The first principle of the machine is Purpose. The machine designs itself to this chosen end, aligning all
functionality to a single outcome. The machine, by its nature, cannot fathom or choose its purpose. It
must be handed down, as revelation or as doctrine, from a being of higher stature. In this way could it be
Ticking: a thousand clocks echoing into endless dark, the motion of a million gears grinding and churning,
a morass of straining forces clashing against shaped metal, a finely tuned symphony of coordinated
motion, culminating in a single tick—repetitive, deafening, implacable.
The mind of Grandfather Clock.
Aaron had imagined himself shrieking and writhing, struggling against the bonds that held him. He
imagined a line of Boiler Men at the entrance to his prison, standing ready with rifles, rods, and steam
guns to block his eventual escape. He’d imagined a door locked with steam-powered bolts, to seal in this
man who was such a danger.
It wasn’t so. He hung now in a chair, arms and legs supported by thin scraps of brass, six copper tines
penetrating his neck. He spasmed randomly. He drooled. He bled dark oil from his eyes and ears. To his
left and right, above and below, thousands more trapped souls shuffled mindlessly, their bodies jerking in
the indecipherable rhythm of the Great Machine.
He’d fought when they dragged him here, to the Chimney. He’d despaired to see the endless column of
quivering humanity vanishing upwards into the core of the Stack, and to know the fate of those there
interred. He’d soiled himself from terror, and begged for death instead.
But the baron, in his passionless monotone, had directed the Boiler Men to string him up and keep him
conscious while the tines did their work. The baron had stood and watched with immobile copper eyes
as the encroaching cacophony of Grandfather Clock’s thoughts had hammered their way into Aaron’s
mind. Aaron’s last visual memory was of that man’s featureless face: not even a smile of triumph, nor a
vicious grin to condemn Aaron as a man. Aaron was a mere faulty part in the Great Work, now
tempered and put to better use.
Aaron threw imaginary arms over an imaginary head. He ran on imaginary legs, desperately searching for
a spot to hide, but in the Chimney all was Grandfather Clock. Every turn took him between grinding
gears or into the path of uncoiling springs.
He ran this way for ages, in an agony beyond measure, swallowed, like all the others, worn down until
he was but a dead man who hadn’t properly died. The tines tore into his neck as the gears and the noise
tore into his mind, and he gave up every secret he had ever held. He gave up his friends, his plans, his
secret hideaways, his many paltry indiscretions against propriety and against God—anything to make the
pain stop. But Grandfather Clock cared nothing for pain, as long as the gears turned.
After countless long hours, something changed. The million ticks did not come together in one. For a
single instant, they cascaded like a short but powerful wave as Grandfather Clock hesitated.
Aaron came alive again. He stole the smallest and quietest of breaths, and as he did so he felt his body
do the same. What was it he felt drawing the attention of the vast being all around him?
He reached out, felt the gears and springs around him clacking in their altered pattern. The rhythm came
to him, clearer now that it was not so loud. His subconscious did its work, and impressions formed in his
imagination: thickened, greyed images of Grandfather Clock’s purposes and directives. Huge,
unfathomable, yet with character, with flavour.
Apprehension: that the Great Work may not be finished.
And then a command: to seek, to capture, to preserve.
Joseph,Aaron realised.Joseph escaped.
And suddenly the ticks came together again. A crashing slap of sound battered him. A hundred thousand
bells exploded into chaotic song—church bells and electric buzzers, alarm clocks and hammers striking
Grandfather Clock had seen and heard Aaron’s thought. All the sharply ordered energies of the machine
tumbled onto Aaron’s head. He felt bones breaking in his real body.
Stop laughing!was the command.
So Aaron laughed more, even as he screamed.
Grandfather Clock crunched him down like a mechanic scraping rust off a stubborn bolt. Aaron flaked
apart and drifted away. What remained tightened securely, then began to spin at its designated frequency.
It became part of a work greater than itself, part of an infallible string of physical logic inside the perfect
It was the chin, Missy decided. The broad chest, the muscled arms, the swept-back short blond hair
were certainly no drawback, but it was the square, almost Roman chin that really caught her attention.
The man had taken position on the edge of the road, head down, back to the closest wall. He and Missy
and all the other grubbers of the Shadwell Underbelly stood squashed to the edges of the street as the
Boiler Men passed through. The cloaks, one could have fun with: a shoe in the wrong place when passing
was always good, seeing as they were too proud to sully their dignity with childish finger pointing; a little
flash of ankle at the right moment was amusing as well, for the canaries at least—eyes like hawks, them,
but feet like an elephant on a frozen lake when their blood rose up. With Boiler Men, one just kind of got
out of their way.
If she was like most people, Missy would have dropped her eyes and tipped her ash hat down and tried
to have no more presence than a pig in a butcher’s shop. She would have held her curiosity down with
fear and shuddered in her shoes until the Ironboys passed, then gone on about her business as if all was
fine and the sun was due to come out any minute. But Missy was not like most people, and neither was
the man with the chin.
