What had seemed so surely to be part of a crashed spaceship only weeks earlier now made itself seen as part of an old steamer trunk. The little gloved mechanical hand dusted the last bit of soil from the now fully exposed book lying beside the ‘wreckage.’
“Ghoul’s Feast? It’s a horror story?” She burst out laughing as she now grasped Alowishus’ suggestion about irony. “There is no spaceship—Alowishus was telling the truth…” It was now becoming clear to Dollianna that the entire adventure had been a deranged motorized dream exploded into violent living spectacle.
“Could it really be the truth?” Dollianna gasped and fell back onto the sand, paralyzed with shock. “I am a doll. There is no more to things. Not only no Golden Fleece—no Golan’s Fees; no secret to protect; no way home nor home to get to; no ancient interstellar crime for which to atone.” She now saw with crystalline lucidity that it had all been an absurd delusion. However it had formed in her mind it had been no more than a supremely confused product of malfunction—a meaningless aberration.
The humiliation in this realization was diluted by the new insight that she loved being ‘just a dolly’ after all. What a gift it was to be the real her, a gift to be cherished and celebrated. She now knew that she loved being a doll, and understood some of what others felt in their acceptance of who they were. She was filled with the desire to meet the girl she was constructed for, whose name had been punched into her logic discs at the factory.
“An alien, indeed,” she scoffed, shaking her head. She sighed and resigned to acknowledgement of what an embarrassment it all was, tempered with the further knowledge that she at least felt it safely behind her. It was even some consolation that it was good to be able to feel such embarrassment, that humble acceptance of her flaws was somehow richly rewarding.
What was left was only remorse; that she could not so easily shake off. She wondered if she could survive having lived the adventure of the past few weeks, finding herself now mired helplessly in shameful regret. The only mitigating element was that no one had actually been killed by her actions; nor were any really harmed physically, though property damaged approached the monthly municipal budget of New Babbage.
She accepted that her decisions were now being influenced by compassion; she understood kindness and cherished it, and felt herself caring for others as much as for herself. The last bit of confusion was still working its way out of her geartrain as she wrestled with final acceptance of her guilt and its uselessness. How could anyone feel they deserved the gift of life when they were so flawed as to have ‘feelings?’ The absurdity of this last thought finally pierced her remaining reluctance to embrace the pure truth. She couldn’t resist smiling warmly accepting that it was those who felt this way who most deserved that gift: the gift of love.
Finding strength to stand and turn to look across the city, she saw New Babbage in clear focus for the first time: the timeless brickwork defining its structure; the perfectly synced, carefully maintained clocks in their solid towers; the forest of chimneys reaching to the clouds; the individual character of each of those thousands of cobblestones; the quirky mixture of bills, placards and graffiti decorating the alleyways; endless corridors fashioned by the eccentricities of irreplaceable humanity; the vast stage upon which that exceptional narrative unfolded daily—the charming living city of steam.
“I can live here; I can be alive and happy in this place. What’s more, I shall gladly do what’s right: repent and answer for my horrendous insanity. My, isn’t it good to be alive?”
She smiled and sniffed some of the smoky magic of that precious air, and heard some kind of loud sharp ‘crack’ off in the distance to the right followed by its reverberations amongst the city’s walls. Immediately there was the sound of a bee whizzing past her face, and then another loud ‘crack’ from the right. Just as she began to appreciate that she was hearing gunfire, for Dollianna everything suddenly went black.