Authors: Beth Cato
He looked taken aback. “I don't think that's a wise idea, Miss Stout. Science is brutal, as I noted before, but I don't
to torture them. They are disabled. Keeping them alive, coddling them, isn't necessarily kindness.”
Rivka understood his viewpoint. Mr. Cody wasn't sadistic. He wasn't like Mr. Stout. But he was ignorant, and at heart, he didn't really care what happened so long as he achieved his desired results.
She thought of the women who had mumbled about her on the tram. Over the years, she'd encountered many such Âpeople who thought she should be kept housebound so others didn't have to see her faceâÂor that she should have been smothered as a babe. Rivka knew what it meant to be regarded as disposable.
Tatiana slid over Lump's side and impacted on the ground with a grunt. “Will your grandmother let you keep gremlins?” she murmured.
That was the question, wasn't it? Grandmother often fondly recalled how she and Miss Leander had sheltered a gremlin on their disastrous airship journey, but bringing several home was something else entirely.
“I have workshop space I call my own. I can squeeze some cages in there.”
Mr. Cody snorted in a laugh. “And if they escape, they'll strip your house bare of silver and help themselves to your kitchen, like the peskiest of houseguests. Ones that can't manage a lavatory.”
“You're granting permission, then?” Rivka asked.
“Perhaps. It might be educational for you to see what gremlins are really like. Tell me. How much longer will your academic studies continue?”
That was a suspiciously pointed question. “Another year or so.”
He nodded, and she had a sense that he already knew her answer. “My condition for taking gremlins is thisâÂthat you consider employment here, after that year or so. I assume you intend to attach yourself to a master mechanist?”
“Yes.” It was a hoarse whisper.
“I can arrange it. I collect the most talented magi and scientists in Tamarania. You've already outdone some of my best household mechanists. You can go far.”
His trophy rooms. His tools. The sheer artistry of Lump.
Mr. Cody was one of the wealthiest men in TamaraniaâÂpowerful, even outside politicsâÂand he did use that for scientific advancement. Gremlins wouldn't exist otherwise.
Yet gremlins suffered and died for his work, too.
But maybe, maybe, a powerful mechanist within his ranks could stop that. Find other methods. Her, with power, with long-Âterm access, with machines that would bring her immeasurable joy. It would defy every awful thing Mr. Stout had ever said about her.
And yet .Â .Â . How many years would it take for Rivka to reach a level where she would hold any sway? Ten? Twenty? How many chimeras would be sacrificed as mere constructs over that span, toys for the wealthy to bang together in pitched battle?
She forced her dry throat to swallow. “Are you requiring me to sign a contract?”
His eyes gleamed. “Oh-Âho! You are your grandmother's heir. No. I won't ask for a contract. You have promise, but you're young, and I daresay, you carry some foolhardy notions. It's my hope that you can mature.”
So that was why he was letting her take gremlins home. He wanted the experience to sour her on their whole species.
“Well! I have another idea,” said Tatiana. “I can bring them home with me instead. I have my own flat. I don't need to ask permission.”
“And when your mother shows up?” Rivka muttered.
“That's weeks away.” Tatiana did her dismissive wrist flick and made sure to catch Rivka's eye. Rivka had doubted Tatiana's compassion and sincerity. This act was intended to prove her conviction to the cause.
“Good luck with that.” Mr. Cody chortled. “Very well. You can take three gremlins. I'll leave their cages here empty so that when you bring them back, my Âpeople will tend to them.” It was quite clear what he meant by that.
Only three. Maybe there was still time to save the others. Lump's wings weren't on yet, after all.
Tatiana wore her best scowl. “I assure you, Mr. Cody, we
bring them back.”
aking those gremlins was the stupidest idea.” Tatiana threw herself down in a riveted leather chair, one hand to her forehead.
Rivka sat in a plush chair as she eyed the contents of Tatiana's flat. The decor was very white, very austere, elegant in a way that seemed devoid of personalityâÂvery Tamaran, really. She set her tool satchel by her feet.
“Your message said there was an emergency with the gremlins?”
“Yes! What am I supposed to do with them?”
