Thursdays, like clockwork, Mother would clean the shop. Mira often watched from the back window of the house as her mother and the girl, Adne, took unwound springs and bent gears out into the alley, leaving them for the scrap collectors. After, whenever she felt brave enough, Mira would climb down from the window and pick through the debris, gathering whatever pieces she could save and bringing them back to her room. There, she would experiment with the old, damaged parts, fitting them together as best she could. Her hands were nimble; her eyes were good—and sometimes, the machines she made would work as well as any of her mother’s.
Aside from her books, it was the only entertainment she had. The medicines she took every morning and evening made it so she could never stray far from her room. Going down into the alley was dangerous enough; if ever Mother found out, she would certainly be furious. But to venture farther—into the city proper . . .
Mira had spent hours examining the spires of the city from her room, and at night she had watched the streets ignite with light and music. At times, the temptation to wander into that mystery had been overwhelming, but she had never gone farther than the alley, never dared to risk breaking her mother’s heart with worry and fear.
One day, she promised herself, every time. Another day.
This particular Thursday, rain fell over the city, pounding on the soot-darkened roofs and turned the factories and houses into dull puddles of gray. The alley was slick and wet, and Mira nearly fell when her hands slipped from the window ledge. She caught herself and managed to land on her feet, though only barely.
The old parts lay in a messy heap near the alley’s entrance. Some of the parts looked as if they would work quite well, with a little adjustment. Mira picked through the pile, laying out the ones that might still be usable on a length of oilcloth she’d brought for the purpose.
Behind her, Mira heard the shop door opening. In a panic, she wrapped up the parts she’d saved, stuffed the bundle under her arm, and attempted to clamber back up to the window.
Her feet skidded over the stone. Her hands slipped on the wet bricks. The oilcloth spilled its parts, and Mira fell in an inglorious heap on the pavement just as Adne stepped out into the alleyway. For a moment, while the brass pieces clattered over the cobbles with a sound like bells and the rain poured down, the two simply stared at each other.
The girl was taller than Mira, and slimmer, and her thick, rough-worn trousers were stained with oil and grease from the shop. Her short, blond hair hung in limp strands around her face, and her wide eyes stared at Mira without blinking.
Mira prayed that the other girl wouldn’t think to call for Mother. Mother would fret about the rain, about the cold and wet and damp.
But the girl merely let the door fall closed and stepped forward, offering a pale hand to help Mira up.
Mira took it. “Thank you,” she said, brushing mud and water from her skirt.
“Think nothing of it,” said the girl. “Who are you?”
“My name’s Mira. Short for Mirabelle.”
“Mrs. Farren’s daughter?”
“Yes,” said Mira glancing sideways at the shop door. “You won’t tell her I was down here, will you?”
“Not if you don’t want me to,” said Adne. She looked up to the window sitting open above them, and Mira fancied she could see the gears clicking in the girl’s head. “You need to be more careful. Here, let me help you back up.”
“You don’t need to—”
Adne smiled crookedly. “Just do me a favor and don’t get caught.” She wove her fingers together and knelt under the window, letting Mira step onto her hands so she could reach the ledge.
Once safely inside, Mira leaned back out the window to look at the girl still standing below. “Thank you, Adne,” she whispered. “Again.”
Adne saluted and disappeared into the shop. It was only later, after the rain had stopped and Mira had long wandered away from the back window, that she realized she had forgotten all her parts.
Mrs. Farren did a great deal of business in her shop, and one of Mira’s little entertainments was watching the people who wandered in. From her balcony on the top floor of the house, where she was sure she would not be noticed, she would mark each person who went in and mark them again when they came out. It was rare to see the same person twice.
But recently, there had been one man coming every day. Mira only noticed after three days in a row, when the same dark-haired man with the same velvet hat set the bells on the door jingling again. He even came at the same time each day: three o’clock on the dot.
Mira was curious about this. Most people who came to see Mother were looking for a watch or a clock or a repair, and even if they were looking for something more exotic, they would put in their order, make their payment, and leave Mrs. Farren to her work. Yet the man with the velvet hat was coming every single day; Mira even caught him standing at the door on a Sunday, when Mother kept the store closed “for spiritual observance.”
As soon as Mira saw her mother open the door for the man, she rushed down the stairs to the locked door that separated the shop from the rest of the house. The wood was thin enough that, at times, Mira could hear entire conversations in the workshop’s back room. And so, for her curiosity’s sake, she pressed her ear to the door.
