Author: Darth Pacula
A nameless island,
The doorbell echoed through the foyer, rumbling like thunder. To anyone less familiar with the quirks of my mistress' mansion, it might have sounded more like an asthmatic cry of pain, but I had lived within the confines of these walls long enough to know better.
The doorbell made it's insistent presence made once again, and I gave the front door a dirty look. Muttering imprecations that would make the most hardened sailor blush, I hauled my cumbersome bulk up off the stool and waddled over to answer the door's call.
My gait was uneven, but you try walking straight when one of your legs is several inches shorter than the other. That's what comes when you're put together from the spare parts of several different people, I suppose. I don't blame the mistress though; she'd had a lot of things on her mind when she'd made me.
I jerked the door open, and the cur on the other side recoiled at the sight of my lopsided face. Sure, half my face looks like a fallen soufflé but such obvious acknowledgment of the fact is just plain rude. You try looking good when you're stitched together from a bunch of dismembered corpses.
Rain is pelting down outside, hard enough to bruise and cold enough to freeze your delicate bits off. This storm isn't young either. It's been lashing the island for more than a week now, and it's worked up quite a head of steam in that time. Makes me glad I'm in here, rather than out there. The chap standing outside tries to sidle past me, but I have none of it.
“What d'ja want?” I grunt churlishly.
“My master ... he's ... we're here for the party,” stammers the burke in a footman's uniform. He's obviously nervous, a state that isn't helped when I smile at him. Maybe it's the teeth; very few of them match. I tend to collect any loose teeth I find, and they aren't even necessarily human.
“Then get in here, you daft bugger,” I tell him, shaking my head at this human's stupidity. “Where's this precious master of yours then, 'ey?”
The burke jerks his finger over his shoulder, and I peer past him down the length of the covered walkway in the direction of the dirigible dock. Surely enough, a zeppelin is berthed there, one of those zippy little military models.
Given the state of the weather, it must have been a hair-raising docking, but the only way to reach the island is by dirigible. That's a floating island in the sky for you, if nothing else it's guaranteed to afford you some measure of privacy.
“What's 'e doin' out there then?” I asked curiously. “Waitin' for a lightning strike?”
“Why would the Major want to get hit by lightning?” blurts the burke, sounding appalled by the very notion.
“Sorry,” I reply, shrugging. “Occupational hazard, working for a mad scientist like Tara Maclay.”
The Party. The scientific event of the decade, or at least that's what my mistress claims. Perhaps she's a bit biased, but Tara Maclay is undeniably a scientific genius. I'm proof of that. The fact that the Mistress has chosen to unveil her latest discovery in a social setting is especially telling.
Tara might be a genius, but she's not the most social of souls. When I think about it, her social difficulties may lie at the heart of her decision to become a mad scientist. Mad scientists by general consensus work alone, a situation that suits Tara to a tee. Hence living on a private island floating in the sky.
But I'm not one of those fancy doctors, those new-fangled psychiatrists. At least I don't think I am. Considering the number of people who donated parts to my construction, there's always a chance part of me could be.
But I'm digressing. The issue at hand isn't my layman's opinion of my mistress' mental state, it's her party. Mistress Tara has a discovery to unveil, or perhaps unleash, upon the world and in her infinite wisdom, she has chosen to reveal her discovery to a select grouping of the crème of society. They included:
Alexander Harris, heir to the Harris Industries fortune. An American wastrel, temporarily exiled from his colonial home to galavant around London. By all reports, this Yank fancied himself a ladies man and something of a comedian. Personally, I found him to be an insufferable buffoon. But I'm just the help, and Undead at that, so my opinion counts for sod bugger all.
Major Rupert Giles, retired, late of Her Majesty's 13th Colonial Irregulars. Typical professional British soldier; starched shirt, stiff upper lip and all that rot. Rumor had it the blighter had a dark side, maybe even stretching so far as to meddle in the Dark Arts. Given the reputation the Irregulars garnered for themselves during the recent troubles in the America's, it's not surprising.
Cordelia Chase, another wealthy heir. Fancies herself the unofficial ruler of London's society, but according to servants gossip, she's officially the bitchiest woman in the Empire. She's a looker though. Just by herself, she grants credence to that saying about judging a book by it's cover.
Anya Jenkins, only daughter of a merchant prince. In other words, another wealthy heiress. Are you seeing a pattern here yet? She stood out from the mindless herd of her peers by virtue of being utterly without tact, a fact that hadn't earned her any friends, but had caused great merriment in servants quarters all across the length and breadth of England.