Rivka shook her head. She should have known it would be an exaggeration. “Tatiana! I was in the middle of reassembling a cabriolet engineâÂ”
“An engine? In your workshop on the tenth floor?”
“Yes, it's for the steam car of another resident. I did have some funny looks when I hauled it up in the lift the other day.” Rivka made a dismissive motion and immediately realized she'd picked up the gesture from Tatiana. “I also need to complete my grammar assignment before my tutor comes later, or Grandmother will string me up like a dinner roof rat.”
“Well, I have a guest bedroom that reeks of ammonia. The gremlins stripped the bedâÂI mean that literally! They tore the sheets into strips and wove some kind of .Â .Â . thing. It's awful! It's only been a day, and they destroyed everything in there!”
“Do you want me to take them?”
Tatiana's mouth was a tense line. “Mr. Cody knows I have the gremlins. I'll keep them here. But what purpose does this really serve?”
“Look here.” Rivka opened her satchel and pulled out a book. “This isn't the best of sources since it's fairly old and only shows humans, but see?” She flipped to the first of many bookmarks. “This diagram shows how a replacement human arm is made. The skin, the metal bone, the bands for tendons .Â .Â .”
Tatiana began to fidget and frown; she simply had no stomach for the stuff.
Rivka closed the book. “I want to make replacement limbs for little gremlins and let them live full lives again.”
“You gave me grief because of my idea to ride Lump in the Arena, but how is
supposed to help? There's a reason Âpeople cover their mechanical limbs with clothing, you know. Lump's metal extensions make him all the more monstrous.”
Rivka stared at the book on her lap. “I thought it would make them look more sympathetic. See, Mr. Cody is a politician. He cares about what the Âpeople think. If we can change how citizens view gremlins, maybe they won't be so thrilled to see a mecha-Âchimera in the Arena. Maybe it'll be alarming rather than exciting.”
“Huh.” Tatiana sat back. “Now that's a good idea, but do you really think it'll be easier to change how millions of Âpeople think than to change Mr. Cody's mind?”
“Look at your dress. How everyone here must wear the same color and style.” Rivka grimaced at her own dress. The waistless form was all the rage, and she had scarcely any curves to grant it shape. “Maybe we can make gremlins .Â .Â . well, fashionable.” She stroked the cover of her book. “Then maybe Âpeople will care that Mr. Cody is ripping apart living gremlins to make larger ones. Broderick said all of the little ones will be killed when Lump is done. Saving these three here isn't enough.”
“All of them? But there are so many!” Tatiana's eyes widened. “Constructing new extremities will be a lot harder than fixing that automaton at Mr. Cody's party.”
“I know. Broderick would have to help, too. It'll also be quite expensive. I'd need crystals.” That would mean digging into her savings intended for her lip surgery. Rivka could deal with that. Her lip was a cosmetic thing; giving gremlins new limbs meant something more, and this might just help save the whole room from that awful cart.
Plus, she'd rather handle the matter on her own than ask Grandmother for help. Not that she feared Grandmother would discourage her; quite the contrary. After two months in Tamarania, Rivka knew that dealing with Grandmother was like trying to harness a hurricane. She didn't want to invite that complication, or the nagging, or the reminders that Rivka should lift up her chin and be proud, et cetera.
“Then there are the schematics,” Rivka continued. “Cody's designs must be secret. With only human blueprints to go by, it'll be a huge challenge. I'm starting from scratch on a different scale, and with wings, too.”
Tatiana stood. “Alonzo's leg was made by a master mechanist who's supposed to be the best in Caskentia. I met him once, but I can't recall his name. I can thumb through letters to find out, then write him to see if he can help!”
“Do youâÂwould he?” She thought back to Mr. Cody's mechanist and how he treated her. A Caskentian mechanist might refuse to help for many other reasons. “While you go through letters, I'll check on the gremlins.”
Tatiana flashed her a grin and whirled away.
“Would you like an aerated water or tea first, miss?” A servant spoke up from the doorway.
Rivka hesitated. “Water would be lovely, thank you.” She sounded so
though she wondered if she would ever really get accustomed to being waited on.