“Dr. Merritt,” Mother was saying. “I am working as best and quickly as I can. These things take time and—”
“I don’t think you understand,” answered the man. His voice was harsh and low, cutting through Mother’s words like the blade of a scalpel. “Time is the one luxury we do not have. Besides, you still have the first apparatus. You’ve done this work before—”
“When I was quite a bit younger,” replied Mother. “The complexity and delicacy of this piece cannot be overstated, and I simply must ask you to be patient—”
“I will not be patient while she still clings to life!”
Silence fell on both sides of the door, Mira holding her own breath at Dr. Merritt’s words. Mother was the first to speak.“I can have it complete in a month—”
“Believe me,” insisted Mother, “when I say I know what you must be going through—”
“And yet you still refuse to give me proof that it will even function as promised. As I’ve said before, I would appreciate being able to see your prior attempt—”
“And as I’ve said before, that’s out of the question!” Mother said harshly.
“Perhaps I have not been clear,” said the doctor. “I am paying you a lot of money, Mrs. Farren, and placing a lot of trust in promises which have been, so far, quite empty—”
“And I am spending a lot of time assuring you of promises, Doctor, when I could be performing the work,” said Mother, her voice rising with her anger. Mira did not envy Dr. Merritt’s position. “If you want this work done properly, if you wish this machine to operate to full specifications, then you must have patience for just a little longer.”
“Is that a threat?”
“Hardly,” Mother said, her voice painfully level. “In any case, I think it would be best, Dr. Merritt, if you left.”
There was the sound of something heavy crashing in the shop, and Mira immediately feared that the doctor had done something terrible to her mother—but a moment later, the lock on the door in front of Mira clicked, and she had to stand back as it swung open. Mother stepped out of the shop, quite alive and well, if more than a little cross.
Mira stepped back from the door. “Mother, are you all right?”
“Have you been eavesdropping?”
“I—I heard the noise,” said Mira, which of course wasn’t a lie at all. “I thought—”
“Mirabelle, go to your room,” said Mother. Her face was hard and unreadable as if she could explode at any moment. Mira turned and hurried up the three flights of stairs to her room, and she stayed there, staring out over the city, until night had fallen and she sank, at last, into bed.
Thursday, when Mira poked her head out the second story window to see if her mother had cleared the shop yet, she found Adne waiting for her.
“I got you some good parts,” the girl said with a grin, and she reached into her jacket to pull out a lumpy bundle of cloth that clicked and clanked with every movement. Mira leaned out the window for a closer look, and Adne tossed the bundle up toward the window for Mira to catch with both hands.
Mira looked from the parcel of parts to the girl standing below her, and back to the parcel. “You . . . you didn’t steal these, did you?”
Adne rolled her eyes. “No more than you usually do,” she said. “I just asked Mrs. Farren—er, your mum—if I could have some parts to work with at home. She gave me those straight away. I hope they’re useful.”
Mira unwrapped the bundle, spilling the brass pieces onto the sill. They clinked against the worn wood as they fell, and inspecting each piece, Mira could tell they were very good parts indeed.
“They’re absolutely perfect!” Mira looked to the girl still standing expectantly below. “However can I thank you?”
But Adne just shrugged. “Honestly, I mostly want you to show me what you end up doing with them.”
Mira smiled. “I definitely will.”
“Good,” said Adne. “Then I should get back to work. Your mum’s been fretting about this machine we’re supposed to finish by the end of the month.”
At that Mira pressed her lips together. “It wouldn’t happen to be for a doctor—Merritt?”
Adne nodded. “That’s the one. You ask me though, the man’s bad news.”
“What makes you say that?”
“Well, the first time he came in, he seemed normal enough—upstanding doctor type, all business. He asked to talk to your mum and didn’t leave until close. But now he doesn’t leave us alone,” she said. “He’s here every day, I’m sure you’ve noticed. And then, about a week ago, he came in with this big jar under his arm, wrapped in paper. I let him in, of course, and he put the jar down to talk with your mum in the back. So there’s this big jar sitting on my workbench all covered up—well, of course I had to see what it was,” she said with a shrug.
“What was it?” asked Mira.
Adne looked up to meet Mira’s eyes, her face suddenly alight. “Are you sure you want to know?”
“Well, I do now! You can’t just say that and not tell!”
Adne glanced back at the shop door, before beckoning Mira down from the window. Mira leaned down as far as she could; Adne rose on her toes to close the distance between them. They were still far apart, but Mira could reach down, and Adne could reach up, and they were just close enough that, if they did that, their fingers could find each other in the air. Mira was suddenly very aware of the breath in her chest as she waited for Adne’s answer.
“A hand,” whispered Adne. “The thing he was carrying around in a jar was a severed hand.”