Finally, there was the one woman I knew my mistress had a more personal interest in. Willow Rosenberg, darling of the stage and dance hall, and star of more than one person's fantasies. Including my mistress.
It had been on one of the Mistress' rare journeys to the capital that she had first caught sight of the waif-like redhead, and she had been instantly captivated. From that day onwards, my Mistress had added a new obsession to her repertoire. On those few occasions that she wasn't holed up in her laboratory, Mistress Tara had attended every one of Miss Rosenberg's performances that she'd found out about.
And yet, they had never spoken, never even met. I believed half the reason for Miss Rosenberg's presence here tonight was Mistress Tara's attempt to rectify this situation. Unfortunately, going on previous experience, I fully expected my Mistress to royally bollocks it up. She has a knack of doing that when it came to the women she found herself attracted to.
These pillars of the community are gathered in the parlor, while lesser Undead circulate through the crowd bearing platters of cheese, caviar and snifters of port and brandy. Each of these unworthies, distant cousins to the higher undead like myself, had been stuffed into ill-fitting tuxedos with pomanders at throat and wrist in an attempt to cover the stench of decay.
I might be ugly as sin, but at least I don't stink.
Consulting my fob watch, I determine that the hour has arrived for the meal to commence, so I waddle into the parlor to herd my mistress' guests to the dinner table. By this point, Harris is more than halfway in his cups already, which make my task unnecessarily complex. After narrowly preventing Harris from walking into the same wall for the eighth time, I'm beginning to wish for a brace of sheep dogs.
I take my place against the wall as the soup course is served, and the guests dig in with gusto. They natter on amongst each other, inane chitchat for the most part. I learned long ago to filter such claptrap out. Instead, I choose to listen to the hidden harmonys around me; the fury of the storm without, the subtle hiss of the gaslights and the tink of cutlery against china within. It's only when the topic de jour turns to my mistress that I resume paying anything more than lip service to any of them.
“I say, do any of you chaps know why this Maclay woman invited us to this little shindig?” asks Harris, slurping soup with great abandon. I'm resisting the urge to belt him around the ear with the soup ladle with great difficulty. “I've never met the woman myself.”
“I fear I've not had the pleasure myself either,” added Miss Rosenberg. Her voice is pure and sweet, a pure delight to the senses. She seems nervous though, belying the confidence she typically projects on stage.
“Pleasure is a relative term,” adds Miss Chase snidely. “I daresay this Maclay woman is just another boring boffin with no character of which to speak. Why else would she be missing her own dinner party?”
The knuckles of my over sized hands creak alarmingly at the harridan's remarks regarding my mistress, but I swallow my tongue. Except not literally. A decent tongue can be hard to come by in this day and age, so it isn't something to be wasted.
I clear my throat, a sound which admittedly sounds like a bout of canine flatulence. “My mistress is regrettably prone to loosing track of time when engaged in her workshop. I am most certain that she will attend to her guests before long.”
Miss Chase pointedly stares to one side of me, as if offended by my having drawn attention to my own existence. I'm getting the impression that she doesn't quite approve of the reanimated, which is ironic considering that she is currently a guest of one of the pioneers of the procedure.
Fortunately, my mistress chooses that exact moment to make her appearance, slipping out from behind a heavy velvet drape blocking off the end of the dining hall. I only just manage to restrain the urge to sigh at the sight of her.
The mistress had gone to great pains to ensure that I would supply her with a suitable outfit for her own soirée. I had done as she wished, placing a particularly lovely gown of blue silk and cream lace in her dressing room. Unfortunately, a hitch seemed to have developed in that plan, in the shape of my mistress' own forgetfulness.
Instead of a gown carefully chosen to match her eyes, my mistress instead wore her usual garb, a lab coat streaked with any number of suspicious stains over a creased and well patched set of shirt and trousers. Her long blonde hair was a shambles, with no less than three separate quill pens jutting out.
My mistress peered out at her guests in confusion, her eyes magnified to an alarming degree by the vision-enhancing harness strapped to her head. It gives her the appearance of a myopic mole, which I'm reasonably sure wasn't my mistress' intention.
“Oh, y.. you're h.. here ...” mumbles my mistress, brushing at her clothes in a vain attempt to grant herself some semblance of respectability. “I d... didn't know y.. you'd arrived.”
