The Girl with the Iron Touch Page 15

But there was more. “I can’t promise that I’ll never be an ass, or that I’ll never make you cry. I can’t promise that I won’t make you so angry you want to cosh me over the head with a brick. I can’t promise you forever, Finley. I’d love to, but I can give you right now. I can give you me in all my defective glory.”

She looked up at him, eyes burning with tears she refused to shed. “Don’t you ever shut up?” she demanded.

And then tossing frustration and vexation to the wind, she threw her arms around his neck and kissed him.

That was the end of any and all conversation.

Chapter 10

Leonardo Garibaldi was fragile, vulnerable. He was no threat to her safety whatsoever, and would be incredibly easy to kill if Emily could just get close enough to do it without a bloody piece of metal watching her.

She hadn’t lost her nerve, nor did she think she would be able to do the deed without it changing her forever. Anyone who could kill and not feel the gravity of it was probably not right in the head. It was why opposite sides in a war were made to think of each other as enemies that would kill them if they didn’t shoot first. They were taught to think of each other as evil, because no sane man or woman could walk up to another and put a bullet in their belly without the justification of doing it to protect themselves, their loved ones, their country, or their cause.

Emily looked at it as preventing someone truly evil from walking the earth, but more importantly, she would do it to protect her friends. She would do it for Sam, and she would gladly bear the weight of her actions. She would bear it without regret, and that was as disturbing as it was comforting.

She didn’t court death, nor was she happy about having to take a life, but it was Garibaldi, and if ever there was a man who needed killing, it was him. She could accept the responsibility that came with it, she could almost convince herself that it was something she would happily die to accomplish. That was a lie, of course. She didn’t want to die. Didn’t want to die without seeing Sam one last time.

But, this was the man responsible for the machine that killed Sam. If she got the chance, she would make certain Garibaldi never hurt anyone again.

She stood in front of the tank, staring at the Machinist’s broken body as it floated in the viscous fluid. The wounds and bones had healed, but the machines that put him in this…soup didn’t have much more than a working knowledge of the human form and how it reacted to organite. She supposed that the automatons believed putting him in the tank would be enough to heal him, but they hadn’t set his bones or assessed internal damage.

He would make a fortune for a freak show were he to be exhibited. Perhaps one would purchase his corpse once his brain was removed from it.

“Victoria” checked the oxygenation levels of the fluid and the input/output stations. The machines “fed” their master through a tube that traveled from a cask of mush into the tank, into his mouth and down into his stomach. Waste material was collected by other tubes and disposed of in a small cauldron with a sealed lid to prevent stink. Sometimes she curled her nose at the smell when new waste flushed through the tubes, but for the most part it was easy to ignore, having grown up with an outdoor privy.

“I’ve been reading the material you gave me,” she told it. It was easier to think of it as machine rather than a living thing because its organic composition was starting to break down. The organites had managed to keep the decay at a minimum, but eventually the old gal was going to rot away, leaving nothing behind but her internal metal workings and pieces of the glass eyes Garibaldi had given her that hadn’t been taken over by living tissue.

“I’ve been reading the material you gave me, ma’am,” it corrected her. “We did not expect that you would not.”

Was it part of the automaton’s programming that made her believe she was some sort of monarch, or was it a side effect of the injury it had sustained and the slow decay that followed? Regardless, sometimes it reminded her of her great-grandmother, Brigit, who thought she was the queen of Ireland.

“You do realize that all of this may be futile, right? We very well might not succeed.” In fact, it was almost certain that “they” wouldn’t. She spoke as though they were coconspirators in the hope that she might eventually win over the insane bucket of flesh and bolts.

Its short, round frame groaned as it moved around the tank to check another valve. “We are aware of the lack of success. We are also confident that we will not fail.”

“What makes you so certain?”

“We have you, and you have great motivation to see this endeavor to the end.”

Motivation—a passive way of reminding her that her life was on the line. “There is no guarantee the organites will be able to engage and keep his brain operating.”

“Endeavor 312’s brain is almost fully formed. She possesses the Master’s genetic biological material. His tissue will bond with hers, and return him to his flock once more.”

“But you’ll kill 312 in the meantime.” It was still a ridiculous name. And it was ridiculous to expect that the brain of one being would automatically assimilate tissue from another’s, no matter how much biological similarity they might share or how many organites you soaked them in.

Still, she wasn’t going to argue about it, because right now that misconception was all that was keeping her alive.

“It was for this purpose that 312 was formed. It would have been preferable if the organic material had made her male, but that is of little consequence. She is well aware of the reason for her design and the honor that comes with it.”

That was another point Emily wasn’t about to argue, because arguing with machines never amounted to anything. This…thing talking to her might look vaguely human, but it wasn’t, and it wasn’t ever going to be, now. It had perhaps half a soul, if that, while 312 was well on her way to becoming the first organically manufactured human.

The scientific community would go mad to get their hands on her. For that matter, Emily herself would love to study 312’s biological and mechanical construct. She was the first true example of Deus ex machina—God from the machine. The church would condemn her as a blasphemer, and say she had no soul, but 312 could reason and feel. Indeed, 312 was so close to human the line was practically nonexistent.

Emily would not take the brain out of a living person so that another could take its place. There was no contest. However, she could not allow 312 to run free in the world. She would be like a child who hadn’t been told how to behave.

Odd, she was having more of a moral dilemma over 312 than Garibaldi.

“I’ll need some of my equipment for the procedure.”


It had been worth the attempt. She hadn’t expected a yes. “Victoria” might be a machine, but she wasn’t dumb. And there was no way she would be allowed to return to King House, unless she had some magic device that might allow her to perform brain surgery.

