We are not like you; the warmth that fires through your veins we cannot remember. We wear the faces of your friends, your family. Our breath only flows for your enjoyment. All of us used to be a part of you so you sent us away. Away so that you don’t have to remember our face on another body. Our hands do not grip you as tightly because we cannot and will not be able to remember our names.
No longer do all the dead and gone rest within the ground; that peace is reserved for the rich. As for us, poor, in dirt we lived but in death, that same dirt is too good to cradle our bones so we are taken away. If we had good bones, were not too marked, and enough of us was salvageable, we are strapped and strung and melded into Clockworks. No longer human, but something less.
The world had a labor problem. The middle class dissolved, the rich became richer and the poor became poorer, and any dreams people had of advancing died with the collapse of that idyllic society. This was sped along when a great plague spread around the world. Vaccines were tried and discarded and the sick got sicker and died. Entire communities were wiped out, then towns, and then cities until a vaccine was found.
The vaccine was very expensive to make but the price was manageable for most of the rich. The poor had nothing to barter with. Many died; many filled the ground beneath our feet until bursting. Until one madman changed death.
Theodias Young lost his wife to the plague and in his grief, created the first Clockworks using his wife. When she was created, and given the semblance of life, she awoke and behaved just as she should: she moved and talked, she could eat and relieve herself. She understood her native language and could do all the things she was designed to do.
Except the process left her unable to remember her husband and her previous life. She had to be taught all over again how to be human. Even then, she could only act out the part of Theodias’s wife. Her love was taught, and felt as such. Stricken, her husband began to drink heavily and eventually lost himself. He died, but his legacy, his wife, and the notes from her creation started a shockwave of change around the world.
At first, they were horrified. To defile the dead in such a manner! His wife, if she could be called that, was taken and examined. Was she human? Did she have a soul? A soul was traditionally thought to leave the body at death. As soulless, did she have any rights? Was she even human?
While this was debated, the labor shortage continued to worsen. The world needed something. Something more intelligent than an Automaton, something clever, something… almost human.
Here was the answer to the shortage of workers, here was a race of beings that could be raised starting at adulthood, with adult strength and intelligence; easily taught to believe that they were less, made from the scraps of the dead, and blessed to serve. Here were the Clockworks, given a second life.
And serve they did. If you were willing to give up a family member after death, immediately, and if they met the specifications, your family would receive the vaccination. No foul play could be involved. Children were not allowed, but anyone who was over the age of eighteen upon death and in good condition was considered. Those that did not make it were cremated, and given to the family (who still received their vaccine). This rarely happened because, with Clockworks, almost anyone could be mended, changed, or salvaged.
The world slowly but surely thrived and the Clockworks were accepted as less than, but useful. They filled the unwanted jobs. They worked harder and lasted longer and would do whatever they were taught. They were changed into whatever the person they were assigned to wanted.
Eventually the plague was stamped out. Clockworks were no longer needed and yet… so useful. So malleable. No longer were they assigned, no, soon, they were bought. Soon, they were designed. Traded. Used. There wasn’t enough room in the ground anyway. Serve the world and be “Useful Even in Death.”
And that’s how I came to be, hundreds of years later. A descendant of madness. Someone loved me once, but how much I cannot be sure since I am here, as this…. as my gears and bobs meld with magic to make me breathe, move, work.
But such a time to work! Soon, I would be a part of something bigger than me, and all because I completed my re-education one hour late. One hour earlier and I think I would have been taken home by my impatient owner. Due to their impatience, they took another Clockworks home.
That one hour changed my fate.
The room is all white and sterile. The table, floors, walls, hold not a speck of dirt or debris. Tools lay uniformly on a table by the door and the light is focused and bright. The Clockworks is unmoving, standing in an oval pod. The soft inside of the pod is gray and there are straps that keep the Clockworks in place at key points along its body.
The Clockworks’ eyes are open and unblinking as they dart back and forth, taking in the bright room and its contents.
The doors open and two men wearing white enter side by side followed by another one, a woman, wearing a mustard-yellow coat that falls to her knees, a sort of lab coat, with a great many pockets bulging with things, some pockets overflowing with paper and wires. Dark hair falls in waves to her chest, and clear glasses sit on her face, like she has the eyes of an overly large fly. Multiple lenses are fanned out at her temples.
The woman in the yellow lab coat, clearly the one in charge, walks towards the Clockworks, and signals to the men in white. They remove the restraints faster than their captive can prepare for, and the Clockworks pitches forward, crumpling towards the ground. The men are prepared, and the Clockworks is caught easily on its way to the floor.
The Clockworks’s body is limp, and unlike the three others in the room, it is without clothes. It is laid out on the table, eyes staring into the ceiling, surrounded by silence until the woman in the yellow sighs.
“I’m afraid you took longer than anticipated to finish, 0222014X. It was to be expected, after all, since we had to alter your frame quite a bit. It is disappointing that you won’t be ready with the latest batch, but not to worry. We’ll have you fixed up for your buyer in no time.”
The Clockworks feels its face move in response to the strange statement, but it is not able to understand what the woman in the yellow coat means.
“Excellent muscular response, 0222014X! Now all I have to do is test the rest of your reflexes. Gentlemen,” she says, turning away from the Clockworks, “Release the block and let us begin!”
Following the woman’s orders, one of the men touches the left side of 0222014X’s head where a device lay. 0222014X convulses on the table, an unearthly howl spilling from its gaping mouth. The woman in the yellow coat grabs the Clockworks’s shoulders and presses them back down onto the table. White light flows from Yellow-Coat’s palms to calm the tortured body. Then the testing begins.
