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The Key to Columbia

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The Key to Columbia I loved this city. I loved it almost as much as I loved Abigail before she fell like an angel that had seen the truth beneath heaven's thin illusions. It wasn't love at first sight but like all true love I can pinpoint the moment it enslaved me. When we rose as one above the clouds for the first time Abby grabbed my hand in hers and pressed it to her breast and moaned, "Oh Floyd!" I closed my eyes and felt the sun wash over me like the gentlest breeze. I could feel every beat of her heart and for the first time in my life I knew everything was going to be okay. I was so wrong. I would labor late into the evenings in the machine shops and come home tired to my bones. Abigail would greet me with a truly indecent smile that made me blush and melted away my fatigue. We were like newlyweds in spring, madly in love for perhaps the first time in seven years of marriage. While drunk on that love, we were ignorant to what was growing in the alleys and the steam works underneath our magic city. Whispers of monsters walking the streets began to spread and before long people everywhere were seeing ghosts and stranger things walking about in broad daylight. Then came that winged demon. That monster wanted to be seen. It wasn't a rumor, it was a warning plain and simple. Comstock would brook no nonsense from the people that were beginning to question his authority. For all his learning, The Prophet forgot one of the most important lessons: People are happy to play the lamb, but even a lamb will balk when you try to feed it to a pack of wolves. Things fell apart so quickly. Abigail was panic stricken every time I left for work. She was afraid I'd never come back to her. Bands of Comstock's men wandered the streets, picking fights and harassing lone women. People were disappearing and wherever you looked laughter and smiles were replaced with sobs and scowls. One tense morning I showed up to work and my foreman informed me I had been assigned a special commission for The Prophet himself. Two handymen and I were sent to install a vault door. The slab of metal was intricate but so heavy it took both handies to move. Until that day I didn't understand why people hated the handymen. They were dangerous to work around, true, but who could envy what they had given up? That day though I finally understood what others instinctually felt. Whatever they removed from these men and replaced with pistons and clockworks, they also took from them what makes us human. While adjusting the counterbalance I could feel someone watching me. Out of the corner of my eye I caught a glimpse of this waif of a thing peeking at me from around a corner. I realized then this wasn't a vault. This was a prison! A prison for a young girl, who could only be the Elizabeth that Comstock was constantly preaching about. I knew then this was to be my last day in Columbia. The handies weren't subtle. As they lifted the door onto it's hinges under my guidance, a sadistic glance passed between them and they released the door, giving it the slightest push in my direction. I braced myself but the crushing blow never came. I looked up and saw the door floating there, so close to my face that my breath frosted the cold steel. "You should go," Elizabeth whispered from behind me. I ran, taking moment to blurt an inadequate "Thank you," over my shoulder before rushing out into the street. I returned to my foreman but said nothing. If he didn't know what was to become of me, presumably under Comstock's orders, then telling him would only pull him into the mix. The rest of that day passed in a haze. All I could think about was that Abby and I needed to leave this city but I had no idea how. Our dreams had curdled into nightmares. My nightmare was just beginning. I turned the corner into our narrow street, eager to collapse into the sanctuary of Abby's embrace. I had returned just in time to see three of Comstock's goons leaving my house in a storm of raucous laughter. Their smiles turned to shame when they saw me standing there, shaking. They shuffled passed me with eyes on the ground but I hardly noticed them as Abigail burst from our home clinging to what was left of her torn dress. I'll never know if she could hear me yelling her name. What I do know is when she threw herself off into the twilight, I wasn't there to catch her. I'll never be able to forgive myself and I will never even consider forgiving Comstock. I knew it was his assurance that I wouldn't be coming back that night that gave those monsters the bravado to invade our home. The next day I went to work because while I figured out how to get to Comstock I needed to keep appearances up. My boss greeted me by shoving a