“No!” Mira said, jumping back from the window ledge.
“Truth!” said Adne, sinking back down onto her heels. She ran her finger in the shape of an X over her chest. “Cross my heart, it was a hand he’d cut from someone’s arm, with bone still gleaming and the skin all ragged and everything. And of course I wasn’t fast enough to cover it back up once I realized what it was, so when he came back, he looked like he was going to murder me. I mean, you know how sometimes people look really angry, and you can tell they want to hurt you, but you know they never would? It’s in their eyes—you can tell the difference between when someone just wants to hurt you, and when someone is really, truly capable of hurting you. The thing is, he didn’t look like he just wanted to murder me. You could see him already measuring what it would take to do it.”
Adne leaned her back against the wall and gave an unwilling shudder. “At the very least, I was sure he was going to slap me. But your mum apologized before he could do anything. So he just told her, ‘Look out for that one,’ before taking his severed hand and leaving.” The girl let out a long breath. “But this machine he’s got us building . . . it’s strange. Really strange.”
Mira couldn’t stop herself leaning forward again. “What is it?”
“That’s the thing—I can’t figure it out!” said Adne. Her pale eyebrows had scrunched together, the gears in her head running overtime. “For one thing, I haven’t seen the entire thing; your mum just gives me pieces to work on. Like yesterday, it was a self-winding motor, and today it’s one part of some sort of calculation engine. I can’t even begin to imagine how it all fits together.” She wandered away from the wall, lost in puzzles. But at last, she shook her head. “Still. It’s not going to build itself, so . . . I’ll see you next week?”
Mira smiled. “Next week it is.”
Adne pulled the door below the window open, and with one last salute, she disappeared into the shop.
Mira gathered her parts and hurried upstairs. Now that Adne had given her some proper pieces to work with, she was ready to finish her current project. She sat at her desk, opening the bundle of cogs and spreading them in front of her. The machine lay half-hidden in one of the desk’s cubby holes. Gently, Mira pulled it into the open and examined it to make sure that its mechanisms, built as they had been from bent gears and clock springs, were still in working order. Satisfied, she pulled on her magnifying glasses and began assembling the undamaged parts.
Clockwork had always come naturally to Mira. Even working with her mother’s discarded gears, it had always been easy to see how the pieces fit together—how the springs stored energy for cogs and pins and how the interaction of one pair of gears could set an entire machine into motion. But it was only as she worked now that she realized how much the damaged parts had slowed her down. Within a few hours, the machine was almost finished.
Night had fallen, and still Mira worked, her hinged desk lamp pulled close to the machine to aid her eyes. She almost didn’t notice the footsteps in the stairwell until it was too late. As soon as she recognized her mother’s approach, she pulled off her glasses and tossed a ratty blanket over her desk, pulling a book from her nightstand just as her mother pushed open the door.
“Now, what are you up to?” Mother asked, poking her head into the room.
“Nothing, really,” answered Mira. “I’ve been reading Frankenstein; it’s very good.”
“Your father was fond of that one,” Mother said with a small, sad smile. She stepped through the door, her brown eyes running over everything within the small space. “Mira, I hope you don’t mind, but I’ve a favor to ask.”
“Something in the city?” Mira asked, hoping that her eagerness would not be overly apparent.
But Mother shook her head, her lips curling into a frown. “We’ve talked about this before, Mira. It’s far too dangerous with your condition.”
“But I’ve been taking my medicines, and—”
“And nothing you say is going to change my mind,” responded Mother. “But if everything goes well, then perhaps, soon . . .” In any case, there’s someone I’d like you to meet. A client.”
At this, Mira took pause. It had been a long time since Mother had introduced her to new people—Mira’s illness made her too delicate for social visits. And certainly there had never been a reason for Mira to meet any of her mother’s clients. “What for?” asked Mira.
“Well, I’ve been building a piece for this doctor, and when I told him about you, well . . . he thinks he might be able to help with your condition.” Mother paused, clasping her hands in front of her. “His name is Lucas Merritt.”
Mira searched her mother’s face for some sign of what she was thinking, but it was blank as an unpainted wall. “Do you really think he could help?” she asked doubtfully.
Mother frowned. “I don’t think it could hurt,” she said.
Mira ran her fingers over the book in her hands. If Dr. Merritt had told Mother he could treat Mira, perhaps it meant he was trying to make things right—to apologize for his rudeness by helping. But still, the thought of meeting the man put knots in Mira’s stomach. Bad news, Adne had said. The image of a severed hand floated just behind her eyes. “I’ll need to think about it,” she said finally.
