead. After all, the hybrid was newly made, and it didn't possess the strength that the older models possessed...
"He had the fever," Snow explains. "You remember that Papa said that the baby probably wouldn't have lived anyway--"
"He had no right!" I cry. "He--"
"He had every right," Snow replies softly. "He was The Creator. He could give life where there was none before."
"Our Papa was only a man," I argue. "He wasn't holy! He was intelligent, special, gifted... He could create life to an extent, but it was a pale imitation of the real God--the God that we read about in the Bible! To suggest anything else is blasphemy!"
"Papa was our Creator," Snow sighs, holding my shoulders and gazing at me with love. "He created the mechanical 'bots and the hybrid 'bots as well. He took what the human god created, and made it better."
"How can you say that?!" I shriek. "The villagers want us dead, and who can blame them? We're freaks, Snow! We're dangerous! We're thinking mechanical beings with the dubious gift of immortality!"
"The death of the infant is a mercy," Snow says. "The human brain would've grown and the body would've remained that of a child, without Papa to perform maintenance and upgrades. He would've grown to hate us--and to hate Papa. At least our brains are suitable for our body size. Oh. Scion, our Papa was evil. They're right--and we're an abomination of God merely for existing!"
He pulls away from me and seats himself on the altar.
"Snow, don't," I beg, as he pulls his long, platinum hair over his shoulders and bares the base of his neck.
"It's time now, Scion," he whispers. "I want to die. Before we ran, our life with Papa was all that I'd ever known. I was happy with you... How foolish I was to leave. Papa warned us about the outside world, and about how people wouldn't understand us. He created us out of love, Scion... He created us to love us! We were his family, the replacement for the family that he murdered years ago. We were his children, and we were safe as long as he could watch over us...but we rebelled and ran away from him, and he could no longer protect us--or himself. We are to blame for this, Scion...and we deserve The Lightning--"
"We did not ask for the human parts of ourselves!" I howl. "I wasn't given a choice, and neither were you!"
"But now we have the chance to make things right," Snow urges. "Come, Scion--take heart!"
He reaches up to dry my tears, and then grasps my chin.
"You must let me go now, dear."
He leans forward and embraces me, his chin on my shoulder. His hair still smells of violets, even in the rain, and his heart thunders against my own. The blood rivers beneath our skins sing with life--a life that I've loved and taken much comfort from. My beloved Snow; how can I do what I must? He will suffer and bleed the same as Hunter, as will I...
...And out of the corner of my eye, I see Stardust revealed in a flash of lightning. He's standing at the edge of the mountain, where the drop is sudden and severe.
"Stardust!" I cry. "Come to us! You don't have to do this alone!"
The lightning strikes the ground and takes us to our knees with the sheer power of it. Both Snow and I reach for him and pull him backwards as another bolt hurtles earthward.
Stardust is sobbing hysterically.
"Diamond went on without me," he weeps. "He didn't even say goodbye!"
"He was programmed to love Hunter, his human master," I explain. "You two were--are--completely mechanical. It's the way things are."
"Then why would I care about him this way?! Why do I love him still?"
"You and some of the other Love 'Bots were created with free will, and Papa was wrong to do so..."
The three of us sit shoulder to shoulder upon the altar, Stardust between Snow and myself, and just talk. We remember our lives, and prepare ourselves for the journey.
"I still believe," Stardust states, and the rain begins to lessen. "Despite all of this... I will go to my death with courage--"
He presses the knife into my hand, and offers me his throat.
"Don't cut my pain center," he begs "I want to feel it. Ever since we were together that first night, I've been different. When I received your seed, we did more than just make love--we connected spiritually."
"Then why is it that Snow and Diamond didn't connect?"
"I don't know...but even in the Bible, it says that when we share our flesh with someone, we become one in spirit."
'How true', I think to myself 'about Snow and I.'
And I realize at this moment the size of the debt that I owe Stardust.
Snow...gentle Snow, feels the same.
We gaze at each other over Stardust's head, and then we turn and embrace our friend. As the three of us love one another for the last time, the world disappears. It matters not that it's on a cold, wet stone altar next to the fallen bodies of our brothers. It's a final prayer from three doomed souls, and the ferocity of it mirrors the cruelty that will follow... Oh, indeed, we are doomed, and the gravity of it never escapes us. We speak of our love for one another with our very bodies...and then God sends us one final mercy--a bold, sizzling flash of lightning--and it's all over for us...
Morning comes, and I stand gazing down at the shells of our former selves. We are nearly unrecognizable: charred, broken, the blood drying around us as smoke rises from our corpses and winds into the sky. We had burned in the lightning--not the villager's lightning, but God's.
I look down to my own hand, and spread my fingers. My form is the same, and my mind is filled with questions.
