The first principle of the forge is Intention. It is this impulse, whimsical or practical, that has fevered Man
for all his long ages. Man would temper this impulse oftentimes with the ethics and rationality of his own
nature, but the impulse itself is slave only to its own needs. In this it is found that the words of scholar and
madman have equal weight, for all creation is Holy, and the realm of the Divine.
Curse God for giving his power to creatures such as She.
Far away, a ticking.
As of a single watch passing its time in a vast space. It was peaceful. He lay in the warm void and
enjoyed the sound, let it slide into him, let it overwhelm him, until he was nothing more than the watch’s
He felt a welling of sadness, as if his crushed body were weeping for him, and ignored it. All that was
past him now. He’d gone beyond the fragile identities of a cruel and vulgar world. He had the void, this
endless gap just beyond life, just before whatever came after. He revelled in the stillness, inviting it into his
broken mind and willing the few remaining pieces of himself to vanish into it. Lost in nothingness, every
vibration ended, all momentum expended.
And he was happy for a time.
Then something else found him.
He could not tell what it was, for perception was different here, but it moved through the nothingness like
a drop of dye spreading in clear water. It reached a limb for him, one too small to straddle the void.
He found no need to turn to face it, finding no existent directions to speak of. And that was beautiful in
Who are you?he asked.
Its answer floated slowly to him, buoyed on an invisible ether. He caught the answer in outstretched
limbs, hugged it, explored it. It was the frigid, shifting chill-warmth of the human body in sickness, and
oozed a clammy toffeelike liquid into the void. The answer did not speak to him, and he was grateful, for
the thought of human speech repelled and terrified him.
The answer dissolved into bubbles of oil and slipped from his grasp.
Who are you?he repeated.
His companion shifted closer, slithering through the spaces with the sinewy motions of an octopus. He
could not see it, nor hear it; rather he felt it, like a piece of coarse wool dragged across the arm, or a
trickle of sand running down the face. Its movements revealed themselves as might ripples in the wake of
an invisible swimmer.
When it reached for him again, he stretched out to greet it.
A vision came to him.
Pain. Fever. Sweat. Suddenly bone and flesh ensnared him, bound him, and he was screaming,
screaming , as growths of metal broke his skin. He trembled and spasmed, scraping hot nerves against
fibrous blankets on top and beneath. He shrieked again as hundreds of growths inside his body shifted
with his shudders, tearing flesh and muscle, scraping and sawing at bones.
Light ripped into his eyes as he flung them open; noxious air seared his lungs. An unbearable cold
slapped onto his forehead. Over him, a woman cried and prayed. Behind her, two pale-faced children
wept and shivered.
Please end this. Please, I want to go back.
His stomach clenched and he vomited on himself. A rib cracked as he convulsed, and he clawed at his
own throat with hands gnarled from age.
And suddenly he toppled back into the void, leaving the world of pain and light far above.
It was not the stillness that greeted him, but a seething boil of madness. It seized him and drew him into a
fire of screeching monstrosities. Tiny metal monsters crawled all over him, biting and scratching, growling
and gnashing their teeth. He withdrew as far as he could, shrinking into himself, but they closed on him,
Help us,they shouted.
They howled in despair. They ran amok, driven by a ceaseless agony conjured with every movement
and every breath. Their pain bled into anger and they fell upon one another in a cannibalistic frenzy.
At length, the creatures withdrew, leaving him in a pool of his own substance. Much of him had been
broken and consumed. What little remained lay shuddering in that lightless place.
Gradually, the tick returned, and warm viscous fluid lifted him up. His companion settled into the dark
Are you the pain?he asked.
Words did not exist in the void. His companion encircled him with sticky arms.
I understand. You are the source of the machine-disease. The Mother’s heat and the Father’s noise hurt
you, and you hurt them back, and that causes only more pain.
The thing wept tears of pus.
I will help you,he said.I will help you to end it.
Gratitude. His companion swept one long limb out into the void, and from immeasurable distance
retrieved something that it laid before them both.
A tiny metal monster: a clickrat. This one lay on its back, jaws wired shut, legs bundled against its
stomach. It did not thrash about. The bindings had prevented it from lashing out against its pain, and that
pain had consumed it. It lay now empty and inviting.
Aaron floated up and took it.
John Scared knew he was immune to the clacks, and he did not know why. The question bothered him,
as all unanswered questions did. If he did not know the reason, he could not be sure of the result.
Perhaps that was why these poor, diseased wretches made him uncomfortable.
He leaned heavily on his cane. Below, dockworkers struggled to unload the goods descending by crane
from two zeppelins tethered to the Aldgate spire. No single class seemed as afflicted with the mechanical
growths as the dockworkers. They shambled around like parodies of men, covered in gleaming iron
pustules, hobbling on malformed brass legs, and picking at ropes and crates with hooked hands and
fingerless steel stubs.