Mother nodded. “I guess that can only be expected. I’ll tell him to wait until next week.” And then, in a gesture that took even Mira by surprise, she swooped forward to plant a sudden kiss on Mira’s head.
“You know I only have your best interests in mind, Mira?” she asked.
And Mira, with the kiss lingering on her hair and her forbidden clockwork hidden under the blanket next to her said the only thing she could, “I know.”
The week passed too quickly for Mira, as she put the finishing touches on her new machine, the parts working together better than she’d expected. Though she could barely wait for her next meeting with Adne, she dreaded having to decide whether or not to meet with Dr. Merritt. If she decided not to, it might turn out badly for Mother—the doctor did seem to have a temper. But if she did meet with the man . . .
Honestly, she couldn’t really think of a legitimate reason not to, other than the nauseating dread that overwhelmed her every time she thought about it.
As Thursday morning passed, Mira took her place at the second story window, waiting. When, at last, her mother abandoned the alley to return to the clocks, Mira opened the window and leaned out, searching for Adne. The other girl had remained outside, standing next to the door, just under the window, and she looked up at Mira’s call.
Meeting Mira’s smile with her own grin, she dipped into a low, exaggerated bow. “And how are you this fine day, Miss Farren?”
“Quite well,” answered Mira. “I finished the machine I was working on.”
Mira reached into her skirt pocket and pulled the device out—it roughly resembled a key in shape, though there were a few too many dents and hooks in it, clockwork ticking in its hilt. She held it out for Adne to see.
The girl peered up at it, her eyes narrowed in curiosity. “What is it?”
“A clockwork key,” answered Mira. “A device to open any door, unlock any lock. And I—well, can I tell you a secret?”
“I won’t tell a soul.”
Mira took a deep breath. “I’m running away.”
The announcement hung between them like a feather released suddenly into the air before it fell. For the past week, the idea had been hovering in the back of her mind, half-formed—after all, what use was a clockwork key if it didn’t unlock doors? The threat of Doctor Merritt had given the idea more life, but truthfully, the thought of running away had always been there—every time she looked out at the city as the sun rose, every time she saw the street lights flicker on. Still, it was only as Mira said those words that the thought took on the weight of truth.
Adne was silent, her face turned thoughtful. “Where to?” she asked finally.
“I don’t know,” answered Mira. “Anywhere. Everywhere!” She sighed. “I just want to see somewhere that’s not here. I want to see the City.”
Adne frowned. “I don’t know, Mira—”
“I’d come back, of course. But I want to see it all.”
Adne peered up at her, considering. “You’re sure you want to run away?”
“I’ve wanted to forever.”
“Then you shouldn’t do it alone,” said the girl. “If you’re going to run away, let me help.”
Mira smiled. “Come back tonight,” she said. “Tomorrow will be too late.”
“Tonight?” echoed Adne.
Adne nodded and dipped into another bow. “I will be waiting for you, Mirabelle Farren. Tonight.”
“Mira?” Mother said, her voice soft as she settled onto the edge of the bed.
Mira was already under the duvet, curled up as if to sleep. She made a sound that could’ve meant either curiosity or assent.
“Mira, I have to know about Dr. Merritt.”
“I’ll meet him,” said Mira with a yawn. “Tomorrow.”
Mother smiled and bent down to kiss her forehead. “That’s my girl.” She stood to head toward the door.
“I love you,” said Mira.
Mother paused, the doorknob half-turned. “I love you too, Mira. Always.” And she turned off the lamp as she left the room.
The lock clicked, and Mira stood from the bed fully dressed, pressing her ear against the door to listen for movement in the rest of the house.
Her mother bustled about for a good half-hour more, and then there was the sound of the door to the main bedroom closing, which meant Mother had gone to bed. She waited another hour after that, watching the hands on her bedroom clock tick slowly toward midnight. Finally, she drew the key out of her pocket and fit it into the lock.
There was a whirr and a sudden, bright click. The door sprang open.
And now came the dangerous part. Mira took her boots in hand and began descending the stairs in stockinged feet. She avoided all the places she knew would cause the stairs to complain, passing lightly through the darkness like a shadow. From the landing on the third floor, Mira could just hear Mother’s soft breaths. She continued down, to the landing below. Pushing the window open, she looked out.
The alleyway greeted her, empty and dark, and she felt the cold night’s wind against her face.
“Mira?” came Adne’s voice.
The girl’s skinny form stood half-hidden in the shadows of the alley.
“I’m coming,” whispered Mira.
She pulled herself up onto the ledge and let herself drop down the other side. Her hands slipped, and suddenly she was falling—
But instead of hitting the pavement, she found that Adne had caught her. The girl smiled crookedly, before setting Mira down on her own two feet.
