Authors: Beth Cato
“We won't!” said Tatiana with another smile.
Broderick grunted. “I'll be there early tomorrow morning to tend the gremlins and set things up for Miss Arfetta. I can't guarantee you'll get in, but I'll see what I can do. Meet me at freight door A on the east side at nine.”
“Thank you!” Tatiana almost sang. She headed toward the door while Rivka lingered by the table.
“Thank you for this. Really. I don't want to get you in trouble,” she murmured.
“You won't.” His tense smile said otherwise. “I don't know what you really hope to achieve, though. It's not like we can stop working on itâÂLumpâÂin the middle of the process. That's no life. Nor can you release the little gremlins. In their conditions, they have no chance in the urban wild.”
She tucked down her chin and stared at her hands. “I'm a mechanist. Not certified yet or anything, but it's what I do. I fix things. I'm just not sure how to fix this yet.”
She envied him, his magic. He, like Miss Leander, had a power that she could only imagine. They could save Âpeople. What could she do? By Tamaran academic standards, she was yet another ignorant Caskentian refugee. To Grandmother's dismay, Rivka's writing skills were abysmal. She had a knack for mathematics and machines, true, but had no comprehension of the advanced skills required to work on a behemoth chimera. That entailed decades of training under a true master craftsman.
“You might regret this, though,” he said. “Working on the chimera won't be pretty. This is surgery, of a sort.”
“I've seen blood. Death, too. That's why I don't like to see others suffer.” She shrugged away images of her bloodied past. “We'll see you tomorrow.”
Tatiana awaited her in the hallway, beaming like an electric light. “That went well!”
Rivka grabbed her by the arm, looming over her. “You had no right to imply Miss Leander would instruct him. You could have just asked him to help us.”
“I could have, and he would have said no. What else would we do? Approach Mr. Cody directly? How do you think he'd respond? We have to get him to like us againâÂor even better, respect usâÂbefore we dare ask him for anything. Besides, if you've been around Miss Leander, you know she'd help him. She helps
,” she said with a sneer.
Tatiana was like a feral cat Rivka once knew on a tower roofâÂpretty as could be, and claws quick to swipe if you got too close.
Rivka released her hold. “She helped your mother, too.”
Tatiana's eyes narrowed. “Do you want to save the gremlins or not? And Lump. What kind of name is
Rivka felt so tired all of a sudden. Tired of Tatiana and her manipulations, of the sneer that crept into her voice. Tired of wondering if every whisper was about her face. She wanted to bury herself in her projects and booksâÂeven the damned grammar exercises from her tutor sounded pleasant at this point. At least she'd be home.
But the gremlins needed her. She wasn't sure how to save them, but she knew she couldn't do it alone. She didn't
to do it alone.
“Lump is just a name,” Rivka said, looking away.
“Just a name.” Tatiana harrumphed. She walked by, then turned, sudden worry crinkling her eyes. “Are you coming?”
Tatiana was scared to walk back to the tram alone. Good. She
be scared. Maybe on some level she knew that she couldn't bend everyone to her whim.
“Can you meet me downstairs in a few minutes?” Rivka asked as she switched the parasol hook to her other arm.
“What, are you going to talk to Broderick without me?”
Was that jealousy in Tatiana's eyes? Rivka shook her head, loose hair lashing her cheeks. “No. I'm going to buy something here. Give me a minute.”
Rivka waited until she heard the stairs creak beneath Tatiana's weight, then she opened the door to the bakery. The full smell smacked her: bread, yeast, sugar, and so many childhood memories.
“Can I help you?” The woman in the kitchen had to be Grandmother's age, her skin like mahogany, her hair white and unconstrained like a halo. A table was laid out with the usual Mendalian flatbreads of the southern nations, and speckled egg rolls, andÂ .Â .Â .
“Is that .Â .Â . a Frengian maple-Âsugar cake?”
“Yes, yes! Used up the last maple sugar I took as a barter. You Frengian?”
“My mama was. I'll buy a loaf.” She fingered the coins in her pocket as the baker wrapped a block in paper.
As she headed downstairs, she heard heavy footsteps ascending. Tatiana's expression was anxious, angry, but upon seeing Rivka, she shifted to her usual haughtiness. “Oh. You really were buying something.”
Had Tatiana really been so sure that Rivka would desert her here, without so much as a parasol for defense? Rivka paused on the steps. She broke the small loaf in half and handed over the larger piece. Food was the only way to earn the trust of feral creatures.
“Here. I don't know about you, but I'm hungry.”
