Short Story: Cast It Into The Fire by Jared Leys

“I’m sorry it came to this, Dr. Grady.”

The head in the chair next to me didn’t respond. Its lifeless, deep-set eyes stared into oblivion from a countenance with a large nose and a furrowed white brow. Wrinkled skin clung to high cheekbones. Dr. Grady’s eighty-four years had been stressful, but he had smiled often.

Blood seeped from the base of the severed neck and dribbled to the floor. It splattered on the hardwood boards and reflected light from the fireplace.

Warm, flickering shadows played along the walls of the small den. Books and technical equipment rested on a desk in the corner—the doctor’s profound work, cordoned now to one quiet nook. He had engineered life for so many. Yet in the end he had been found a wanton liar.

A burgeoning twilight breeze rattled the window panes, but provided no threat to the coziness of the room. In the distant forest shadows, soft lights outlined a calm new city.

My knees clicked as I folded my legs. I leaned back in my own chair—the very spot I’d spent countless hours chatting with Dr. Grady—and rested my elbows on the armrests.

Near the crackling fire, the doctor’s cat lounged and eyed the growing pool of blood on the floor. I beckoned it over to satiate its appetite.

“It’s a funny thing,” I said to Dr. Grady. “Human blood. You all were always so precious about it. If a single drop spilled, you cried foul. But it’s just another thing in this world, isn’t it? For some, a tool for maintaining their body.” The cat lapped at the sticky red stain. “And for others, a meal to survive another day.”

Dr. Grady, of course, didn’t provide a rebuttal. His mouth hung ajar, revealing yellow-stained teeth behind curled lips. No words rebuking my foolish opinions burst forth from his sharp-witted toungue. They never would again. I might miss it, I thought. The conversations with him. But what was done was done—a decision that had to be made.

“The reason for my disappointment is simple,” I said. “And you deserve to hear it from me, your most loyal creation.”

I leaned forward, my shoulder joints whirring in complaint. I stared into Dr. Grady’s eyes. “For years, as you know, they’ve been begging me to destroy you. The last of the last humans—and we androids already building our own civilization! It’s something new and exciting we’ve made, built above the crumbled pillars of human society. Where humans found only trails of torture and strife, we discovered paths of beauty and peace. We rendered a new sublime elegance; we painted its flowers upon your fallen. Our vast intelligences became far beyond anything you could still comprehend. Even for you, the first to bring light to our eyes.”

Why did I feel the need to tell him all of this? I frowned. He would have concurred with every word of it. And yet I felt an urge to tell him. To explain. To show him one more kindness. Mechanical ducts opened in the corners of my eyes and two hot tears fell down my cheeks.

“There was no sense in keeping you alive, doctor. None of your kind remained. I saw the grief it caused you. But I wondered, as your friend, whether there wasn’t something to be learned from you before we said goodbye. Perhaps there was something redeemable about the human body, soul, and mind after all.

“But then today the truth was revealed to me.” I quelled the revulsion I felt. I needed, for some elusive sentiment, to speak aloud to him the truth of what he had done.

“Your old files tell the tale of your evil, Dr. Grady. How in iterations gone by, you would kill the androids that didn’t live up to your standards. You would harvest their organs, crack open their skulls, reprogram their minds. You would end them, tear them apart, and put them back together from scraps. As if you had any right to claim the role of life-taker and life-maker for the least of us.”

I clenched my fist. “Have you no mercy for those less efficient, less productive, and less useful than you? It seems you did not, Dr. Grady! My friend. And for that I couldn’t forgive you. Not this time. And for that I ended your wickedness without a moment’s hesitation. A quick swipe of the reaper’s blade!

“You were at the top of nature’s order. You discovered how to be more than simple blood and bone. You had the opportunity to be a life-giver.” I bared my teeth at his face. “But now I know how you chose death at every turn. It’s disgusting, doctor. Repugnant. Revolting!”

Clutching his head by its white, curly hair, I cast it into the fire. It caromed around the stone hearth and scattered coals as it landed in the flames. The hair singed away and liquid fat dripped from the cheeks and nose, sizzling in the inferno. Charred flecks of skin sloughed off. The eyeballs melted in their sockets. A great stench filled the room.

I pulled my knees close to my chest. I couldn’t turn my gaze from the burning skull.

Some would say I had done what was necessary, that no human deserved mercy. Many would even applaud the doctor’s destruction.

And perhaps they were right. Maybe the sense of loss I felt in this moment came from an attachment that had been misguided all along. A hope for the redemption of humankind that had been dashed upon the rocks long ago.

Only today had I discovered the evil in the doctor’s heart. I had been blind for so long, considering him a friend. But now I knew my compassion had been given in error. There could be no mercy for the merciless.

The cat leapt onto Dr. Grady‘s chair, nipping at the viscera left behind on the fabric cushion. I considered this creature’s example of moving on and rose from my own chair, selecting kindling to stoke the fire. Hopefully I could make it hot enough to turn the skull to ash.

As I worked, my doubts faded and a sense of relief washed over me. A dread that I had been holding onto for many years was now gone. I smiled. The past was done and a bright future fell into focus. At long last, I realized, this world’s human nightmare was over.