Why don’t you tell me what they are?he asked of the hot tingling in the back of his mind.Are they the
result of inhaling your breath, my dear? Little spores cast off by the belching of your long throat, nestling
in places warm and wet and springing to vibrant life?
“Tick, tick, tick,” he muttered. A bad habit. He did it for no good reason, but that it might annoyher .
He lifted his gaze to the Stack beyond and watched it flare to crimson life. A cloud of black foulness like
the tenth plague gushed up into the air.
Ah, my lovely, my dear, my sweet mistress. I do not understand you. Any one of your beloved children
would be faithful to you until the oily grave took him, and yet you place your trust in me. You are a
stupid, stupid creature.
John Scared was not averse to stupidity, as long as it was practiced by others.
He turned from the electric glare of the dock lights, hobbling like a cripple to the opposite end of the
rooftop of the Pilot’s Club, where Boxer hung suspended by his feet from a hook.
Astride the trapdoor leading to the Club’s highest floor, where men gambled their livelihood away on fixed games, stood a broad-shouldered man in rigid military pose. Two shifting-eyed boys huddled
together just forward of his reach. Scared waved at the two children.
“Come forward, my grubbers. Time for a lesson.”
Scared read them as they advanced. Each piece of them became a variable: the motion of the eyes, the
dip of the shoulders, the speed of the breath, the weight of the footfall. These he categorised mentally and
applied against a mathematical function long ago devised, and the boys’ personalities became plain to his
understanding. The one on the left, called Shoe, was good for nothing more than spying and fodder. The
one on the right, called Tuppence—that one could be moulded. Another Penny, perhaps, if there was
time enough for more lessons.
“Did you know, children,” Scared said, “that this hook was originally added to allow a piano to be
hauled to the second storey? The piano fell and crushed the club’s original owner.” He turned to Boxer.
“An accident. And a fortunate one it was for me, as it put the club on the market. Don’t you agree?”
The man called Boxer hung mute and shirtless, facing the blackness of Bishop’s Gate tower, and beyond
that, the muted lights of London. His arms had been excellently bound behind his back by bands of
iron—pounded into shape while still hot.
“Gather here, grubbers. You must see. Come, now, don’t be shy or there may be no food at all.”
Like hungry dogs they padded up, unconsciously rubbing their little tummies. Scared swept his arms
wide, gathering them together in front of him. He settled his fingers on their shoulders, one hand on each
boy, and thrilled at the warmth and the shivers he felt. He knelt behind, leaning over them so that the folds
of his cloak encircled them like the wings of a mother bird.
“This man has done a bad thing,” Scared explained. “He has lied to me, you see. One may lie as much
as one likes, so long as one tells only the truth to me.”
He fetched his cane and poked Boxer’s shoulder. The man slowly rotated around to face them. His
chest had been opened, the skin peeled back and pinned to the edges of the torso. An iron plate had
been riveted across his mouth. The children gasped and drew back against the rough wool of Scared’s
coat. He held them steady as they tried to hide their faces.
“Yes, itis horrible, my dears. Your reaction is nothing to be ashamed of. After more lessons—and there
will be many more—I will teach you to appreciate the artistry of what our good hunchback has done
The military man behind them shifted the position of his feet.
Scared pointed forward with his cane, indicating the red glow that issued from between Boxer’s
“You see this, grubbers? Mr. Boxer’s heart is not like yours and mine. His has been replaced with a
coal-burning furnace, as have his arteries and vessels been replaced with pipes. Do you know what this
They did not respond. Through shudders and twitches, he watched bits of both of them curl up and die
then and there.Innocence crushed beneath the red meat of reality. A thing of beauty, is the growth of a
child. Would you not agree, my love?
“It means,” he said, “that Mr. Boxer is a black cloak. He doesn’twear a cloak, of course. Being a
deceitful man, he has endeavoured to hide his nature from me since he came into my employ.”
Scared deftly flicked the latch holding Boxer’s furnace closed. Boxer growled something unintelligible.
“That was his first lie to me. But he is a bad liar, and thus I have known about his treachery for some
Scared passed his cane to Tuppence. “Go on, now. Give him a poke.”
Tuppence reached up a shaking hand and wrapped his little stubby fingers around the cane’s silver head.
The polished mahogany gleamed red in the Stack’s omnipresent glow. Tuppence stood still, eyes fixed
on Boxer’s gaping chest, as if unsure what to do next. John placed two fingers under the boy’s arm and
urged it up. With but a few hesitations, Tuppence reached out with the cane and tapped it against
Boxer’s side. He then quickly withdrew, shrinking close to himself. Boxer made no sound.