“What is this?” Tatiana's nose crinkled as she sniffed it.
“Maple-Âsugar cake. One of the best things in the world.” Rivka continued downward, taking a small, delicate bite of her half. Maple-Âflavored glaze glossed over her tongue. The cake beneath was dense and sweet but not too sweet. Sporadic walnuts added crunch. It was perfect.
“Oh.” The voice was small. “I didn't expect .Â .Â . I thought .Â .Â . Thank you.”
“If you don't like it, I'll eat it. My mama used to make these.” They exited the building and followed the sidewalk toward the station.
Tatiana took a bite of the cake. All was quiet but for a tram rattling overhead and the distant horn of a cabriolet. “No. It's good. I like it. Really.”
They walked on together, saying a great deal through nothing at all.
iss Arfetta stalked before them, her boots solidly resounding with each step. “Those who are not graced with the powers of the Lady have difficulty understanding the miracles they witness, but I will not tolerate questions or interruptions. Nor will you gossip about what we do after the fact. I am here to work, not perform theatre. Is that understood?”
“Yes, Miss Arfetta,” answered Rivka and Tatiana, almost in concert. Behind Miss Arfetta, Broderick stood at the edge of the copper circle in the laboratory. He hunkered over, not meeting their eyes. All their effort to seek out the shop on the south island, to avoid a confrontation with Mr. Cody, and Broderick broached the subject for them. Tatiana and Rivka had been met at the freight door by a cadre of Mr. Cody's guards. Mr. Cody had approved of their presence in the lab so long as they followed Miss Arfetta's rules.
Mr. Cody didn't do favors; he was like Mr. Stout in that way. Both men didn't simply like wielding power; they liked accumulating it. Mr. Cody had hoped to befriend Tatiana in order to get some connection with her mother. Now Rivka wondered what he wanted of herâÂor Grandmother. Her publishing company was doing very well and was probably the largest press in Tamarania that he didn't already control.
“Gentlemen!” said Miss Arfetta with a grand sweep of her arm. “Bring out the legs.” The liveried men went to large crates already open on the far side of the room.
Tatiana shifted in clear discomfort.
Rivka couldn't resist sidling closer to the workmen to peer inside a box. These mechanical legs bent like the hindquarters of a horse and looked almost as tall as Rivka. The brass gleamed. The feet were broad, with three clawed toes and a rear dewclaw. She imagined it would grant a chimera more balance in the Arena, perhaps the ability to coil and jump. The massive joints certainly looked to have a lot of propulsion power.
“Back off, girl,” growled a man. She glanced up. Unlike the others, this fellow wore a workingman's suit in gray, his wiry beard bushy. He glowered beneath thick, cigar-Âlike brows.
“Oh! You're the mechanist.” She kept her voice low to not attract Miss Arfetta's attention, excited as she was to meet a master craftsman. “I'd love to know what alloyâÂ”
“Don't pretend to know what you're talking about. I don't have time for this.”
That got her dander up. “I might be a woman, butâÂ”
“What do I care for that? My daughter's my apprentice.” He shook his head. “You, you're Caskentian. This job requires math, reading. I'm no schoolteacher. Leave my things be, or I'll make sure you're not in the laboratory at all.”
Furious, embarrassed, she returned to Tatiana's side. She had the sudden urge to prove herself to this mechanist and was at an utter loss. She couldn't take the risk that they'd be banned from the laboratory. Helping gremlins was much more important than her pride.
Rivka looked to Lump in the middle of the circle. He was chained in place so that he lay on his right side. The topmost leg nub had been bound against his torso. A thick purple tongue draped from his mouth, his eyes shut. Broderick must have drugged him before they arrived.
What good could Rivka do here? She didn't have any magic. Like Broderick had said, this process couldn't be stopped partway. That was no life for a creature.
It took a team of about a dozen men to carry over the leg. The burly fellows were grunting and red-Âfaced by the time they rested it on the ground to almost touch the green-Âfleshed body. Miss Arfetta and Broderick bustled about to ready a cart of herbs. The mechanist supervised all, arms crossed over his chest, scowl sharp as a knife's edge.
Rivka looked his way with frustration and yearning. What wonders were hidden in his tools? Did he have a model for reference? The schematics for this project? All treasures denied to her, and maybe not just for today. Would
mechanist in Tamarania accept her as an apprentice? Even if her lip were mended, there was still her accent, her background. If she had no place here, then where? Certainly not Caskentia.