He watched the Boiler Men with narrowed eyes. Missy noticed his hand had twitched towards the large
leather-wrapped object he carried on his back the instant the Ironboys had appeared. He’d restrained
himself, evidently, and had retreated to the steps of a storefront flanked by his two companions, a
brown-clad ogre and a slim urchin boy. The vantage allowed him an unobstructed view of the grim
procession, and Missy an unobstructed view of him.
Now whatisthis lovely specimen up to? she mused. He was far too fixated on the Boiler Men to notice
her, and so she was free to study him at leisure. He stood with muscles taught, legs comfortably wide as
if he expected to dodge aside at any moment. His thick moustache and mop of hair seemed to bristle like
tiger’s fur. He stood alert, tense, exuding an aura of control.
You must not judge a client by his looks, nor his manner. To you, all men are Adonis and Casanova.
Missy frowned at the thought, and wondered if it was wrong to wish that they had all been like this one.
Even though you flee me, the lusts are still on you. You were born to this work, child.
The Boiler Men moved off, though their heavy, synchronised footsteps would echo in the Underbelly for
some time yet. The crowd began to swell out into the street again, silent at first, gradually building to
The object of Missy’s observation conferred with the ogre at his side a moment, then gestured with his
head for the lad to follow. He shot a glance sideways, directly into Missy’s eyes. Her heart jumped at
first; then her face flushed with sudden anger.He was playing me! She responded automatically with a
coquettish smile and a wave.
The man quickly looked away and down, shifting his focus to the street ahead and the crowds swarming
Ready for anything but the tempting touch of womanhood,Missy realised.Refreshing, after a fashion.
The three hurried ahead at a good clip, purposeful and terribly out of place in the Underbelly. Missy
walked more naturally, mimicking the shifting wanderings of the tower’s occupants. Though her quarries
moved faster, their directness clashed with the aimless dance of the crowd, and Missy kept pace without
The floor of the Underbelly was like a giant bowl of concrete, warped and misshapen to conform to the
vagaries of the tower’s steel supports. She tracked the three strangers between two-and three-storey
tenements, inexpertly constructed of whatever spare wood and plaster could be scrounged from the city
above. The place had a ruined graveyard quality about it, enhanced by the few ghostly street lanterns that
Missy had always detested. When this silliness with the queen’s agents had run its course, Missy intended
to make Oliver buy her an apartment in Aldgate.Oh, why compromise on fantasy?…in Cathedral Tower!
She trailed her foxes into a nest of rum dives and two-step alleys called, for reasons unknown, the
“Blink.”They must know the area, she decided,to stride so confidently into that labyrinth. Why, then, had
she not seen them before? The other two, though odd in stance and motion, would pass for locals with a
little effort. The man with the chiseled chin, however, she would surely have remembered him. She
slipped into the alley some minutes after them, to ensure they’d passed the first of the alley’s many
pointless corners. The hem of her skirt brushed the narrow walls, and she gathered it together in front of
her to keep it from staining on the piss and puke all over. Why was it the drunks never managed to quite
make it to the street?
She stopped at the first corner. Cursing sounded from ahead, echoing off the stained walls above:
possibly the ogre having trouble manoeuvring through, and the chin man’s backpack as well. She peeked
around the edge and saw, just as she thought, the ogre’s wide shoulders stuck between loose window
trim and a pipe. The chin man must have been in the lead, for she saw only the teenaged lad. He cocked
his head, and began to turn.
She darted back into cover with a stifled yelp. Something in the lad’s posture, head lowered between
raised shoulder blades, suggested a cat about to pounce, or a dog about to growl and charge.
A sudden fear blinked in her mind like an electrical spark: why was she following these men?
Because Oliver will ask you what they were up to, and if you don’t have an answer he is sure to chastise
you like a little girl and sulk the rest of the evening.There. It was on his head now.
It is preposterous to maintain belief in the innocence of your motives, child. You sully the very idea of
goodness in people by your association.
Heedless of the noise, Missy slapped herself hard on her cheek.
I’m done with you, old woman. Leave me be!
Gradually the cursing ahead subsided, and after a few minutes in silence, Missy plucked up her courage
After a few more turns, she emerged into one of the little plazas that were referred to by a term she
wouldn’t repeat, even to herself. Lit by a single oil lantern hanging off a second-storey windowsill, the
plaza gleamed with moisture and stank of filth of every kind. A descending stair on the left led to a rum
house entrance, a boarded door on the right to a condemned shop with broken windows.
Three more alleys led off. All three took their first turns too early to see very far along, and the only
sound audible, despite the constant muted thrum of the factories from above, was some murmuring and a
badly played tin whistle from the rum house. She could find no trace of her little foxes.
Well, that’s that. Perfectly acceptable, me losing them in here. And Oliver can’t rightly argue with me not
wanting to take my lone, feminine self into a grog house, can he?She dusted her hands together in
symbolic dismissal of the whole affair and turned to leave.
A man stepped from the dark of the rightmost alley. Missy’s hand flew to her chest as her heart began to
thunder. Words came automatically to her, rehearsed and practiced so many times before: “Goodness,
you do give a lady a fright, sir.”