cloth pouch into my hand emblazoned with Comstock's crest. I was to deliver it to the man himself at once. The pouch contained two keys. Keys to the door I had only yesterday secured. The city around me was tearing itself apart. The skirmishes of the past two weeks had turned into pitched battles between Comstock's followers and the Vox Populi. I wanted to destroy the False Prophet for what he had done to my life, to our city. I also knew how to do it. I set out to free his most powerful creation yet, the one even he in all his arrogance was afraid of. I would free the bird from her cage and turn her loose on this corrupted Garden of Eden. I avoided checkpoints and patrols whenever possible. I needed the extra time to think. When I was stopped by the men in red coats I simply held up the pouch and confidently barked, "Official business!" A little over halfway to the complex that housed Elizabeth I saw her walking towards me, the deep blue of her dress unmistakable. Even the brilliant colors of the city around her dimmed somehow as if she was so beautiful as to shame the world to bleach in comparison. The man with her raised his pistol when he noticed my recognition. Elizabeth shoved his arm sending his shot wide into a nearby pillar. That was the second time she had saved my life. "He's a friend Booker," she chided. Turning from her guardian, she waited for me to approach. I did so cautiously under the scrutiny of that rough looking fellow. Fumbling a key from the pouch I held it up for inspection. I quickly explained my harebrained scheme to rescue her so she could save us from Comstock and his army of thugs. I did so more honestly than I intended but I found it impossible to lie, even through omission with those big eyes studying me and Booker a punch away. My telling of things made her sad. I still can't figure out why. Maybe she could sense my melancholy, lord knows I certainly did. "Are these the only keys?" She asked. "Yes. They were forged this morning. Made to order for the door I installed. I was supposed to put them in Comstock's hands directly, nobody else." She looked from Booker to me and back again, and I could see that she was working out what to do next. Then she did something that cut to my soul. She took my hand in hers and held it against her breast like Abigail once had. She looked past my eyes and into my heart and asked, "Do you trust me?" "Yes," I sputtered before I even thought about it. I think no matter how long I had pondered her question the answer would always be yes. I did trust this woman who didn't even know my name but had saved my life twice in the past twenty-four hours. Her relief quickly hardened into resolve. She turned to Booker, "The men that sent you to find me, do you know where they live? Have you been there?" "Yes, but why?" "Picture it Booker! Focus your thoughts on that place. Think of nothing else!" I couldn't help thinking that this was no mouse that needed protecting. This was a lioness. He closed his eyes and a look of concentration took hold of Elizabeth. She pressed her hands together and pulled like she was trying to rip a hole in the air itself, and to my amazement, it yielded. The paved street split in two around us, and through the torn fabric appeared a rot iron gate with a bronze sign that read "7th Cavalry Headquarters." Elizabeth grabbed a bundle of papers and photos from inside Booker's vest and thrust them at me. "Take these notes and keys to the man in charge there. I'll handle Comstock." I opened my mouth to protest but before I could utter word one, she shoved me through the opening and it closed behind me. "Well sir, that's how I came to find myself on your doorstep at this late hour. I'm sure you'll think me touched in the head but-" "Now, now son, none of that. I've been hearing rumors for months now and as crazy as it all sounds, you did bring some compelling proof. This," he tapped a letter he was holding, "written in my own hand, on my personal stationary. Dated tomorrow I might add, gives your story more credibility then I dare to admit. Tomkins! Find whatever rock Booker Dewitt has crawled under and kick it over. Double quick now! Then report back to me at once." "Yes sir," Tomkins barked as he jumped from his chair in the corner of the study. "Well Floyd, I know a man who needs a drink when I see one. Join me," he gestured to a seat across the desk from himself. Floyd only nodded, still numb from the shock of the events of the past day. He took the glass of scotch with a nod of gratitude and knocked it back. When he lowered the glass he had just enough time to register the revolver before it discharged a single round into his right eyebrow. Floyd tumbled backwards in his chair and kept falling deeper into the oblivion where his dear Abby was waiting for him. Jason Sorrenti, March 28, 2013