“Now then,” said Adne. “Let’s go.”
They wandered through the darkened city under vapor lamp and gaslight, Mira staring at everything with widened eyes. They glimpsed actors putting on plays in parks lit with lanterns and fairy lights, and street performers pulling melodies from accordions and fiddles, their eerie music rising to fill the night. Groups of shouting men and laughing women pushed past them on every side, young lovers strolling arm in arm. Mira spent almost an hour watching a woman in scandalous red juggle fire on a street corner to the delight of the gathered crowd.
Adne finally dragged her away, but not before Mira had tossed a couple coins into the woman’s hat, earning a sly and thick-lipped smile.
“Come on, Mira,” said Adne. Continuing down the street, Mira was almost trampled by a pair of sailors who burst from the door of a pub onto the street, their fists and hands and wild eyes everywhere. Adne just managed to pull Mira out of the way.
“Are you all right?” she asked, but Mira laughed.
“I’ve never even seen a sailor before!”
Before long, Adne was laughing too. She showed Mira how to hitch the trolley without having to pay, and they caught a ride into the center of the city, where the music halls and theaters and cabarets glared and gleamed on every street. They sneaked into one of the opera houses, where a woman with her face painted white sang arias to a man in a mask under hot, dusty lights.
By the time the last note silenced, Mira was starting to feel very drowsy.
“Come on,” said Adne. “Let’s get you home.”
She half carried, half dragged Mira back into the darkening streets, the city lights winking out, one by one.
“I don’t want to go back to the shop,” muttered Mira sleepily.
“You need to get to bed, Mira.”
“But I don’t want to,” said Mira, leaning on Adne’s arm. “I don’t want to. If I do, I’ll have to meet Dr. Merritt, and he scares me.”
In the darkness, Adne frowned. “He asked to meet you?”
“But Mira, you’re nearly unconscious.”
Mira shook herself awake—or tried to. But it was dark and her head felt so, so heavy. “Where do you sleep?” she asked.
Adne sighed. “Very well.” They caught a trolley to the river side, to a battered tenement with dark windows. By the end, Adne was carrying Mira up the three flights of stairs to her room, before laying the smaller girl on her sagging mattress.
Adne laid a blanket out on the floor next to the bed and settled down on it. In the soft darkness, the gray of her eyes caught the moonlight. She turned toward Mira, the two of them lying face-to-face, noses nearly touching. Mira’s breath felt suddenly enormously awkward, but Adne simply smiled. “Try to get some sleep,” she said, gently.
Mira nodded, her mouth widening in a monstrous yawn. “I’ve never had more fun in my life,” she muttered.
“I’m glad,” said Adne. She reached out to place her hand next to Mira’s on the mattress. “Good night, Mira.”
Mira traced her fingers over Adne’s in the darkness. “Good night, Adne.”
In the morning, the room lay empty, sunlight piercing the grimy windows. Mira sat up, disoriented, pain stabbing behind her eyes. “Adne?” she called.
But Adne’s blanket was folded neatly at Mira’s feet.
Mira stood and drifted around the tiny room, before noticing the note pinned to the door.
Gone to pick up some breakfast. Be back soon. Sit tight. And for god’s sake don’t let anyone in!
Mira took a moment to process the note, the pain behind her eyes growing. She bent down to neaten the mattress, but her back was stiff. A sudden, blinding jolt of pain ran through her chest, and Mira nearly screamed.
She was supposed to take it every morning and every night, and last night, in all the excitement, she’d forgotten.
Another jolt of pain.
She had to get back to the shop. Grabbing a pencil from the table next to the door, she scribbled under Adne’s note:
Have to get back to the shop. Sorry. It’s urgent.
And ignoring the pain, she hurried as fast as she could toward the trolley. By the time she’d reached her street, she could barely move, and her head had started to buzz. She approached the shop front, the pain overwhelming any apprehension over what she would tell Mother.
But even the pain disappeared, when she finally saw the shop—
The door was open, but the shop lay dark and empty.
“Mother?” said Mira, pushing through the open door.
There was no answer, save the ticking of the clocks. Mira drifted through Mother’s workshop, so different now from the last time she’d seen it. She’d been a child then, playing with clocks and gadgets while her mother sat behind the counter, tinkering and fixing pocket watches. Then Father had died, and Mira herself had fallen sick. The shop now barely resembled the shop of her childhood.
