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Progress’s Offer

  The massive machine lowered its form from the ceiling and examined Beryl carefully.  Its face had one eye and a mechanical jaw with ragged metal teeth.  Steam billowed out of its mouth obscuring most of its other features.  Beryl stood transfixed by the presence, which was far more massive than anything he was witnessing here.  It began to speak, “All things serve Progress.  Progress is Industry.  Progress is Revolution.  Progress is life.  Even you serve Progress.”

   “I don’t serve-”  Progress would not allow Beryl to finish as it let out a deep whistle that sounded like a massive foghorn. Steam wafted from its mouth in bursts as it spoke.  Avariel found that the Steam Hare’s arm attached to her body had begun to salute, and nothing she could do would force it to go back down despite her struggles.

  “You gave up on your people.  You abandoned your search.  You prepare to leave behind the people of New Babbage and never look back.” It raised itself again and looked down at all of them before letting out a breath of steam that covered everyone. Beryl and the others waved it away as they coughed. “You even intend to abandon your past self to look only towards the future.  All serve Progress, save those that wish only to destroy.”

  People that only wished to destroy.  “Moriarty…”

  “Served Destruction.” Progress pronounced as it lowered its form to their level again, able to maneuver its body enough to examine Beryl from a new angle.  “He is gone now.”

  Beryl did not like the feeling that ridding this world of its Moriarty had allowed the rise of something just as terrible in a different way, but that reminded him of something else.   “You are not all there is, Progress.  I’ve seen the spirit of the city.  She’s nothing like you!”

  “You claim fealty to that which you intend to depart for all time.”  Progress let out another bellow of steam which covered everyone, leaving them momentarily blind and coughing.

  “Your words and claims are meaningless.  You serve Progress, but you resist like so many others.  I wish to remove this resistance from all until they serve as willingly as the boy.”

  Beryl looked at Tepic, the chains that covered his thin, sick body.  His chains were not connected to Progress itself, but they might as well have been.  

  “I offer you this boon.” Progress illuminated a table in the corner, revealing Nymlet’s enhancement device.  “You need not be forced into this service.  Willingly serve Progress more fully.  Upgrade yourself.  If you accept I shall allow the rodent to serve in life as well.”

  “No!” Beryl’s adamant answer caused Progress to respond in kind. It did not even need to touch the switch to activate the machine capable of torturing Beatrixe.  She convulsed and started to thrash about wildly. Erica tried to restrain her using thick gloves, but it was no use.

  “You will be upgraded whether you accept my boon or not.” Progress lowered itself to stare at Beryl.  “Will she live to serve Progress or will you let her die knowing that if she dies here she will never wake?

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