This is the eleventh in a series of posts featuring speculative flash fiction in translation. This series highlights both new and established spec fic writers from around the world.
Born in northern Italy in 1986, Carlo Vicenzi holds a degree in Modern Languages and Anthropology. An enthusiast of Renaissance fencing and a martial arts practitioner, he works in a book store during the day, translates at night, and finds time to write. He has authored novels, short-stories and flash-fiction in a range of genres, including Science Fiction, Romance and Fantasy. Vicenzi collaborates with various information and entertainment websites, and with magazines distributed nationwide.
Born in London to British parents, and raised bilingual in Italy, Sarah Jane Webb grew up in a house full of books. From her family, she inherited a passion for reading and writing. After studying modern languages, she worked for years in multinational companies in London and Milan. After the birth of her two children, she obtained a TEFL certificate for teaching English and started teaching and translating commercial literature. Over time, translation became her full-time occupation and she specializes in creative and literary work.
“The Borders of Perfection” by Carlo Vicenzi, translated from the Italian by Sarah Jane Webb
Her pursuers had steeds with legs of steel and brass nostrils. They were catching up.
Vision misted with tears, strength waning, Eva pushed on: she knew them to be as ruthless as the Machines they worshipped. She would fight to the death to save the baby in her womb.
She’d grown too big to hide her condition: her pregnancy had been inconspicuous at first, but as the months went by there was no way of hiding her swollen belly. Confining herself at home hadn’t helped: the Inquisition had found out. Such a blatant breach of Sacred Perfection could not be tolerated.
“Submit to the Machine God’s will!”
Their knife-edged, steely voices resounded from a few steps away.
Narrowly escaping when they’d broken into the house, she’d been running ever since.
“Sacrilege!” The hollow litany rang in her ears. “Flesh born of flesh! Sacrilege!”
She had fallen prey to heresy the year before, when she’d met Augusto. Like her, he still hadn’t crossed the Borders of Perfection, a rite during which imperfect and perishable internal organs were replaced with cold and efficient metal parts.
Eluding the Inquisitors who watched over the as-yet imperfect, they had mated once, in secret, indulging instincts outlawed by the Doctrine.
And this was the outcome. Augusto was taken first. Hopeless as it was, he had defended them both, affording them a chance to escape. But her large belly slowed her down.
“There’s only one hope,” he’d said, just before the door was knocked down, “leave the city and look for the Rebels.”
Yes, the Rebels would accept her, save the life she carried.
Everyone knew, in town: the Rebel Movement hid in the woods out there, refuting the Machine God and preferring a body without mechanical parts. They chose to remain impure and imperfect, coming nowhere near the Border.
She must find them. They’d give her refuge, even though her hands had been replaced with prostheses.
The pounding of hooves was closer: they were moving in on her.
The wood suddenly opened onto an ample glade. Eastward, a faint glow heralded the imminent dawn.
Fatigue pulled her down with the force of a hundred arms. Eva, her energy totally spent, felt her legs buckle. She lost her balance.
She somehow managed to fall onto her side, saving her stomach from hitting the ground, and wept, her sobs drowned by the clatter of the approaching monsters. The stars were obscured by their looming mounts, whose bodies retained little of their original form: pistons and mechanisms had replaced muscles, and brass pipes traversed the animals’ skeletal belly.
They surrounded her, bent towards her: she counted five of them.
Through twin holes in tall black hoods peered the glacial greenish eyes of the riders.
Their torn tunics revealed glimpses of metal pipes that bore through their flesh like huge dark worms.
Steely voices resumed the doctrinal litany:
“Flesh born of flesh is imperfect.”
“Hence it is forbidden.”
“Because the Machine God is beyond time, He knows the future.”
“The imperfect being generated in the belly of machines will be a seed of destruction.”
“Hence only metal and glass shall generate flesh.”
“For this reason, it shall be faultless.”
“Thus speaks the Prophecy Doctrine.”
“You disobeyed. Hence you are a heretic.”
“Heretic the mother, heretic the child.”
“Death. For disobedience to the God.”
“Death!” they convened in one voice, rough as rust.
Eva saw the Inquisitors raise writhing multi-jointed limbs like rust-stained snakes.
She begged her child for forgiveness for not giving birth to it, and closed her eyes, waiting for iron tentacles to pierce her flesh.
The ground shook, as if sobbing in sympathy.
There was the crash of broken steel, the agonizing shriek of a dying machine.
Eva’s eyes flashed open, in time to see one of the Machine God’s servants smash to the ground in a heap of twisted metal and torn flesh.
“Imperfect!” cried the hooded riders.
The ground shook again.
With a sickening shriek, a second Inquisitor fell from his steed, an artificial limb severed at the shoulder.
Her strength rekindled by hope, Eva raked the ground with iron fingers, dragging herself outside the circle of battle to avoid being trampled.
Turning her head, she saw the powerful legs of a white horse kick up the dirt in a lethal charge, and the rider sink a large rostrum-shaped weapon into the chest of a third Inquisitor. The sun filled the sky with blue, banishing the night, and Eva fixed her gaze on the man who was taking on the God’s deadly servants: his armor of light-colored metal shimmered almost white, compared to the black tunics of his foes. Except for his eyes, his face was concealed by a heavy helmet.
“Imperfect!” screeched the two remaining inquisitors.
“Be gone, loathsome machines,” thundered the knight, “there’s no room here for metal abominations!”
“Fear is no longer a part of us: the Machine God has allowed us to cross the Border of Perfection.”
“Then I’ll gladly destroy you!” he replied, his voice laden with hate, before attacking with his horse at a gallop.
Eva squeezed her eyes shut before they collided and ripping sounds resounded in her ears.
Suddenly everything was still.
She now beheld what remained of an inquisitor lying immobile before her. His hood was torn off, revealing what it meant to cross the Border: a horrendous face, glass eyes, metal tubes winding out of his nose and gaping mouth.
Her savior alighted from his horse and bent over her.
“Help me,” wheezed Eva.
“No,” replied the man curtly, drawing a long knife, “I will help your baby, because he never crossed the Border. Let the prophecy come true.”
Eva’s heart contracted in panic.
“Save us,” she rasped, as his knife travelled towards her belly, “I never crossed the Border to Perfection!”
“You did!” he replied, lifting her iron hand, “when you allowed metal to defile your flesh, your soul. Before that you were perfect. As your child is. This is our Border. You have crossed it.”
Searing pain tore through her as the blade sank. The torture seemed endless. She hadn’t the strength to rebel and was paralyzed by pain. She cried out and wept, thinking of her baby.
Seemingly from far away, she heard a faint whimper.
“The prophecy will come true. You will save us from the Machines,” said the man.
Before darkness enveloped her, Eva saw the knight hold her baby in his arms.
He was right, she realized.
He was perfect.