She passed into the back room. Here lay unfinished projects: automatons, grandfather clocks, working models of the cosmos—pieces too big or too complex to display in the shop proper. But the thing that caught her attention was not the brass globe finished with gold and silver, or the human-shaped automaton with hands as intricate as a galaxy—
The door separating the shop from the house was open.
Swallowing her pain, Mira pushed her way through the door and upstairs to her mother’s room. This door, too, swung aimlessly on its hinges. Mira poked her head inside.
Footsteps sounded behind her, and she turned just in time to see someone coming out of the shadows. But she was too late, and the world dissolved into darkness.
Mira awoke in a darkened room, elegant and unfamiliar. Her hands were resting on the arms of a plushly upholstered chair, her feet on the floor—but she could not move any part of her body the slightest inch. The only thing she could still control were her eyes.
She let them wander across the room, pausing on every detail. In front of her stood a low coffee table, a platter of tea things on top. Behind that lay a fireplace, the pale coals the only source of light within the room. On her right a tall vase of flowers wilted, while to her left, a portrait of a lady with silvery hair was the only decoration.
Mira’s eyes rested on the portrait. The pale lady was beautiful, no older than twenty or so, dressed in dark clothing sewn from lace and silk. Her mouth was tilted in a slight smile, but her most striking feature was her eyes. They stared out of the portrait, watching, their golden amber almost glowing.
A sound behind Mira made her jump—or would have, were she not completely paralyzed. Heavy footsteps fell behind her, and Mira became suddenly aware of Dr. Merritt’s dark presence hovering close.
He circled the chair to stand in front of her and knelt, bringing his dark eyes level with Mira’s own.
“Do you know who I am?”
Mira tried to respond, but the words came out as a muffled mrrrrrfph. Her jaw wouldn’t work. She glared, as best she could.
The corner of Dr. Merritt’s lip twitched in the hint of a smile. “My apologies—” he reached forward, his fingers digging into the skin at the base of Mira’s neck. When he pulled them away, the feeling had returned to Mira’s jaw, and the words bubbled up to her tongue.
“You’re Dr. Merritt. What have you done to my mother?” she demanded. And though she did not say it, she wondered, what have you done to me?
Dr. Merritt smiled fully this time, but it was a very unhappy smile. “Your mother is occupied at the moment, Mirabelle,” he said. “We shall reconvene with her momentarily, but I think it is necessary that I explain things properly.”
“You see,” he began, standing. “Several months ago, I commissioned your mother to build a piece for me—an extraordinarily complex and delicate machine. I had been informed, that she had built such a piece before—once. Only once. It was a unique mechanism, and now I needed her to create another—and quickly.”
His dark eyes glittered, and nausea rose in Mira’s chest. Dr. Merritt turned away from her, making his way to the far side of the room. He stopped next to the lady’s portrait.
“My wife—Ophelia,” said Dr. Merritt. “A year ago, she fell sick—a wasting disease that eats at muscles and bones, destroying and corrupting living tissue. I had never seen such a disease, and I spent months struggling to find a cure, attempting treatment after treatment to preserve her life. But every attempt failed, and Ophelia has been steadily worsening, her bones brittle, organs and tissues hardening around her heart . . .”
Mira’s breath caught—hadn’t that been Father’s illness? She remembered her father’s hands at the end of it all—hard as stone, the fingers thin and delicate as dried twigs.
But Dr. Merritt was still speaking. “I learned of your mother’s work when I was researching the disease—looking at other cases, your father’s in particular. After talking to your mother, she revealed how she had been able to create a machine to preserve what was left of a dying mind in a new body of metal and clockwork.”
Mira couldn’t breathe. It couldn’t be true. Father had died—Mira had been at the funeral. She’d watched them bury the petrified body.
“She’d only managed to make one of these machines,” said Dr. Merritt. His eyes held Mira’s. “I demanded to see this marvelous invention, but your mother refused. She was working on Ophelia’s body, she assured me. But after fruitless, lingering months, while Ophelia was slipping closer and closer to death, I began to grow suspicious. Why did she refuse to show me this miraculous machine? Why would she keep it locked up, hidden away from the world?”
Horror clutched at Mira’s stomach. “No,” she breathed.
“Finally, I convinced her to show it to me.”
“No, no, no.”
“Finally, I convinced her to introduce me to you.”
“You’re lying,” Mira managed to say, the words sticking in her teeth.
The doctor’s eyes glittered, and inexplicably, he laughed—a desperate sound of disbelief. “So, she never told you.”
“No. You’re insane,” said Mira.
Dr. Merritt approached her, and lifted Mira’s arm, his pale hands stark against her skin. Mira barely felt it. He held her hand hanging in front of her. “Never told you!” And with a twist of his fingers, he popped Mira’s wrist out of place.