“Yes, and we've been here for some time now,” sniffs Miss Chase pointedly. There's acid virtually tripping from her words, and the other guests regard her with either subtle disapproval or, in Miss Rosenberg's case, actual anger.
My mistress ducks her head, hiding behind a spilling wave of hair. I fantasize about bounding across the table and drowning the harpy responsible in her own soup bowl, but I know my mistress will not approve. My homicidal leanings are her own fault, so she shouldn't really complain. If she didn't want a thug as her servant, she shouldn't have pieced me together from criminals.
“We haven't been waiting that long, Miss Chase,” snaps Miss Rosenberg acidly. Her burst of righteous indignation soon flickers and dies beneath Miss Chase's return glare of contempt, and the slender redhead slumps back in her seat.
The mistress' eyes dart towards Miss Rosenberg in a kind of wordless gratitude, but once they've fallen upon the redhead's beauty, they go no further. She stares at Miss Rosenberg, captivated as if by the sun. Seeing that look in my mistress' eyes, I know what it means. She's smitten, utterly and completely. In the past, my mistress has proved to be easily obsessed, able to vanish inside her laboratory for days or weeks at a time. But this is the first time of which I'm aware of that another human being had elicited such a reaction.
Miss Rosenberg blushes as she notices the intensity of my mistress' attention, but if any of the other guests notices, they prove to have sufficiently developed manners to avoid drawing attention to it.
Instead, the Major smoothly interjects himself into the conversation before Miss Chase's spiteful tongue can inflame the situation any more than it already has. “As I understand it, Miss Maclay, you invited us all here to show us something. Might I perhaps suggest that you do so sooner rather than later?”
“Yeah! So us what you've got!” Harris chimes in with a typically colonial lack of subtlety.
“Well, it certainly can't be any worse than this soup,” declares Miss Jenkins in a display of that chronic lack of tact I mentioned earlier, dropping her spoon loudly into her soup bowl. I don't know what she was expecting; our chef was a convicted poisoner and occasional cannibal when he was alive, he couldn't be much better dead.
Starting in surprise, the mistress tears her attention away from the object of her unvoiced desire, and returns her attention to the rest of her guests. A familiar light ignites in her cobalt eyes, the joy she feels in the practice of her craft visible to the even the meanest unbeliever. Even her body language shifts, from uneasy and shy, to eager and energetic.
“Y.. yes, let me s.. show you all my l... latest discovery!” announces the mistress, beaming widely. She sweeps one arm in an expansive gesture towards the drape from which she'd arrived, and leads her guests towards her workshop. I obediently shuffle along behind. If things go pear-shaped, I'll be needed.
The penny dreadfuls would have the common plebe believe that mad scientists exclusively work in graveyard crypts, abandoned windmills and the like. I'm not saying that isn't common; the field of arcane science tends to attract a certain type of person who is in turn attracted to such theatricalities. But my mistress is an exception to this rule.
The workshop is a massive room, paneled with highly polished sheets of dark, glossy wood. The roof is high and vaulted, with clear panels at regular intervals. They might have looked like glass, but were instead a far stronger substance of my mistress' own design. Whatever they're made of, they afford us all a glorious view of the storm raging outside.
But the thing that draws all of our eyes isn't the décor. Nor is it the scattered workbenches, the blood splattered autopsy table upon which I took the first shuddering breath of my artificial life, the vats of chemical solution in which float suspicious organic objects of unknown origin, or the massive machines that hiss and whir alarmingly.
No, it's none of these items that pull the gaze towards them like a rowboat in the grip of a whirlpool. That privilege belongs to the massive object standing in a clear area at the far end of the room. Since it's covered by a heavy tarp, it's not the details that are so interesting, but rather the size. It, whatever it is, stands nearly ten feet tall. The fact that the details are hidden simply lends it an air of mystique that only makes it more fascinating.
The mistress speaks as she strides towards her latest creation, illustrating her point with lively gestures. All trace of her stutter has disappeared now, chased away by the heat of her passion. “Nearly a decade ago, we perfected the process of reanimating dead flesh, of creating life anew from the detritus of nature. In doing so, we created a new workforce, one capable of great strength and endurance.”
One which humans have no compunction in abusing, I thought to myself without rancor. We reanimated are well aware of our shortcomings. We lack .... something, something ethereal that would allow us the full measure of pleasure in our new existence. Labor fills this hole within us, at least to some small degree anyway.