Miss Arfetta touched the copper circle, and a wave of heat glanced over Rivka's skin even at her distance. Broderick wheeled the cart across the boundary. Miss Arfetta picked up an oversized scalpel.
“We must expose the nerve endings to attach the connector cap.” Miss Arfetta turned.
Tatiana emitted a small squeak.
Broderick glanced their way, his expression apologetic. The cart and Miss Arfetta's back blocked most of their view, but Rivka couldn't miss the quiver that passed over Lump's flesh as Miss Arfetta made her first cut. Bile rose in Rivka's throat, and she stepped back.
“Don't. Go.” Tatiana said it through gritted teeth.
“I can't watch them torture him. Lump felt that, did you see?”
“She's trying to drive us away. She
making this into theatre.”
“I just .Â .Â . I .Â .Â .” Rivka had no magic. No power. No knowledge, no insight into the craft to help Lump and prevent his suffering. “I'm going to the gremlin room,” she whispered, the words like gravel in her throat.
Gremlins welcomed her with mewing and flapping. She paced circles around the large table in the center of the room, anger fueling her long strides. What was she doing here? What did she really hope to achieve? Not like this room provided any respite. All those colorful flags were countdowns to doom.
She was so damned sick of feeling helpless. She hadn't been able to do anything to save Mama. If Rivka hadn't been so dense, maybe she could have prevented her death and the deaths of so many others in the tenement. Then there was Mr. Stout, those horrible months running his bakery. She couldn't leave him. She knew what became of homeless young women in Caskentia.
Her furious pace slowed. That's why she couldn't simply bury herself in work on her gadgets, as she had before the party. She looked at gremlins and saw misunderstood beings like herself.
She approached a cage, clucking her tongue to soothe them and herself. “Do you know Miss Octavia Leander?” The gremlin's long ears perked up, just as Lump's had. “Miss Leander is my friend, too. It seems like most everyone knows her.”
The gremlin squawked and rubbed its face against the bars. Rivka laughed and scratched the wrinkles right between the ears. It leaned harder into her touch. The skin of this one lacked any seams. It was a born gremlin, one of the newer generation. Not that it made them any less repulsive to Âpeople.
Both its wings were gone, and judging by the bandages girthing its shoulders, it was recent. Fortunately, this one had a separate set of arms. She looked to the next cage. The gremlin there was shy, pressed against the back wall, granting her a clear view of its empty back. Both cages had red flags. Both gremlins lacked wings.
Broderick had said the wings for Lump were just about done. They'd be grafted after the metal legs.
Lump was made of the flesh of
Lump had such a large body, one that she could only assume had a heart, lungs, and all the body parts any person needed to survive. Hundreds, maybe thousands, of gremlins would have been required. How many more were needed? Were other animals sacrificed, too?
Lump's current pain had overwhelmed her with its cruelty, but in truth it had been multiplied beyond count.
Rivka trailed her hand along the bars. Gremlins mewed, those with hands touching her as she passed. This sordid cycle of creation needed to end. She was going to find a way, magic or not. Apprenticeship or not.
She proceeded into the laboratory. Mr. Cody had joined Tatiana.
“Well! Good to see you again, young mechanist,” said Mr. Cody. His thumbs were tucked into the pockets of a red-Âvelvet greatcoat. “Were you visiting my little gremlins?”
She sucked in a breath. That's why he let her be here. Before, he had made it clear he knew about the one-Âman band she fixed at his party. She had impressed him with her skills. Was that a good or bad thing?
“Yes,” said Rivka. She glanced at the circle. Miss Arfetta was sprawled on the floor, her skirts edged high to reveal thick layers of lace. The mechanist stooped over her, a large wrench in hand as he twiddled with a massive mechanical knee. Broderick stood to one side, taking in everything, fidgeting with his hands at his back.
“I was just telling Mr. Cody that the latest news says three other Arena teams are starting work on behemoth chimeras. Isn't that fascinating?” Tatiana ended with a guileless smile.
“Yes, well.” Mr. Cody didn't look quite as pleased. “They'll try, but so many Tamarans are leery of magic and its full potential. They want the grand results, the glorious entertainment, but they haven't spent decades on smaller chimeras as I have, or studied medician lore.”
Rivka's mind raced as she took all this in. “You're saying that everything you do to gremlins, they'll do
?” Tatiana rested a hand on Rivka's back, just beneath her hair.
Mr. Cody gave her a mournful nod. “Shoddy workmanship, dreadful results. Mind you, my own efforts have included plenty of failures, but as a scientist, my methods follow certain standards and procedures.”