The servant retreated. Rivka stood to fully look around the room. She gravitated toward a wooden desk stacked with textsâÂgrammar, mathematics, biology, penmanship. A neat pile of papers contained tidy looped cursive. The sheet on top was a persuasive essay on pay raises for household staff, with arguments for and against. The subject might have been dry, but
, Tatiana could write. She was as manipulative on paper as she was aloud. Rivka couldn't help but be a little jealous. As much as she loved to read, she hadn't inherited Grandmother's skill with a pen. Tatiana could sell fire to infernal magi.
“Miss?” asked the servant.
Rivka whirled around, a guilty flush heating her cheeks as she set the sheets down. “Oh, yes. Thank you.” She accepted the water and took a long drink. Tiny bubbles fizzled against her upper lip. “Would you please take me to the gremlins?”
The servant led her to a shut door. “In there, miss. I recommend you duck inside and close the door fast.”
Rivka did just that. Cheery squawks welcomed her, and before she could turn, they were on her. Little hands and feet scampered up her legs, surmounted her breasts, and began crazy circles around her shoulders.
“Hello to youâÂpfft!” She spat out a hand. “You seem happy out of your cagesâÂgah! No fingers in my mouth, you don't need to climb my head!” She pried a hand from her ear and tried to pat her flaxen hair into place. It was bound into three braided buns in anticipation of extended hours in her workshop. Long, loose hair and fine metalwork were not a good combination.
She lowered herself to the floor and had a good look around. The mattress had been gutted, cotton fluff strewn about like a massacre. The still-Âcurved springs had been stretched and woven with strips of blankets that created a happy riot of color. The construction was in the form of a massive teardrop, the top somehow connecting to the ceiling. A small, gremlin-Âsized hole was just visible on the side nearest the wall.
Meanwhile, the carpet had been untacked from the floor and bubbled up in places, as though the gremlins had burrowed beneath. Wallpaper draped in large swaths. She had a sudden sense that, given time, the gremlins could dig through the walls or ceiling. Or the sharp stink would gnaw through like acid.
She wanted to be happy that they were enjoying their newfound freedom, but as she looked around, she was at an even greater loss of how to get Âpeople to
gremlins and stand up against Mr. Cody. Tamarans wanted personal accomplishment, they wanted order. Gremlins were chaos swaddled in green skin.
She stroked down a gremlin's knobby spine. “I bet you could all learn to dance like Lump did yesterday, but that wouldn't win over Âpeople in the right way, either. I saw a few fellows in Mercia with trained monkeys. That's not a life you lot need. You don't need to be
. Mr. Cody's done enough of that.”
The door pushed against her back as it opened a tad. “Rivka?” At Tatiana's voice, the gremlins scrambled for the security of their nest. The room was suddenly, strangely quiet. “I found the name! Kellar Dryn, in Leffen. I have a letter ready to go! Are you almost done in there?”
With Tatiana's writing skill, this letter of introduction might just do the trick. “Just a few more minutes.”
“I'll send this to the lobby via the pneumatic. The clerk can mail it off today!” Tatiana shut the door.
Rivka clicked her tongue. A gremlin's head popped through the nest's hole, two long ears wobbling, and scampered straight to her lap. The other gremlins followed, one leaping to her shoulder, the other absolutely fascinated by the sole of her shoe.
To think, these yellow-Âtagged gremlins, vibrant as they were, would likely already be dead if they hadn't come home with Tatiana. She felt a lurch of grief for the ones left behind, and for Broderick.
“Be still,” she said softly, tapping the one on her lap. The gremlin froze. Rivka examined it all over. The nubs at the wings had healed well. The surface area was small. That meant a lot of finesse in creating connectors so that the nerves and mechanism could work together. At some point, she'd need an aether magi to enchant the wings, too.
She released a frustrated huff. Hands and feet would be challenging in different ways due to joint articulation.
These were skills she could certainly learn under the best mechanists in Tamarania, with Mr. Cody as her sponsor. This mechanist in CaskentiaâÂhe was still Caskentian. What was a master there compared to a master here?