“But in many ways, the Reanimated are still humans, and as such, their exploitation is fraught with moral and ethical dilemma's. It was with this in mind that I began my latest endeavor, to find a less objectionable alternative to fill the Empire's need for laborers.”
There was a trace of murmuring from amongst the members of her audience. Obviously, some of the sentiments that the mistress had just professed were of a controversial nature, and some of her guests didn't share her altruistic intentions.
Reaching the object of her speech, the mistress reached out and laid one hand on the tarp, ready to whisk it away. “It has taken me a full year to design a workable prototype, but I have finally managed to do so. I have invited you all here to bear witness to the dawn of a new age, to usher in the birth of a entirely new species. Behold ... the Automaton!”
The mistress tugged sharply at the tarp, doubtless intending to unveil her latest masterpiece with a theatrical flourish. The effect was momentarily spoiled by the tarp snagging on something beneath it, and my mistress spent a furious few minutes muttering beneath her breath as she tried to free it.
Finally, the tarp came down, and the monstrosity beneath was unleashed upon an unsuspecting world. A chorus of gasps came from the audience, myself excluded. I'd seen what laid beneath the tarp often enough that it didn't startle me any more.
The behemoth of iron and steel standing beside my mistress was loosely based upon the human skeleton. The mistress had spent enough time rummaging around inside with human physiology to have an in depth understanding of the way it worked, and it was always a good idea to go with what worked.
Various clear panels in the torso and head, made of the same substance as those in the roof, unveiled some of the inner workings. Clockwork gears whirred and clanked, sparks hissed from finger-thick wires conducting live current. A ball of incandescent blue fire burned behind one such panel in the center of the Automaton's massive chest, slowly spinning, with occasional tendrils of coruscating energy flickering out to probe at the surrounds of its casing, as if seeking escape.
A cluster of flanged exhaust pipes arose from the Automaton's back, jutting up from behind a blank head like an overturned milk pail. A thin trickle of smoke spilled forth from these pipes, surrounding it with a miasma that stank of grease and ozone.
“Good lord, what is that thing!” barked the Major, eying the Automaton suspiciously, as if he expected it to attack at any time.
My mistress blinked owlishly; apparently she thought she'd already adequately explained her invention, and this voice of dissent was enough to break her earlier burst of confidence and brought back her stutter. “It's a m... mech... mechanical man,” she explained. “P... powered by a p.. perpetual p... power source, so it's v... virtually untiring.”
“A mechanical man? That doesn't get tired ...” repeated Miss Jenkins thoughtfully. The pondering expression on her face took my mind places I really didn't want it to go to, and judging by everyone else's reactions, they suffered similar afflictions.
“Um ... yes, well,” wavered my mistress. “S.. shall I activate it and g... give you all a d... demonstration?”
“Please do,” requested Miss Rosenberg, sounding and looking fascinated. Such signs of interest from the object of the mistress' affections buoyed the mistress' spirits, even if that interest was in her work rather than my mistress herself.
From a bench to one side, the mistress retrieved a large, heavy-looking box, bristling with assorted dials, switches, buttons and antenna's. For a few moments, she depressed buttons, flipped switches and twisted dials while her audience looked on expectantly. She paused, one finger poised above a final button, blood red in color.
“Witness ... the beginning of a new world!”
The finger plunged down.
A heavy rumble spluttered to life within the metal behemoth's barrel-like chest, followed by the grinding of multiple gears. The puff's of smoke issuing from the Automaton's smokestack redoubled in frequency and thickness until it was chugging away like a locomotive. While this robotic monstrosity could hardly have been said to have had a relaxed posture, given that it was made of metal, it's posture only grew more rigid. A single slit-like eye blinked to life, a brazen, malevolent red peeking out at the world as though from the depths of a furnace.
“SYSTEM INITIALIZING,” grated the clockwork colossus in a flat voice as filled with personality as a politician is filled with lies.
“It speaks?” blurted Miss Rosenberg.
“Oh yes,” replied my mistress absently as she fiddled and fine-tuned her control device. “It responds to verbal commands as well. Watch this.” She turned to face her creation. “Automaton Alpha-One, stand on one leg.”
“COMMAND NOT RECOGNIZED.”
The mistress frowned, and tried her luck again. “Automaton Alpha-One, stand on one leg.”
“COMMAND NOT RECOGNIZED,” repeated the recalcitrant robot.