She balled her fists at her hips. “
have standards? What about the little gremlins? What aboutâÂ” A sudden, hard tug on her hair stopped her diatribe.
Tatiana cast her an innocent smile. “Right now I'm wondering about this chimera that's being made, and the one you had in the Arena before. Chi, I think Alonzo called it?”
“Yes. Chi.” Mr. Cody shook his head in disgust.
“Chi succeeded in the Arena because of the strong bond he formed with Alonzo and Miss Leander, right?”
Rivka opened her mouth. Her hair was jerked again. What the hell was Tatiana up to? Rivka silently fumed. She didn't want to shove back or cause a scene. She had to trust that Tatiana knew what she was doing.
“Yes. I wish I hadn't lost that one so quickly. I could have learned so much.” Mr. Cody shot Tatiana a withering glare; he clearly had not completely forgiven her for her role in Chi's loss. “It was a peculiar thing. Gremlins actually gossiped about Miss Leander, spoke of her as a friend. Your brother seemed to be well regarded by association.”
“Spoke of her?” Rivka echoed.
“My very first gremlins have human voice boxes. Few of them are left, but they often act as translators, representatives.”
Human voice boxes. Rivka felt ill.
“How do you plan to do things differently for this behemoth chimera, then?” asked Tatiana. Her hand slipped from Rivka's back. “It looks somewhat different than Chi. Lighter, maybe faster. And now maybe it'll go up against other chimera gladiatorial teams.”
“Ah, you're trying to sell me something. Do go on, I like your technique.”
“What are you doing?” Rivka whispered.
Tatiana kept her intent gaze on Mr. Cody. “I want to be the jockey.”
“What?” Mr. Cody guffawed. “You?”
Blood rushed to Rivka's head, her fists balling at her hips. “You can't, Tatiana. That wasn't .Â .Â . you said .Â .Â .”
said?” Tatiana glanced at her long enough to roll her eyes.
Rivka was speechless at the betrayal. Tatiana had planned this from the start. All her hints about the laboratory and what it might contain. She had never cared about saving the gremlins. This was all about the glory of riding in the Arena.
“Miss Garret, have you piloted anything? Or driven anything, like a cabriolet or an automated cycle?”
“No. But I can do it.”
“That medician, Miss Leander, put this idea in your head, didn't she? You, a jockey. Balderdash.”
In the circle, Lump's torso heaved with breaths. Miss Arfetta and the mechanist continued the procedure.
“Alonzo rode your other chimera to great success. And you knew my father as an elite pilot, too,” said Tatiana. “Some of the mecha pilots are my age. I'm lighter than they are.”
Mr. Cody's smile was thin. “You've done some research on this subject, my dear.”
Enough was enough. Rivka forced herself from numbness and took several steps away from Tatiana. “Mr. Cody, what if you stop your experimentation once Lump's body is complete? What if he doesn't go in the Arena at all?”
Tatiana emitted a squawk of protest. Rivka silenced her with a glare.
“Pardon, but did you say âLump?' Did you name my wondrous chimera
?” asked Mr. Cody.
Rivka pointed to the room behind her. “Those caged gremlins are missing body parts so you can piece together your âwondrous chimera.' They are alive and suffering. They can't fly. Some don't even have arms.”
Broderick, Miss Arfetta, and all the men in the room stared.
Mr. Cody's manner shifted. “Medicians can't work with the dead. It makes it especially tricky to move internal organs. Timing and temperature must be just right. Did you know electricity can be used to restart hearts and motivate blood flow? We fuse magic and science to create something extraordinary.”
“You're doing this to make a spectacle, to entertain Âpeople in the Arena. It's cruel.”
“Life is cruel. Science studies the elements of life. It can't help but be cruel.” Mr. Cody shook his head. “I didn't expect an urchin from Mercia to be soft as gelatin. You're like those theatre raggers from a few years ago, rallying to save horses. You don't see the big picture. My Arena bouts are important to Âpeople. They bring welcome distractions. Happiness.”
Of course. Mr. Cody needed to appear as the benevolent august and distract Âpeople with his machinations. The opinion of the Âpeople was everything. It's how he stayed in office, earned his wealth.
“Mr. Cody!” Miss Arfetta strode toward the copper circle. Lump's first leg appeared to be attached to his body now. “This interruption is outrageous. We're in the midst of an operation.” Her black-Âgloved hands were glossy. Miss Arfetta's gaze shifted to focus directly on Rivka's harelip, her own lip curled in contempt.