There was no pain—only a distant feeling of discomfort—and with another swift movement, Dr. Merritt whipped out a dull, flat blade and buried it under the dark skin of Mira’s wrist.
He peeled the skin back.
Mira stared at the cogs in her fingers.
“Clockwork!” proclaimed Dr. Merritt. “Clockwork and rubber. A new body for a dying mind.”
Mira felt sick.
Dr. Merritt replaced her skin, smoothing it over the metal joints, and dropped her hand back onto the chair.
“What are you going to do?” said Mira.
“Since your Mother refuses to complete the new apparatus, we will have to adjust the old one,” said Dr. Merritt.
And standing back from Mira at last, he grabbed the back of her chair, and began wheeling her out into the hall.
Out of the parlor and into a long, dark, dusty corridor, Mira could do nothing as Dr. Merritt wheeled her into the house. Mira’s limbs remained frozen—it was impossible for her to so much as twitch, much less escape. The doctor pushed Mira past locked doors, down a side hall, and finally, into a dim bedroom, the curtains drawn against the daylight, dust motes swirling through the air. In one dark corner, her mother sat, eyes focused on the floor in front of her.
“Mum!” cried Mira.
Mother looked up, her eyes widening, and then she was standing, reaching for Mira. “Mirabelle—!”
But Dr. Merritt stopped her, stepping forward to place himself between Mira and her mother. “Mrs. Farren—”
But Mother wasn’t having it, she stood firm against Dr. Merritt, her voice and her eyes dangerous. “I told you I could complete the device for you. I just needed time—”
“There isn’t any left,” said Dr. Merritt. “Which is why I’ve brought the first apparatus.”
Mother’s voice was quiet. “Nothing you say or do could possibly convince me to do as you ask.”
Dr. Merritt raised his hand as if to strike her, but Mother did not so much as flinch. Her eyes dared the doctor to make the next move, and for a moment, they stood frozen, Mother’s jaw set in defiance, Dr. Merritt tense.
It was Mother who broke the spell. “Clockwork, Dr. Merritt. Is that all you think this is? Gears and cogs ticking away, their motions inevitable, unchanging and unchanged? If so, I would wonder at your desperation to have your wife preserved as such—”
“She dies, otherwise. And anything is preferable to the complete loss of her.”
“No, Dr. Merritt. Not anything,” Mother said, her eyes flicking to Mira still trapped behind him. “A life without the freedom to think, to change, to exist is no life at all. And no mere machine would be able to preserve that freedom. No, it’s not mere clockwork, Dr. Merritt. Those cogs and gears behind you don’t just hold a memory, but a living mind. To preserve the life of your wife, you would have me murder my own daughter,” she finished. “And I am telling you right now, Dr. Merritt, nothing you could possibly threaten would convince me to do that.”
The silence sat, heavy and choking. Dr. Merritt glared at Mother, shaking his head. “Then I shall simply have to do it myself.”
He turned to Mira, whipping a scalpel from some pocket. Mother cried out. Mira closed her eyes against the inevitable pain—
A tense buzz filled the air, there was a deafening crack, a dull thud, and the tingle of ozone and electricity. It stung Mira’s nostrils—which meant, for the moment, that she must still be alive.
“Ariadne . . .” came Mother’s voice.
Mira opened her eyes. Dr. Merritt lay unconscious on the floor at Mira’s feet, Adne standing over him, a device buzzing with electricity in her hand.
And then Mother was at Mira’s side, her dark arms pulling Mira into a hug.
“Mum!” Mira realized she was crying. And it didn’t matter that those tears came from the working of gears in her eyes—they were salt and they were water and they were real.
When Mother at last pulled away, her fingers brushing the back of Mira’s neck, feeling began to return to Mira’s limbs. She flexed her fingers and attempted to push herself up, her legs wobbling.
She immediately regretted it.
But Adne was there to catch her. She fell gratefully into the girl’s arms. Her entire body felt rusted.
“Your medicines,” said Mother faintly. She reached into her pocket and pulled out a bottle of the amber tincture that had kept Mira going. She squeezed a couple of the honey-colored drops out onto Mira’s tongue.
Mira swallowed, the medicine warming her throat. Her eyes wandered to the bed, where Ophelia lay, skin powder white and waning.
“Is there any way to help her?” asked Mira, distantly.
Mother moved over to the bed, her fingers brushing over the dying woman’s eyes. “I’m afraid not.”
