We flying monkeys get no respect.
Tassel flew into my room, face scrunched in worry. “The Artificer’s going to kill us all.” He pulled at his fez, but the damn things only came off when the Artificer so commanded.
I nervously groomed my beard. “What’s going on?”
Tassel pointed at the window. “Lucky and Hap are being taken into the lab!”
I hopped up to the window ledge. The huge coal-fired engines chugged away in the yard below, turning gears and lathes and whatnot. Two dozen flying monkeys struggled to clean a giant gear that had been pulled from one of the machines.
Past the chugging engines stood the Artificer’s lab. A clanking automaton carried a cage toward the lab’s portal.
The work party stopped their efforts and stared wide-eyed as the metal man strode past. Two flying monkeys were inside the cage. One beat the bars and screamed. The other huddled in a corner, weeping. The door slid shut behind the automata, silencing monkey screams.
“He promised no more experiments,” I said.
Tassel shivered and folded his wings. “Jack and Lance got sent in this morning. Now Lucky and Hap.” He swallowed. “We have to leave. Now.”
Tassel pulled at my brocaded jacket sleeve. “If you tell me to fly away, I will. You are First Monkey!”
“It won’t work. I can’t even say the word.” Away. My fez prevented me.
A patrol of flying monkeys flew past, in tight formation, bound to the Compound like the rest of us.
I shuddered. The Artificer had charged our fezzes again yesterday, hundreds of filaments stretching from his steaming steel gauntlets, each filament attached to a fez, sending hot wires into the back of our skulls.
I grabbed Tassel by the shoulders. “Besides, were would we go? That murdering witch at Chasm Castle would do anything to get us back, and the Wizard at Splendid City hates us.”
“But he’s going to kill us.”
I flew out the window without answering, soaring over the yard and the glass-roofed lab. I spotted a metal table behind the lab and my heart froze. Jack and Lance lay on the table, their dead eyes staring into nowhere. The tops of their skulls were gone, and their brains were missing.
I vomited my breakfast over their corpses.
Tassel hovered above the yard, and spun in a tight circle as I joined him.
“What did you see behind the lab?” He asked.
The cool air calmed my retching stomach. “Lance and Jack are dead.”
He covered his face with his hands. “What do we do?”
I clenched my jaw. “We have to kill him.” Somehow.
“But we can’t hurt him. The fezzes won’t let us,” Tassel moaned.
As long as we wore them our fezzes protected the Artificer, prevented us from disobeying or harming him. Only his order would remove them. They bound us to this place. Somehow the Artificer had remade the fezzes which the Witch at Chasm Castle had originally fashioned to control us through her magic. Instead the Artificer bound us with his strange science.
The patrol was making another pass. Crimson led the formation. Crimson followed orders, including mine as First Monkey, as long as those orders didn’t contradict the Artificer’s control.
The Artificer called me his clever monkey, which was why I was First.
“Come on,” I said to Tassel.
I waved Crimson to a hover.
“Sir!” Crimson saluted me smartly. The patrol hovered behind him. One thing about having wings along with arms, you could salute.
I swallowed. This would only work once. “An imposter has infiltrated the master’s lab!”
Crimson’s arms face set in a grim expression. “Sir!”
I leaned in closer, beating my wings harder and whispered instructions to Crimson.
“Got that?” I asked him.
He nodded. “Sir!”
I landed outside the lab’s door.
“What are you doing?” Tassel shouted from above.
I banged on the steel door with a rock. The door opened and a clanking automata loomed over me.
“What’s this?” The Artificer asked from inside the lab. “Ah, First Monkey. Come in!”
I entered the lab. Wires and cables twined across the floor in all directions like an army of snakes. I gagged at the stench of hot wire, oily smoke and blood.
Hap and Lucky were strapped onto tables, their fezzes off, the top of their skulls gone. A spidery machine sewed something silver into their brains as the Artificer watched. Drool dribbled from their slack mouths.
The Artificer snapped his fingers and pointed at me.
“Of course! Your brain will make this work, leading the others’ brains in helping me create an ultimate weapon to use against the Witch.”
We would die to help him against Her.
“Come here,” he ordered. My fez made me obey. The Artificer lifted me and placed me on an empty table.
“Fez off,” he commanded. With a loud snick the wire withdrew from my head. He reached for the table straps.
Crimson and his patrol circled above the skylight. I somersaulted off the table and pointed at the Artificer. Crimson saluted and flew off with the patrol.
“Show some dignity, First,” the Artificer said, reaching for his big net gun. “You’ll honor yourself with your brain.” He aimed the net gun at me, but I scrambled under the table.
“Come here.” He bent down and I scurried to the far side.
Crimson, his patrol and the work party, reappeared above the skylight carrying the giant gear the workers had been cleaning.
I waved and they let go. The skylight shattered, the huge gear hurled to the lab floor right where the Artificer stood, crashing down like a thunder clap. The gear rolled a dozen feet, wobbled, and then toppled to the ground with a boom.
Crimson and the others swooped down toward me, their fezs falling away like leaves.
I picked up my fez and hurled it at the broken, bloody remains on the floor.
“We decide our lives now,” I shouted.
Dale Ivan Smith is currently writing a weird western, as well as revising his super hero serial, Weed. His stories have appeared in 10Flash Quarterly and Every Day Fiction, and can also be found at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and other eBook stores. His website is www.daleivansmith.com.