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Flash Fiction February Day 12: The Service

The artificer flipped through some pieces of paper on his clipboard, muttering to himself as he read them.


"Mmhmm. Mmhmm. OK, Relic, is it? Routine maintenance?"


The aetherforged looked up at him, answering in a metallic, monotone voice. His body was old and rusted, and he smelled strongly of grease and oil. He seemed impatient. "Yes."


"Excellent. Just this way then, follow me. My name is Artificer Farren, I'll be conducting your service today. Sorry for the wait."


The pair exited the waiting area and headed into the nearby workshop, the artificer making small talk as they went. Relic's joints squeaked and scraped as he walked, and a quiet hiss emanated from somewhere deeper in his metal torso.


"Your record's fairly sparse. When was the last time you were in?"


"One hundred eight years, two months, nine days," Relic replied.


Farren's eyes widened. "You should be getting serviced more often than that. Your systems could break down. Every two years, maximum." The artificer pushed open the heavy wooden door, revealing a small workshop lined with workbenches and toolracks. It was suffused with a dim light from some of the miscellany on shelves, and he flicked a switch, illuminating the room properly. "How often were you in before that?"


"Never."


"Never?! Are you First Wave?"


"Yes," the aetherforged said, "I served in the Battle of Meriden."


"There aren't many of you left. It'd be a shame to lose you."


The soldier grunted. Farren reached up and collected an assortment of tools from the workshop shelves, and set them down on a workbench.


"Now, I suggest you make yourself comfortable," the artificer said, offering a stool, "we may be here a while."


"I have other appointments."


The artificer stared the soldier in the eye. "They can wait." He lifted the metal man's arm and began inspecting it. "Look at this, you're rusting away to nothing! All these bolts are as good as useless, your panelling is worn — there's a lot of work to be done. Where have you got to be?"


"Elsewhere. I just need oiled. I will be fine."


"Elsewhere? You need a lot more than an oil, my friend, that sounds like a spark plug gone haywire in there, your joints will need a deep clean, those bolts will need replaced, and that's just for starters. Who knows what's going on inside."


"No. I do not have time for that."


"Why did you come in if you were this tight for time?" Farren said, busying himself with the bolts in the soldier's left arm.


Relic said nothing for a few moments. "My granddaughter has a performance today. I…thought she would like it for me to look better for it, but I made an error with my planning. I cannot miss it."


Farren sighed and raised his head from his work, and Relic turned away, not making eye contact.


"How much time do we have?"


"It begins in one hour."


The artificer stared him down. "Do you promise you'll come back tomorrow?"


Relic nodded. The pistons in his neck creaked and whined as he did so.


"OK then, let's see what we can do."