“I don't know how we're going to do this,” she whispered. The gremlin's ears bobbed. “How to stop Mr. Cody from making more chimeras, from using you for parts, from killing the other hundred gremlins still in cages. And now other Âpeople are looking at Mr. Cody as an example as they make their own behemoth chimeras. If we let Lump go to the ArenaâÂif we let things continue on this pathâÂand I work for Mr. Cody, will I be able to do more good in the long run?”
“Rivka?” Tatiana rapped on the door. “You need to come out. Right now.”
The gremlin hopped from her lap as she stood, but the one on her shoulder remained and mewed near her ear. She gently plucked it off and nudged the third away when it tried to latch onto her skirt.
“I'm sorry. No,
. I'll be back soon, I promise.”
They continued to cry, but they did seem to understand the meaning of “down.” That was good. She still felt the lingering tickles of their little fingers as she dove through the doorway.
She whirled around and found herself face-Âto-Âface with Grandmother. A cold anvil dropped into the pit of Rivka's stomach.
Grandmother's arms were crossed over her ruffled bosom. The swirl in her hair had been dyed into cheery streaks of blue and pink. “I believe we need to talk.”
Rivka nodded and followed Grandmother into the parlor. Tatiana looked calm and collected as Grandmother passed by, but when only Rivka could see, her eyes betrayed panic. Of courseâÂGrandmother wouldn't hesitate to write Tatiana's mother about what she was up to. The gremlins would be an issue for sure, but if Grandmother discovered Tatiana's intention to ride LumpÂ .Â .Â .
“Imagine my surprise when I visited home to find you had again escaped the tethers of your workshop.” Grandmother sat with a rustle and fluff of skirts, her hands pressed just so on her lap as she looked between Rivka and Tatiana. “It seems your mischief has continued. Now do tell me, why has Miss Garret here acquired gremlins? I could hear them. More so, I could smell them.”
Rivka and Tatiana sat across from each other. Rivka stared at her lap, wondering how to even begin.
“Rivka. Child. Whatever you intend to say, raise your chin.”
That caused Rivka to jerk up her head. “Do you have any idea how much I hate it when you say that?” she snapped. “I'm not a child. I'm allowed to look down sometimes. Everyone does. It doesn't always mean I'm hiding my face.”
Grandmother looked taken aback. “You're right. You weren't hiding your visage just now. Something has changed.”
“She stood up to Mr. Cody!” Tatiana said. “She certainly didn't have her chin down then.”
“Really?” Grandmother perked up. “Do tell!”
Rivka did. She spoke of Lump, of Mr. Cody's harvest of gremlins, of Broderick's horrible labor beneath Miss Arfetta, of how Mr. Cody's cruelty was inspiring even more cruelty. That she and Tatiana were seeking a way to save the laboratory gremlins.
Her one omission was Tatiana's intention to ride Lump in the Arena bout.
“I daresay, you two are mosquitoes setting out to cause a mighty itch! My pride is boundless!” Grandmother's eyes sparkled. “You're right that winning over the population is the surest way to scare a politician witless. Mr. Cody, Miss Arfetta, you won't change their minds. They're as dense as that Warriors' mountain in the Arena.”
Rivka's fingers itched with need to do
. To work on diagrams, finish that engine, start on gremlin wings. She walked to the window. The view overlooked a brown-Âbricked building and a portion of the street below. From the fifth floor, she could barely hear the constant rumble of cabriolet wheels. The absence of horses stood out to her again.
“Grandmother, Mr. Cody said something about a campaign to save horses years ago. I've noticed very few horses on the streets here, and the ones I do see are in sound health compared to those in Caskentia. Why?”
“Oh! That. There was a play several years ago that became quite the sensation. It was told from the perspective of a drayman's horse. Started with his happy years as a colt, through various owners, abuse, love, the whole woe of a working horse's life. The original production's technical aspect was quite a marvel as wellâÂthey constructed metal horses that performers used by wires and rods, while a chorus offstage sang the lines. No one had attempted such a spectacle from a horse's perspective before. I tried to acquire the rights to publish the script in Caskentia. The government refused me a permit, said horses were too valuable to the war effort, and the play was near seditious. Bosh and tosh.”