“Fine, but I’m going to need some supplies.”

“We will procure whatever is deemed necessary.”

Emily cocked her chin. What was this monstrosity’s idea of “necessary”? “I’ll make a list.”

“We will insure paper and a pencil is brought to your cell. You may return there now.”

For all this talk of her being the “mother” she was treated more like a prisoner. Common sense suggested that she was perhaps both. The machines thought she was something special and they needed her, so they’d do whatever they could to make certain she didn’t get away.

As she turned to return to her cell she glanced over her shoulder and saw “Victoria” take one of the cables from the tank and insert the end of it into her mouth. Bubbles rose to the surface of the tank. Were Garibaldi’s eyelids twitching?

They were communicating. Garibaldi and his creation had formed some sort of symbiotic relationship. Did the Machinist have an ability similar to Emily’s own that allowed him to understand the language of metal?

Did he know she was there? Was he afraid? He should be.

That list of items she needed was going to include a few things that would enable her to contact Griffin. Or Sam. She might be able to send a signal that Sam’s automatonical parts would “hear.” Would he know what to do with it was the question.

Emily walked into the room that was her home for now to find 312 sitting on her bed. The frame sagged under the weight of her skeleton. The metal inside her was lightweight, but still more dense than bone.

“What are you doing in here?”

The girl stood. She looked even more human than she had earlier. The organites were working at an incredible rate inside her. Within a few days it would be almost impossible to tell that she hadn’t been born human. It would be completely impossible once she learned the nuances of human behavior.

“I thought you might like something to read.” She gestured to several piles of books in the corner. “I didn’t know what you would like, so I brought them all.”

Emily arched a brow. There were a lot of books there—many more than there had been when she first woke up. “Thank you.” Then, as the thought occurred to her, “Can you read?”

She shook her head. “Not well. I know some words, but not enough. I would love to be able to read.” This was said with such wistfulness that Emily smiled. She had no business feeling anything for this creature, least of all kindness.

At least Garibaldi hadn’t forgotten to make word recognition part of her programming. “Pick one that you like the look of,” she suggested. “I’ll teach you.”

A bright smile lit the girl’s face. Her teeth were almost fully formed. Only a scant few were shorter than they ought to be. “That would be lovely. Thank you!”

Emily sat down on the narrow bed and waited for 312 to return. The book she brought with her was an illustrated version of The Adventures of Pinocchio by Carlo Collodi.

“This is an interesting choice,” Emily remarked, trying to sound casual, even though her heart had somersaulted in her chest. “Why did you pick it?”

The girl shrugged. “It looks nice. And I think…I think the puppet boy in the pictures is like me.”

Emily bit the inside of her lip to keep tears from filling her eyes. She cleared her throat. “He wants to be a real boy.”

Wide eyes met hers. “Does he get his wish?”

“We’ll have to read the book to find out. Open it to the first page and we’ll begin.”

Smiling happily, 312 opened the book with long, nimble fingers. She had hands like Jasper’s, only more feminine. “I thought of a name I like.”

“Oh? What?”

“Emelia. It’s like your name, but different.”

Emily’s throat tightened. This was so confusing. She didn’t want to like this creature, but she was as endearing as anyone could possibly be. “It’s a good name. I think it would be even better if we thought of a name that would be just yours.”

She thought for a moment. “Maybe Mila? I like the sound of that.”

“Mila.” Emily gave a nod of approval. “That’s a fine name. It suits you.” And it was further proof that she was becoming human; she was developing a sense of individuality—a sense of self.

“I’ll tell the others not to call me 312 anymore. I’ll be Mila from now on.”

Emily forced a smile. The machines would not understand her need for a name. “Victoria” especially would not be pleased. If 3…Mila began thinking of herself as a person and not the vessel for the Machinist, things would not go well. What would happen if she asserted herself as an individual? What would they do to her? What would they make Emily do to her?

And even more frightening—what would Mila do in return?

When Sam and Jasper found them later, Finley and Griffin had stopped kissing and…other things that made her face hot when she thought about them. Their clothing was a little rumpled, but neither of the boys seemed to notice, or if they did they wisely said nothing.

Finley’s stomach was a butterfly cage, flitting and twitching like a thousand wings fluttered inside it. They hadn’t done anything too improper, but her experience with blokes wasn’t terribly extensive, unless she counted the ones she’d thrashed for being impertinent. Regardless, what she and Griffin had done left her giddy, curious and in want of more.

Of course, as soon as she looked at Sam, guilt washed over her. Emily—one of her dearest friends—was missing and she’d spent the previous fifteen minutes with her hands under Griffin’s shirt while Sam searched for a way to find the little redhead who meant so much to him.

“Did you find something?” she asked him, running a hand over the tangled mess of her hair. Her corset was slightly askew as well, the front busk about an inch to the right of center—just enough to feel odd.

“I think so.” From his waistcoat pocket he withdrew something made of brass that was approximately the same circumference as a silver dollar and set it upon the desktop.

It was a mechanical spider, its thin legs reticulated and delicately detailed. Even its round little backside was etched with a scrolling pattern.

“How pretty,” Finley remarked. She wasn’t a big fan of spiders in general, but this one looked as though it could be a piece of jewelry. “What does it do?”

“I think it acts like a homing pigeon.”

“You think?” she teased.

His cheeks turned pink. “I remember Emily telling me about it. It’s like a tracker, but it’s tuned to Emily’s Aetheric signature. She was going to attune it to all of us, but she only got as far as herself.”

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