“Yes, this is awfully impressive,” pronounced Miss Chase snidely, uncaring of the dirty look Miss Rosenberg shoots at her.
“I'm sorry,” apologizes my mistress. “There must be a problem in the voice recognition unit. Let me just try and fix it. Automaton Alpha-One, initiate primary systems diagnostic.”
“COMMAND NOT RECOGNIZED. INITIATING DIAGNOSTIC ROUTINE .... ERROR. PRIMARY MEMORY FAILURE.”
“Oh dear,” mutters my mistress, stepping up the speed of her activities with her control device.
“Er ... is that not good?” asks Miss Rosenberg nervously. I share her doubts, and quietly begin shifting towards the wood paneled cabinet against the far wall. After enduring a few of my mistress' failed experiments, I'd begun keeping a few helpful items there for situations like this.
“REBOOTING PRIMARY LOGIC SYSTEMS.” The Automaton, apparently ignoring anything and everything that the mistress attempted, sagged as much as it could. Then it twitched alarmingly. “ERROR. ERROR. PRIMARY MEMORY CORRUPTION. SYSTEM FAILURE IMMINENT.”
“That definitely doesn't sound good,” pointed out Miss Rosenberg, her curiosity sufficiently dimmed to the point where her instincts for self preservation were kicking in enough for her to back off slightly.
“It's not going to explode, is it?” Mr Harris asked, displaying more sense than I would have credited him with. Miss Jenkins had apparently determined that discretion was the better part of valor, and had decided to seek refuge behind Mr Harris. I heartily approved of the choice.
“No, everything's still okay! Everything's fine,” babbled my mistress hopefully. I had no idea what she was basing that claim on, but far be it for me to argue with her. She was moving closer as I rummaged in the cabinet, punching buttons desperately.
“ATTEMPTING SYSTEM RECOVERY. REBOOT. ATTEMPTING TO REBUILD PRIMARY PROGRAMMING.”
“There, see? Everything's fine!”
“WARNING. CRITICAL ERROR. TOTAL SYSTEM FAILURE.”
“Oh really?” scoffed Miss Chase, hoisting one perfectly coutured eyebrow in biting censorship. While I wistfully daydreamed of braining her with a random item from my emergency cabinet, Miss Rosenberg glared at her fellow guest with a terrible scowl.
“Oh, do be quiet you ... you harpy!” spluttered Miss Rosenberg, and I gave her a silent cheer. “It's not Miss Maclay's fault that her ... thingajiggy is broken! She ... ahh ... it's not going to explode, is it?”
“Oh no,” assured the mistress. “Nothing so dangerous as that.”
“INTRUDERS DETECTED. INITIATE COUNTERMEASURES.”
Bugger, I think to myself. That doesn't sound promising. Miss Rosenberg apparently shares my apprehensions.
“Countermeasures?” she repeats, her voice quavering slightly. “What does that mean?” The Automaton itself provided the answer.
“DESTROY ALL HUMANS!” With this final pronouncement, the first to be delivered with even a hint of enthusiasm, the iron behemoth took a single ponderous step forward, and the ground trembled beneath it's weight.
“Don't panic! I can fix this!” insisted my mistress, frantically stabbing at buttons with one rigid finger.
The Major stepped forward. “I say, I believe this situation has gone quite far enough!” One hand darting inside his dress uniform jacket, he pulled loose a revolver and leveled it at the approaching Automaton.
“No! Don't ...” cried my mistress desperately as she noticed what the Major was up to, but it was too late. Major Rupert Giles fired.
The bullet ricocheted loudly off the Automaton's metallic head, sending my mistress and her guests ducking for cover. Mr Harris and Miss Jenkins both yelped. I felt a bee sting in my cold dead torso, and look down at the fresh bullet wound in my chest.
“Jolly good shot there, Major,” I said bluntly. “Thank you kindly for that. I've been feeling the need for some more ventilation in my innards.”
“You impertinent pup!” spluttered the Major, thin lipped with displeasure, but cooler heads than his were present.
“Now is not the time!” shouted Miss Rosenberg, her theatrically trained voice cutting through the hubbub. The effect was mildly spoiled when she too yelped as the Automaton took another earthshaking step, it's pace only mildly faster than continental drift. “Can we stop that thing?”
“I can stop it!” my mistress stridently insisted, still fiddling desperately with her control device. It might be impertinent of me to think so, but I have my doubts about that. Which is why I pull out the elephant rifle from my 'in-case-of-emergency” cabinet and toss it to the Major.
