Emmerich scratched his pencil across the smudged, crumpled page, annotating the byzantine array of diagrams and formulae to reflect the titanic machine standing in the center of the room. At eighteen feet, it stood thrice as tall as the tallest engineer, a slimmer, more elegant echo of the automaton he had built for the Guild only a year ago—had it really only been a year? Emmerich paused in his note-taking and glanced up at the sleek machine, the gleaming brass shaped into smooth, curving plates, linked together in a seamless design to mimic a muscular humanlike shape—a brass giant to rival the automata Talos, the ancient bronze defender of Crete in the Argonautica.
It was beautiful… and horrifying.
Knowing its ultimate purpose, the smooth, faceless helm should have borne the visage of a demon. A face of war, destruction, of everything evil and corrupt in the world.
And he, Emmerich Percival Goss, was its creator.
Did Hephaestus ever regret the machines he built? Did Daedalus?
No. Emmerich was no modern god of engineering, no genius inventor of the mythological age. They built things of wonder, things worthy of the gods, worthy of legend. He was simply a tool to be used, a mind to be excavated for its knowledge, a man who built what he was told without thinking too hard of the consequences. He was more like Victor Frankenstein, looking upon his creation in blank horror, grossly proud and utterly revolted all at once—a terrible monster ready to kill, to destroy.
Seeing it now, knowing what it would soon become, he should have sabotaged the thing. He should have tried. But he was too much a coward, too afraid his father would catch him in his deception and harm Petra in kind. And now it was nearly finished, one signature away from becoming the very army of machines he swore he would never build.
“Telephone for you, Emmerich. Lobby phones.”
Wearily, Emmerich bit back a grumble—maybe a sigh… maybe both—and glanced up from his work. His fingers itched to rip the schematics to pieces. “Who is it?”
The messenger, one of his floormates Geordie, merely shrugged. “Dunno, mate. Ninette didn’t say.”
He could almost flip a coin and know who it was on the other end of the line. Heads: his traitorous father with thinly veiled threats and vague promises of the future; tails: Vice-Chancellor Lyndon with no news and no help for either.
There was never anyone else.
Frowning, he surveyed the workshop around him, the gleaming brass titan holding the room together like an anchor. It was the crossbar that held all the puppet strings, tying engineer and scientist hand and foot in a grotesque dance toward a certain, macabre end that was written long ago. Inevitable. Inescapable. If they knew any hint of what would come from the machine standing in the center of them all, it did not matter. They all did what a twitch of their strings demanded—even him.
It was his Hell.
“All right, then,” he muttered, only for himself to hear. “I’ll be right back.”