The three of them poke and tap the Clockworks, hook it up to things and shock its body, all in the name of testing. Once they test and invade every bit of the Clockworks’ body, Yellow-Coat restores the block, and exits the room. The Clockworks lays unmoving as it is cleaned by the two men.
0222014X listens as the two discuss in intimate detail how it, the Clockworks, looks; how it was changed and it’s bones have been shaved down—reduced to look younger, more waif life, perfect for domestic service or sex work.
They joke it now is the perfect Lolita with its customizations: small breasts, slightly curved hips, long jet black hair. They say that its face is the same even after whatever the accident had been, which is lucky because it is “the best part of her.” It is beautiful and they are sure that someone would be enjoying the Clockworks soon.
Cold water strikes the Cockworks’s unmoving body and the men rinse it, then they buff every inch of its body dry. Once dry, they apply lotion to its skin, oil is combed roughly through its hair, and its nails are trimmed and filed into clean ovals. With this work done, the two men stretch before depositing their supplies in big gray bins by the door. They hit a button that causes a tinkling sound to echo throughout the room and hallway.
Two women enter, and one of them greets the Clockworks warmly. Very slowly, she tells the Clockworks that they will be dressing it and taking it for re-education. They warn the Clockworks to not panic as they release the block on its body.
Immediately, the Clockworks writhes and screams, its motions jerking its body off of the metal table. One of the women gasps and the other one shrieks in fright. 0222014X continues to convulse on the floor as the woman who gasped runs across the room to a small table of tools and grabs a short hand sized metal rod. The second the rod touches the Clockworks’s temple, its body goes limp and it can finally shut its eyes.
It is bright once again when 0222014X wakes up. Voices are murmuring over its prone form. The Clockworks’ vision refuses to clear and it can’t move or blink but it can hear.
”She missed her buyer. Luckily, there was another one that was ready, younger looking and just as svelte. Could have lost a lot from that sale. But because of that, she can be offered to your department at a discount, anything for our local government.” The voice chirps out and there is movement.
Shadows flicker over its head and air surrounds it as someone removes the covering from its body.
A gruff, cracked voice splinters out next. “Indeed. Well, after you have re-educated it, send it to our department. Add the modules for language, police academy modules 1-9, and don’t install the sex modules. It may be going undercover but we don’t need to deal with what happened last time. It would have been better if you’d mentioned it in the specs, before purchase, that the program came standard. That last cog slept with half the fucking force in its first month. It can be bait without all that shit rolling around in its wires. But keep the basic alteration package: shifting hair color and length, shifting skin tones and that auto makeup mess. She looks kind of Asian. Will that be too obvious with the shifting?”
”No sir, she may look multiracial but who doesn’t nowadays? She can be a new woman every night, at least that’s our slogan for this particular package. Is there anything else I should add? A preferred voice? I can make her sing like a lounge singer, which could be very good for undercover work,” the chirpy voice offers.
“Damn thing costs enough as it is. Those eyes are fucking weird though, are they original to the form?” the gruff voice asks, sounding irate.
“Oh yes, quite the bargain on that one. Most of our colors look synthetic. Eyes just don’t last, but she got into cryo quickly and we could save those beautiful peepers. She’ll look more realistic that way and less like a Clockworks. Unless that’s your goal, we’d be happy to install a color changing program for another 4 thousand—” the voice chirps happily, but is cut off again by the gruff voice and a quick moving shadow.
“No, just leave it. Where do I sign?” The voices sound like they are moving away from her.
“Here and here. Oh, would you like to name her? If not, we have a name generator that could…”
”A cog is a cog, you name it, I’m just here to make sure everything is up to spec, and there are no surprises this time. Make sure to send it dressed in something average, jeans and a shirt or something, none of that weird crap like last time.” The gruff voice barks out with authority.
“She’ll be ready in a week sir, after the requested re-education and package testing. Thank you for doing business with us.” The chirpy voice cheers out.
Doors close with a click and footsteps retreat. Something rolls next to the table and a cough sounds from inside the room. Two pairs of hands lift the Clockworks up onto another softer table and they leave the room rolling the Clockworks with them..
”So she’s going to be a police officer now, huh? Seems almost cruel with her size. She’ll be smashed up as soon as they let her go.” One of the two say from above its head, lights flashing aloft.
Another voice, still one of the two, speaks from below at its feet, “Yeah but that’s okay, we will just put her back together. We always do. Besides who would expect this little thing to be an officer? They are thinking up there at the top. That was the commissioner you know.”
They hit some double doors and once again they move it onto another table and a familiar voice—Yellow-Coat—tells the two to “get its limbs straight and start hooking it up now.”
Wires meet ports in its scalp, behind its neck at the top of its spine, and finally one at the small of its back. Sounds of clicking fill the room and the lights dim; the sounds intensify and are felt in its very bones.
“Time to sleep lovely, do us proud,” Yellow-Coat murmurs and everything goes black.
That’s the beginning of my big Urban Fantasy novel I am working on. I still have a lot to do, world building to cement, rules on magic to lock in, and of course I need to decide the linking bits to get our heroine to where she needs to go. I am hoping to get this first draft done by Christmas 2020 and it would be lovely to have it published by summer 2021. It all depends on where the muse takes me! I hope you enjoyed this sneak peak of Clockworks!