“Here, sir. Try this,” I suggest, and the Major's eyes light up alarmingly at the sight of the weapon. He levels the massive firearm in short order, aims, and fires. The immense recoil of the weapon sends the Major staggering backwards, but his aim is true. Less impressive is the effect the heavy caliber bullet has upon its target.
The Automaton is momentarily rocked back by the impact, a large dent forming in the casing of the creatures' head. It twitches momentarily, a palsy-like shudder running the length of its over-sized metallic body, and we all hope or pray that the Major's blow has done sufficient damage. In the end however, the shuddering subsides and the Automaton resumes it's glacial march towards us.
All in a tizzy, Mr Harris panics and darts over to where my mistress still struggles stubbornly with her malfunctioning control device. Snatching it from her hands, Harris raises it above his doltish head.
“Will you cease your infernal fiddling with this wretched device and stop that monstrosity of your own design!” he shouts dramatically and dashes it against the floor, ignoring my mistress' shout of alarm.
“No! Don't ..”
The mistress' warning comes too late, and the device is irreparably shattered into a thousand pieces. Mr Harris adopts an expression of triumph, as if he expects his actions to have brought the crisis to a swift resolution. That same expression melts away like a miser when it's his shout when rather than griding to a halt, the Automaton actually speeds up.
“That was the only thing holding it back, you fool!” shouts my mistress, but she's speaking to Harris' back, for the American is already fleeing at great speed, with Miss Jenkins in close pursuit. While the Major shouts accusations of cowardice after him, my mistress peers down at the broken remains of her device.
As such, she isn't aware of the massive pincer swinging directly at her head until I yank her out of the way in the barest nick of time. Unfortunately, I don't fare quite so well with the back swing. There is a sickening crack, and I abruptly find myself staring in the opposite direction. The Automaton's blow has snapped my neck and spun my head around a hundred and eighty degrees in a single motion.
The fact that I haven't dropped down dead appears to have confused the creature somewhat, so I seize the opportunity to beat a hasty retreat. Fumbling blindly, I catch hold of my mistress and sling her effortlessly over one shoulder, turn and lurch towards the exit as fast as I can. Since I'm permanently stuck looking backwards, I'm not aware that Miss Rosenberg is frozen in fear until my mistress cries out in alarm.
Once the mistress has awkwardly twisted my head back around so that I can see straight, I scoop up Miss Rosenberg onto my other shoulder and, with the Major and Miss Chase grudgingly following, we run for our lives.
“I'm so, so, so very sorry!” babbles Miss Rosenberg for the third time, her cheeks almost glowing from embarrassment enough to light the room. We'd managed to lose the Automaton temporarily and had taken refuge in a dingy room that looked like it had once served as a parlor.
“Oh, it's not your fault Miss Rosenberg,” my mistress assured the flustered redhead. “I'm afraid Bitz here isn't the smoothest of rides.”
“Oh please, call me Willow,” replied Miss Rosenberg. “Given our current circumstances ...” Her brow furrowed. “Bitz?”
“That would be me, Miss,” I said, abandoning my mournful examination of my dress coat. The streak of vomit running down the back somewhat spoiled the effect.
“Your name is Bitz?” repeated Miss Rosenberg disbelievingly.
“My mistress named me thus,” I answered. “It would seem that she has a ... 'cutting' sense of humor, Miss.”
My mistress reached out to put a soothing hand on Miss Rosenberg's shoulder, but her nerve failed her and left her hand trembling in the air for a few seconds before she snatched it back. I rolled my eyes and nudged her with my hip, trying to urge her on, but the eyes she darted back at me were filled with panic.
That was my mistress in a nutshell I'm afraid. Running for her life from one of her own homicidal creations ... that was business as usual. Ask her to chat up a pretty girl though? She'll freeze solid in a panic.
“Where are the others?” asked the Major as he straighted up from his bent over posture. The retired soldier was flushed and out of breath; our flight from my mistress' Automaton had obviously been the first running he'd done in quite some time.
But his observation was accurate. Mr Harris, Miss Jenkins and Miss Chase were all missing, and that revelation brought a new worry to my mistress' eyes. She needn't have bothered.
“Mr Harris and Miss Jenkins ran in a different direction, mistress,” I quickly stated. “Since your errant creation decided to follow us, I thought it was safe enough to let them go their own way.”