The man with the exquisite chin gestured for her to step towards him, and backed into the alley.
“If you would, miss,” he said. His voice was rich with a husky Germanic accent, though it was also
scratchy, as if he had spent a lot of time yelling.
Missy fixed him with her most disarming flutter of the eyelashes. “Now that would hardly be proper,
would it? Me following a strange man into a dark place.”
“You have been following this strange man for some time, miss.”
The bastard prick knew.She smiled shyly. “Sharp eyes on you, I see.”
He made no response to that, though his eyes flicked for an instant a little lower than her face. Revulsion
surged in her gut for an instant.
Remember that your client has come to you to be toyed with. It is his wish to be led by your wiles and
have that responsibility lifted from him for a time.
Something useful from you for once, old bat.
As an experiment, Missy took one direct and intentional step inside the range of his arms. He responded
by backing away, wary, hands by his sides but open and turned out slightly to be ready to reach up at
any moment. She fancied she saw his skin pale and chuckled inwardly. Why was it the big strapping ones
were always the easiest to unman?
“Now, what’s a fellow handsome as yourself doing in the Underbelly, I wonder.” She gauged his pained
squint to mean she could safely proceed further. “Nothing that can’t wait, if the company’s right, I hope.”
His neck flushed red. Missy folded her hands sweet-as-you-please in front of her, the back one slipping
her switchblade partly out of her sleeve. Befuddled though he was, the man carried a sidearm just out of
sight in the shadow of his right hip, and she wondered if the slight lump beneath his shirt just above the
waistband might be a belt of ammunition, like Heckler carried. The man’s right hand held steady just
above the sidearm’s grip.
“I am not interested, miss,” he said.
Her fingers wrapped around the knife’s grip.Oh, but you must be, for I’m ready for you.
“Well, not yet, love. But the day is young, and you’ll find I know a mite of pleasurable conversation,
among other things, if you’d give a doe a chance.”
The flush and jitteriness vanished, to be replaced with a cold, discerning stare. The man’s entire posture
grew fierce, and Missy suddenly realised just how large he actually was.
Stupid. Too forward. Now he’s…
“Why were you following me, miss?” he asked, voice flat as cold slate.
She retreated one step from the force in the man’s eyes and managed to sound cross.
“I’ve told you already, sir. Well, I can see you’re not interested. Good day to you and I’ll be on my
She stuck her nose up and spun away. What on earth had possessed her to trail this man into the Blink
of all places?Dignified, now. Slow down. Dismiss him. He’s nothing at all.
His hand engulfed her shoulder and spun her back around like a top. She found herself staring into
startling blue eyes, as hard as steel. She tugged the flick-blade loose. A quick poke and he would drop
like a domino, just as before.
From some unexplored part of her, a primal rage welled up, a screaming order to thrust the knife
through his heart. He deserved it. They all did. All these cruel and lecherous swine that thought they had
so much power.
She pressed the catch and the blade leapt into place. Was it the eyes that made her hesitate? Was he
just that much faster?
He never broke their gaze. His other hand snatched her wrist the instant she began to thrust. Shoots of
pain darted up and down Missy’s arm and out into her fingers. She cried out and the knife clattered to
She couldn’t move her arms. She couldn’t run. He leaned in closer, filling her nose with his scent.
“Listen!” he hissed. “Do not continue following us. My associates are heartless villains and they will
murder you. Do you understand?”
She nodded meekly. He shoved her away.
“Play yourVersuchung games elsewhere.”
She nodded again, swallowed to quell the shaking of her insides, and retreated. She kept him in sight,
watching his eyes and his firing hand until she reached the little plaza, then spun and bolted down the
nearest alley. She ran through the twists and turns, bashing her elbows on the downspouts and scuffing
her dress on the walls, and did not halt until the vast lamp-lit cavern of the Underbelly opened around
She found a rotting crate behind a bakery where no one could see her from the streets, and sat down.
Tears poured out of her eyes, soaking her cheeks and chin, dribbling onto her jacket.
“No, no, no,” she muttered. She crammed her fists into her eye sockets.
Do you require further demonstration of how powerless you are, child? Surrender these unladylike ideas
of independence and return to me.
Her entire body shivered. Her insides rolled and squirmed. A sharp pain began throbbing between her
legs. From inside her mind, Matron Gisella fixed her with a tight-lipped scowl.
The world abounds in examples of your weaknesses. You are as frightened a little girl now as you were
when you were dumped upon my doorstep.
No, no, no, no…
She pulled her slick fists away from her face and clamped them down on her legs and then her arms,
until they went stone still. Then she hugged her midsection so tightly she thought she might break it.
She held herself in that death’s grip until her insides stilled and Gisella’s voice fell silent. Then she inhaled
with great deliberation, rose, straightened her clothing, wiped her face.
She would get another knife. She would get a gun. Then she would teach that Kraut bastard not to make
her feel like that. She would teach anyone who crossed her that she was powerless no longer.
She headed for the hideout.