I feel a gentle hand on my shoulder, and I turn to face Hunter. His wings are black as night, and very beautiful.
"Be at peace, Scion," he smiles, pulling me close as I sway on my feet. "You are here because I wanted you to always remember what happened to you and your brothers. Your Papa will want you to write it down."
"How can this be?!" I cry. "I don't have a soul!"
"All of your Papa's creations have a soul," he replies. "He is The Creator, after all...and we are all his Sons, mechanical and human...but he's always loved you best. You were the first to have a human brain--"
"A fault," I interrupt. "If only I'd listened to Papa's warnings against the outside world--"
"You did what you did because it was prophecy, as we all did... You led many to God without even knowing it. You've brought many souls back to your Papa: Stardust, Diamond, Snow and I--"
"But how could Papa put us through all of this?!" I wail. "Why did he let the villagers kill him?"
"He had to assume human form so that he could be killed, and therefore, pay for our sins with his own blood."
"I don't want anything to do with him!" I cry. "This is sick! All of this, to prove that we love Him? He should've known! He made us!"
"Scion, you have it backwards," Hunter tells me, enfolding me in his wings. "It was because He loved you that he allowed himself to be sacrificed! Your brothers are waiting for you, Scion--please come home."
"It's sick," I repeat, shuddering. "I've never loved anyone else as much as I've loved Papa--"
"That's good to hear," Papa says from behind me, and I turn to face him. He is beautiful, with golden wings and a snow-white robe. There is a radiance all around him, and my eyes blur with tears anew.
"You've always been a good son, Scion. I could not have asked for better."
All at once, my throat closes up, and I'm swept away with a sense of love so strong that I sink to my knees and groan. My heart burns with the conflict within. I love Him, and I hate Him.
"Papa," I sob, as he kneels beside me and encircles me with his arm. "Papa, how could you?!"
"I had to make you see, my son," he replies gently, rubbing my back. "Now, arise."
I feel them before I see them; angel wings of the purest white.
"Papa--I'm all alone now! What is the point of eternity?"
"You aren't hunted anymore, and you will finally have peace."
I hang my head and weep anew, the emotion bursting from me in little sobs.
"Look," Papa urged me. "You wanted to know the point of all of this?" His green eyes--so much like my own--are filled with perfect peace. "Go on, son. Open your eyes."
...And Stardust is standing before me. He is radiant, and dressed in shining green, his favorite color. I look to him in wonder, and he nods, the smile growing on his boyish face.
"You see, my son," He continues "there is room here for all who believe in me..."
I turn, as I feel Diamond's hand on my shoulder, and laughter escapes my lips.
"I slipped in under the wire," he laughs. "Deathbed confession."
"And the infant?"
"I have returned his spirit to the earth, to be born again," Papa replied. "He will grow into a great man, and lead many to my kingdom before he is killed."
"Snow, how do you feel about this?"
Snow, draped in a violet cloak, bows his head and presses his palms together.
"It's my penance. This entire mess was my fault."
"It was the prophecy, my gentle one," Papa told him. "It happened just as planned. We all sin. I've paid for it as well..."
I embrace Snow, and he falls into my arms, weeping.
"Someday, you will take my place in heaven, Scion. This will all be yours."
"I don't want anything to do with it, Papa!" I shout, and so saying, I turn my back on my family for the last time, and my heart breaks in two. I make to leave, but Snow's gentle hand on my shoulder holds me fast.
"I'm going with you," he whispers. "Where you go, I follow."
"Forgive your Papa, Scion," Diamond frowns. "He loves you dearly, and he's sacrificed a lot."
"He's sacrificed everything," Hunter affirms.
"Don't leave us," Stardust sobs. "Not again!"
"But I'm no longer a believer!" I shout at him. "Christ was the meaning of life for me! I've been living a lie!"
"Your Papa preaches the truth," Stardust sighs. "And now you know the truth, too."
"Please stay," Diamond pleads. "We need you, Scion. We love you! You're a part of our family!"
One look into Papa's gentle face tells me what I must do.
Papa rests a hand on Snow's head, and on mine.
"You are my son. I lost you years ago in a fit of rage against your mother. You died protecting her. I was unable to save your mother, but I was able to save you, by making you mech/organic. I made Snow for you, also mech/organic. Both of you are the most blessed fruit of my labors--"
Papa's words cut off quickly as I reach for Hunter's blade and cleave him in two.
In the blood-like rain of the sunset, my family--that is Diamond, Stardust, Hunter and my beloved, gentle Snow--went back to the altar on the mountain once more and swore our eternal allegiance to each other. Free at last, we gazed upon the smoking shells of our former selves, and left them where they lay. The rising smoke was cleansing and spiritual and we drew renewed strength from it as we put our feet upon the final path of the sun before fading into the Light with a flash of brilliance.