My mistress' eyes remained flared in concern though. “The estate isn't the safest place in the world, Bitz,” she pointed out dubiously. “But I suppose they're safer without the Automaton on their trail. But what about Miss Chase?”
I fought to avoid smiling. “I saw her duck into a side room as we were legging it, mistress.”
My mistress knew me well enough to recognize when I was holding something back, and she called me on it straight away. “What room?” she asked suspiciously.
My lips twitched. “Wilbur's room.”
“And you didn't warn her?” asked my mistress, aghast.
Miss Rosenberg and the Major were looking back and forth between us, the Major with suspicion and Miss Rosenberg with genuine worry. That was actually quite touching; in her place, I'd have been celebrating the demise of such an unlikeable sort as Miss Chase.
“Who's Wilbur?” Miss Rosenberg finally asked.
This was greeted by a series of blank looks, and I helped them out by providing the more common name by which Wilbur's species was called. “A giant squid.”
“You let Miss Chase be eaten by a giant squid?!” exclaimed Miss Rosenberg. She sounded appalled at the idea, but also a little bit amused at the same time, which perked me up no end.
“Oh, Wilbur won't eat her,” my mistress assured her remaining guests. “He's a vegetarian. The only problem is he's a little bit ... overly friendly.”
“She'll likely come out naked and covered with sucker marks,” I chortled, and my mistress turned to silence me with a single eyebrow raised chidingly.
The Major spluttered incoherently; I think it was the idea of Miss Chase naked that did it to him. But even though his cheeks were still flushed, the Major forged onto more important matters. “Might I ask what you plan to do next, Miss Maclay? I can't imagine that we can continue to stay ahead of that monstrosity of yours forever if it is untiring as you claimed.”
“Um ... well, I have an idea,” replied my mistress cautiously. “But there's one minor flaw in it at the moment.”
“It's ridiculously suicidal?” I suggested, going on previous experience. There's a reason she uses a Reanimated as her assistant. It's easier for her to put me back together than it would be to train a replacement.
“Ah, other than that I mean. We need to get to the east wing.”
“What's so difficult about that?” Miss Rosenberg asked curiously.
The mistress shrugged. “I don't know where it is.”
Miss Rosenberg and the Major both goggled in amazement at my mistress' matter of fact announcement. “You don't know where the east wing of your own house is?” blurted Miss Rosenberg.
“Well ... er ...”
I interjected in an attempt to save my mistress at least some embarrassment. “This house has more than it's share of quirks. Including the fact that outside of the main house, no corridor leads to the same place twice.”
“What?” Miss Rosenberg blinked in surprise, confounded by such a denial of the natural laws. Though since she was talking to a reanimated corpse, I don't know why it was a problem. “How is that even possible?”
I flicked a glance sideways at my mistress, and her cheeks flushed. “Lets just say some people shouldn't mess about with the fabric of the universe without knowing what they're doing. It can lead to all sorts of weird phenomena.”
“It was an accident!” insisted my mistress. “Besides, it's not that big a problem.”
“Being unable to find out how how to get to where we need to get isn't that big a problem?” questioned the Major. “What manner of logic has lead you to that particular conclusion?”
My mistress' eyes drifted towards me, and I slowly lowered myself to my knees with a groan of complaint. “Go on then, mistress,” I muttered sullenly. I'd known this was coming as soon as she'd said we needed to get to the east wing, but I still hated it. “Get it over with.”
I could see the curiosity in Miss Rosenberg's emerald eyes, but she held off on the questions that were obviously scrambling to escape the confines of her head while my mistress stepped closer. Taking hold of the top of my head with both hands, my mistress exerted a steady twisting pressure. As my scalp started to rotate, Miss Rosenberg blanched.
Slowly, then with growing ease, my mistress unscrewed the top of my skull to reveal an over-sized compass built directly into my brain. “Now we're in business,” she announced brightly.
Half an hour later, I found myself outside, tightly wedged between the wall and a convenient gargoyle as the raging sky dumped the sum total of it's wrath upon me, wishing that I had the option of quitting my job. But I didn't, which was why I was hanging off a wall in the middle of a violent thunderstorm with a lightning rod plugged directly into my spine.
The only reason I hadn't been struck by lightning already was a cluster of metallic spines sprouting from the highest roof of the estate. It was an invention of my mistress, designed to force all of the lightning in the local area to strike it. She used it to power her more electricity hungry experiments, since she didn't care to wait for an obliging lightning strike to do the same thing by accident.