Ophelia stirred at Mother’s touch, her eyelids fluttering open. Her eyes were as bright a gold as they had been in her portrait—even if the rest of her body was fading, her eyes remained alive. They darted around the room, unfocused, until they settled, finally, on Mira. “He told me about you,” she said. Her voice sounded mute as if it came from very, very far away.
“The girl who lived,” she whispered.
A groan came from Dr. Merritt. Adne stepped between him and Mira, holding her weapon forward in warning. Dr. Merritt pushed himself standing, to glare at the girl in front of him.
“Lucas—” came Ophelia’s distant voice.
Dr. Merritt turned to his wife and grasped her fingers with trembling hands. “Ophelia . . .”
“Lucas. You shouldn’t have brought her here. You should’ve known I wouldn’t stand for it.”
Ophelia’s whisper cut through the air like a knife. “Let me go,” she said. “Just let me go.”
Her golden eyes looked past her husband’s shoulder, focusing on Mira.
“Go on and live.”
Adne held on to Mira’s arm the entire way back to the shop, and to Mira’s surprise, Mother didn’t comment on it.
“I figure what had happened after I came looking for you at the shop,” Adne said as they walked, Mira still leaning heavily on the girl’s for support. “I said he was bad news . . .”
She only let go of Mira after they’d entered the shop. Mother cleared a chair, moving a pile of brassworks onto the worktable and urging Mira to sit. Even then, Adne refused to abandon her, instead kneeling next to the chair and clasping Mira’s hands in hers.
“Are you going to be all right?” she asked.
Mira nodded, hiding a smile. It was nice to be the focus of her concern.
“Ariadne, if you’d give us a moment,” said Mother.
Adne looked as if it was the last thing she wanted to do. But she nodded, stood, and hovering a moment at the door, stepped outside the shop to hover near the window instead.
Mother urged the door closed, avoiding Mira’s eyes. She cleared the workbench and pulled a stool in front of her daughter. A sigh escaped her lips, heavy and full of exhaustion. “I’m sorry, Mira. I owe you so much more than an apology.”
“Why didn’t you tell me?” asked Mira.
Mother looked worn. “I didn’t want to scare you. I wanted to protect you. I—I was wrong in so many ways. After your Father died, and you started getting sick . . . it was just too much to bear.
“And after so much—after we got back from the hospital and they told me . . . they told me there was no hope.”
Mira remembered that night—a month after they’d buried Father. They’d come back from the crowded hospital, Mother in tears, and Mira had asked what was wrong, because the doctors hadn’t said anything to her—they had only wanted to talk to Mother. And Mother kept saying she’d be all right, everything would be okay, and Mira fell asleep with Mother holding her hand, feeling safe and warm as ever. The next day, she’d woken up feeling better, and she’d never stopped to wonder.
“I’m sorry,” said Mother. “After everything, I was afraid—the last thing I wanted was to lose you again.”
Mira looked at her Mother. A distant part of her wanted to be angry, wanted to feel betrayed and deceived, righteously furious. But looking at Mother now, with her disheveled hair and trembling hands, Mira simply couldn’t.
There was something understandable about it. She remembered Ophelia’s eyes, and the desperation that had overtaken Dr. Merritt.
It was so hard to let go.
A blur of movement caught Mira’s eye, and she turned to the shop window to see Adne pacing nervously outside.
Mother followed her gaze, and something in her face seemed to lift.
“I should’ve realized that it did no good to keep you alive if I wouldn’t let you live,” Mother said softly. She squeezed Mira’s fingers, her thumb running over her daughter’s finger joints. Mira focused for a moment on the fact that, at their core, they were brass and not bone. It didn’t seem to matter that much.
She hoped Adne felt the same way.
Mother smiled, as if she could sense Mira’s thoughts, and helped her daughter to stand, pulling her into a warm embrace.
“Go live,” she whispered in Mira’s ear before releasing her.
Mira grinned, and rushed out the door to where Adne was waiting. “I’ve got a lot to tell you,” said Mira, and the relief in the other girl’s face was like a warm blanket. But there was something else there—a lingering concern, as if Mira were as delicate as an egg and could break at any moment.
“Stop looking at me like that,” said Mira.
“Like I might drop into a faint without warning you.” She stuck her tongue out at the girl. “I’ve never been better.”
“Are you sure?” Adne said, her eyes still worried.
Mira gave her a mock glare, before pointing to the trolley approaching them down the road. “If I can’t beat you to the train, then you can be concerned. Deal?”
Finally, Adne’s face broke into a smile. “Deal.”
And without waiting another moment, Mira turned and raced toward the train, the wind beating against her face, her hair wild and bouncing behind her.
“Be home before supper!” called Mother.
But Mira barely heard her.