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Rated: 13+ · Short Story · Steampunk · #2288453
The Baron's creations have brought investors from abroad to inspect them.
         As I approached the clockwork door of Baron Newcomen’s estate, I was welcomed by a brass automaton. Spinning its gears and lowering its body into a bow, it flared its boiler flame. A burp of steam rose from its belly and gurgled through pipes and whistles in a tinny imitation of a human voice.
         The Baron, as the New Decaport media had dubbed him (though he was not of noble blood), had a penchant for the extravagant. His front door was adorned with countless mechanisms that chimed as locks undid themselves. It swung open after several seconds to reveal a small army of automata performing a mechanical waltz in the foyer. They danced with the elegance of the Cirque, though their placid brass faces lacked emotionality. The Baron stood above the brassy spectacle in his fineries. He raised a glass of wine in my direction with a boyish smirk.
         I wiped condensation from my glasses. “Jessica Bashford, representative of Glimtown,” I said, my Glimtonian accent flowing with practised ease. “The Cogs have been discussing your creations extensively in the last weeks, but to see them in person… bloodywell impressive.” With that last phrase, I met the Baron’s smouldering gaze with an easy smile.
         The Baron descended the stairs and held my hand in welcome. “I am pleased your leadership - The Cogs, as you say - has taken notice of the future. It was a labour of love.” He raised my hand to his lips and kissed it. I retracted it slowly, careful not to offend, before my sleeve fell too low.
         An automaton shuffled between me and the door. I realised with a start that it was unlike the dancers who had greeted me. One hand had been replaced with a blade the length of my forearm.
         “My security.” The baron chimed. “You mustn't worry about them.”
         “I suppose security would be an issue for the Baron of New Decaport.”
         “It was,” He nodded to the machine behind me. “Not anymore. Human guards lack reticence, these do not. You are safe, as are our discussions, Miss Bashford.”
         He ushered me to the adjacent sitting room. A gaudy collection of antiques and overstuffed chairs had been crammed together like expensive children’s toys. Another security automaton followed.
         “Cog Killjoy regrets that he could not be present. Recent labour strikes have consumed his time. He entrusted me as his assistant to speak with you. Do trust that my qualifications are more than adequate for this discussion.”
         The Baron looked me up and down. “Yes, I understand your qualifications to be quite exceptional.”
         My face flushed in demure embarrassment. I hadn’t expected the Baron to be so forward. However, I gladly accepted the comment. I had entered the estate with more than one intention, after all.
         The Baron continued. “I am familiar with the difficulty of such a situation. New Decaport suffered as well, from strikes and protests. I solved that problem with my inventions. I can do the same for Glimtown. Frankly, I was nothing more than a humble tinkerer before all this.”
         “Bloodywell impressive,” I leaned in, allowing my perfume to waft towards him. “They are capable yet obedient. How do you command them with such ease?”
         He bristled at the probing question. “It’s proprietary. I am sure you understand - I must protect my assets.”
         “Allow me to let you in on a secret.” I edged even closer, such that our knees were interlocked. “The Council has already agreed to pay full price. As you say, our discussions are safe here, Baron. I simply must know more about your genius.”
         He narrowed his eyes. “It is my genius at work. They share a thaumaturgical connection with their creator. I can command them precisely from any distance with a flick of my wrist. I even see through their eyes, Miss Bashford.”
         A chill ran down my spine; I had not been made aware that they were anything but mechanical in nature. If the security automaton moved like the dancing machines before… I dared not complete the thought. What had he seen through those metal eyes?
         The ramifications raced through my mind. The army trapped in its endless waltz was only a small fraction of the power he wielded in New Decaport. They served its council, its nobles, its criminal underground. Soon, other cities would adopt the obedient workers for their own gains. He could take control of the entire region with a-
         The security automaton lurched on its joints, thrusting its blade within inches of my jugular and lodging it firmly into the armchair.
         “A real Glimtown diplomat would never refer to her councilmembers as anything but the Cogs. I presume the boy perched in the oak tree would be yours as well. Isn’t that bloodywell impressive?”
         I struggled to talk under threat of pressing into the blade. I had no choice but to continue my lie. “Killjoy will have your head.”
         The Baron approached me with malice in his eyes. His forehead practically pressed against my own. “You almost fooled me, Miss Bashford. Killjoy’s convoy enters the city as we speak. He doesn’t know who you are.”
         Slowly, subtly, I slid the syringe from my sleeve to my hand and pressed it into his hip. Behind his body, the automaton could not see the action. His face twisted in shock before freezing. Blessedly, the neurotoxin took hold of his body within moments. Unable to issue a command, his breathing slowed to a stop. Automata collapsed thunderously throughout the mansion.

         Jasper was stuck under an automaton near the oak tree where I had left him.
         “Bloodywell done, Jess! That robo creep just about crushed me.”
         I smacked my palm on my forehead. “Robo! I completely forgot you call automata robos! Next time, we get a real Glimtonian, yeah?”
         The headlamps of councilmember Killjoy’s convoy bathed us briefly in amber light - another government ready to surrender everything to replace its populace. We left knowing that we had bought them more time.

WC: 998
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