This is my entry for Chuck Wendig’s Flash Fiction Challenge. Credit for the first line goes to Delilah, per the contest rules. Per my muddled memory, I’ve also used “Delilah” though that is not intended to be connected in any way to the author of that line. 979 words.

Soror Ex Machina

“When the last cherry blossom falls, so will my axe.”
After speaking the words, the Delilah, which, as far as I could tell, was just what they called an executioner on Obsidian Red Station, stood with the axe poised above her head.
Arla warned me about this place, but I’ve never listened to my little sister, not ever. If the Obsidian Order gets their way, I’ll never have another chance.
Never figured I’d die in a restraint cocoon. I can’t even roll from the trough the acolytes dumped me in. Mirrors are angled around the chamber so I can see myself, the cherry tree shedding blossoms faster than nature ever intended, and the still figure of the Delilah. They spared me the sight of the blade that would guillotine me once her axe cut the cord holding it up. Such mercy.
I didn’t even get a chance to request a refuel before they snatched me off the Athy. I’m no match for a stun field – not without that quasi-legal military kit anyway, and why should I have been wearing it on approach to a peaceful station?
“She’s praying for you,” said a masked acolyte from beside me.  I could see her black-robed form looking at us both in the mirror, but I couldn’t turn my head to attempt eye contact. “She will pray for you to renounce your crime before you die, that you might be embraced by the eternal All. If you do not, then she will never speak again. Thusly, we will know your final heart.”
“I wouldn’t hold my breath for it, sister.”
“Levity? Do you not fear for the disposition of your eternal soul, should you fail to repent in the final moments that grace allows us to offer you? Have you no compassion for the Delilah, whose tongue will be cut out by the very axe she holds, should she not speak as your soul escapes this wretched body?” She slapped at my shoulder.
I gulped. Hard core theists were scarier than any aliens in the universe, especially when they were human.
“If there’s an eternal, omnipotent being out there, then why would it need me to believe in it? If there’s not, then why should I waste my time play-acting? I just don’t know, sister, and it seems mighty arrogant to me to assume something’s true when there’s just no proof.”
“Heathen! Faith is all the proof required of a pure heart. Faith is the foundation of all good in the universe. Without faith, there can be no morality, no congenial society.”
“Haven’t you heard of the Liberty Asteroids? Planet Jillette? The entire damn Revere system? They’ve been working quite congenially for centuries without any cosmic-All-deity nonsense.”
She contorted to look me in the eyes. The eye-holes in her mask held no reflections, no trace of what her own eye color might be. She reached out a gloved hand and caressed my hair.
“We’re going to burn everything you’ve come in contact with if you do not repent. It is the only way to cleanse our station of such blasphemy and lies.” She gestured now at a wall I could see in the mirror, and a portion became transparent.
Twenty or thirty children stood watching me, flanked by more acolytes.
“If I lower the barrier, then these children, unprotected by the Blessed Vestments, will burn. Are you prepared to face the eternal All with your soul so stained?”
“You sick fuck.”
“Speak more lies, if you wish the children to be tainted.”
She straightened and waved to the children. Some waved back, others fidgeted. One girl slipped forward to press her face to the glass. An acolyte caught her before her breath fogged it and brought her back in line.
Over half the blossoms were gone now. I never could keep my mouth shut long though. “Why kill the tree?”
“The tree is our sacrifice. We offer it to the eternal All along with your soul to deprive ourselves of its beauty, life and fruit for harboring your blasphemy, if ever so briefly. The tree is deprived of air, as you have deprived yourself of the eternal All. Its fate is in your hands as much as theirs.” She waved again to the children.
“So, what, if I repent, then you let the tree live?”
“If you truly repent as you die, then the tree will be allowed a chance to recover, just as the Delilah will keep her tongue.”
Sweat trickled down my face. It itched. But I wouldn’t have to worry about that for long. The last blossom began to fall. The Delilah’s arms swung and cut the cord.
I smiled as death came calling.
Nothing else I could do.
The blade vaporized before it could touch me. The children screamed, and I watched as a humanoid in an armored suit pointed a gun at the acolyte next to me.
“Back off, now.”
She hissed, gliding away from me. The Delilah was bowing over her axe, still as a statue. The suited figure phased the faceplate to transparent, and Arla grinned at me.
“I told you not to come here, Tag. Didn’t you get the part of the transmission about the Obsidian Order shootin’ first and askin’ questions never when a ship with the jolly ol’ name of Atheist tries to port? Sheesh.”
“Thanks, Sis,” I said. “Get me out of here or what? The Athy still needs refueling.”
“What was that? I didn’t hear you. Say again?”
“Thank you.”
“Hmmm, nope, didn’t quite hear it.”
“I–” damn it. “I owe you one.”
Arla laughed and gestured. One of her crew slung me across his or her back, cocoon and all.
Maybe there is an eternal All, I thought as I was hauled to Arla’s ship, but we’re all fucked if it sides with the likes of the Obsidian Order.

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