So long as that device was active, no lightning would go anywhere near me. Well, that was the theory anyway, but in theory the Automaton was supposed to be doing whatever my mistress told it to, not trying to kill us all.
Still, this was the plan and it wasn't my place to question it. All I had to do was quietly grumble about it, pull it off, and hope to survive. I wasn't too confident on that last part.
I started to hear a high pitched squeal over the roar of the downpour and looked down to see Miss Rosenberg run outside, her elaborate dress of green silk and lace hiked up to show her stockinged legs. A panicked squeak was escaping her lips as she ran, and as she moved from the sure footing of the patio to the slick grass of the lawn, that squeak was cut off as she stumbled and fell.
My mistress emerged in close pursuit, and hurriedly dragged Miss Rosenberg to her feet. The reason for that haste soon followed, the Automaton clanking and wheezing its way outside, demolishing the door frame on the way.
Supporting Miss Rosenberg, my mistress hurried further out onto the lawn, the torrential rain swiftly drenching them to the bone. Once they'd gained a little distance on the Automaton, my mistress turned, searching for where I clung to the wall. As she plunged her hand into the pocket of her lab coat, she nodded to me.
With a hurried prayer, I leapt from the wall and landed on the Automaton's back, grabbing hold as hard as I could to any likely surface even as the impact of my landing knocked the breath out of me. My arrival didn't go unnoticed either; the Automaton let out a strangled rusty groan of protest and started flailing it's arms wildly in an attempt to dislodge me, pincers snapping like those of an incensed crab.
We all stayed like that for a few minutes more. Willow was squeaking in alarm, wavering first one way then the other, constantly foiled in her attempts to circle the metallic monstrosity as it lurched about the lawn erratically. My mistress on the other hand, was tugging frantically, the item in her pocket apparently snagged. And all the while, I clung on for dear life, shrieking curses and attempting to avoid the pincers snapping at various portions of my anatomy.
My luck ran out.
“Hey! That's my leg, you bugger! I was using that, give it bloody well back!”
In a display of what I was certain was pure spite, the Automaton flung my errant limb away, where in a perfect example of Murphy's Law, it plunged neatly over the side of the island to fall the hundreds of feet to the ocean surface.
Finally, my mistress managed to free the object from her pocket, holding it up in triumph to reveal a small flare gun. As a pincer snapped shut barely an inch from the tip of my bulbous nose, I shouted for her to hurry up. If we loitered much longer, this plan was never going to work.
As strange as it sounds, if was only as she fired the flare gun that I considered what was going to happen. The crimson flare that streaked up into the leaden sky was a signal for the Major to disable the lightning catcher atop the roof ... and since I was attached to the only other lightning rod in the area.
I heard the ever present spluttering rattle of the steam generator powering the lightning catcher die out, and even through the rain the air grew thick with ozone. I looked up at the ominous sky in foreboding.
“I hate my job.”
The world dissolved into a blinding white haze as a lightning bolt arched down. I caught a vague glimpse of the Automaton exploded before I did likewise.
When consciousness returned, it was over a week later, and as things turned out, no-one was dead. Aside from me that is, but I was dead long before things went wrong. My mistress filled me in on what had happened after both the Automaton and I exploded as she started work on putting me back together.
The Major had apparently enjoyed himself immensely, and escaped with no worse injury worse than electrically charged hair. He'd been so impressed with the Automaton's destructive potential that he was currently attempting to persuade my mistress to market it to the armed forces, but she was having none of if.
Mr Harris and Miss Jenkins had eventually been discovered exiting the same broom cupboard, in a state more rumpled than when we'd last seen them. Rumor had it that they were now recently engaged, and when seen in public the happy couple were best described as bewildered and smug respectively.
Miss Chase on the other hand, was anything but happy since my prediction had turned out to be accurate. Then again, I don't think anyone particularly cared.
As for Miss Rosenberg ... even though my mistress' attempt to get to know her in an informal environment had died a painful death, it seemed that she had made a definite impression. After all, it seemed that Miss Rosenberg had hardly left my mistress' side in the last week. For the time being, I might just be a severed head in a jar filled with nutrient solution, but even I can pick up the electric chemistry developing between them.
The only problem is that my mistress seems so caught up in Miss Rosenberg's company that she's taking her time with putting me back together. She's promised several times that she's going to be finished any day now, but I won't hold my breath.
And not just because I can see my lungs on the workbench on the other side of the room.