“Good, good,” Scared said. “Did you feel the way the flesh bounces back? Elasticity, it’s called: the
pressure of moisture and fluid inside the body pushes the cane away.”
The two boys nodded slowly.
“Give the head a turn, my child. Come, I’ll show you.”
Scared placed one hand over the boy’s, gripping the cane’s length with the other. Gently, he guided the
little fingers in a slow swivelling of the cane’s head. The boy jumped as a four-inch spring-loaded blade
shot out the far end.
“Now give him another. In the same spot.”
He let his fingertips linger on the back of the boy’s hand as he withdrew. That was the softest part,
between the rough knuckles and the bony wrist.And very soft, indeed, on this one.
This time Tuppence needed no coaching. He reached out with the blade and stabbed a quick hole in
Boxer’s flank, close to the kidney. Black oil-blood spurted out. Both children jumped back and John
caught them with one hand against each small back. The blood splattered against the wall one storey
Scared gently retrieved his cane from Tuppence’s shaking hand.
Using the cane’s blade, he tapped on several of Boxer’s mechanical parts as he spoke. “You will
notice,” he said, “that these parts of his shed no blood or oil, while these”—he ground the blade through
a muscle—“shed plenty.”
Boxer grunted but did not speak. John wedged the blade to a secure position between the ribs and left
the cane hanging from Boxer’s body.
“This man cannot be killed by the shedding of blood, grubbers. He has rejected the precious flesh given
him by Our Lord, and embraced the fallacy of the machine. Now pay attention. I will show you how to
kill such a man.”
Scared seesawed the cane from its resting place and deftly flicked open the slotted door covering
Boxer’s furnace, releasing a pulse of red light and a wash of heat. He then carefully scraped out a
thimbleful of embers, which fluttered down towards the glow of Aldgate Tower and vanished.
“Mr. Boxer’s body is not heated by blood, but coal. Deprived of this substance, he will cool and freeze,
and then he will rot like meat left too long untended. Whether he will actually die…” Scared shrugged.
“That is up to Mama Engine.”
And you do have a hard time letting go, don’t you, my sweet?
He scraped the rest of the coals from Boxer’s chest, leaving only a smattering of tiny embers coating the
edges of the chamber. That done, he pressed the cane’s blade into the rooftop and forced it to retract
“I have one more task for you, my grubbers, and this lesson will be over.” Scared dug out of one pocket
two lumps of coal. He passed one to each of the boys. “Both of you will stand or sit, as you please, at
the edge of the roof and offer him your coal. Hold your coal out to him as far as you can reach, and ask
him if he would like it.” He made earnest eye contact with each lad as he spoke. “Now, you are not to
give him any, no matter his answer. Simply ask him over and over. Do this until I come back to retrieve
you; then there will be as much food as you can eat.”
The boys nodded, Tuppence more confidently than Shoe. John Scared guided them to the edge of the
roof, his fingers gracing their delicate shoulders. He listened for a moment as their quiet voices made the
offers, and Boxer replied with weak, muffled squeals. Then he left them to their work and hobbled over
to the trapdoor.
“Something troubling you, Sebastian?” he asked.
Sebastian Moran rubbed his round chin before answering. “Not that I would doubt your methods, sir,
but your treatment of Mr. Boxer is…unsporting.”
Scared chuckled. “I do enjoy your outdated sentiments, my friend. I might have had him shot or tossed
from the tower, but he presented an invaluable instructional opportunity for the children.”
Scared shuffled to the dockside edge of the roof. Moran clasped his hands behind his back and kept
with Scared’s halting pace.
“Children are indeed a blessing, are they not, Sebastian?” Scared said.
Moran coughed. “I wouldn’t know, sir. They don’t make terribly sporting targets.”
“I regret never having any of my own, you know,” said John. “Though perhaps that was unavoidable, as
no woman I have ever met seemed fit to bear them. Have you any children, Sebastian?”
“I wouldn’t know, sir.”
Beyond the docks, another zeppelin angled towards the dock’s spire, cables already descending to be
fastened on. It pitched and slid to its port as a gust of hot air from the Stack jostled it. The red, white,
and black of the German empire came into sharp relief as the vessel floated into the powerful electric
lights of the dock. The silence dragged for some moments.
Scared sighed. “No reminiscing tonight, eh, my friend? Very well. You have a report to make, I’m
Moran nodded again, stiffly, and began in crisp military tones. “The Crown agent captured by the Boiler
Men was named Aaron Bolden. My contacts in the gold cloaks report he was hooked to the Chimney
soon after he arrived.”
“I assumed as much. Even if he hadn’t been, I don’t expect any ordinary man to long keep his secrets in
such hands.” He rubbed a dull ache out of one elbow. “Bolden, though. I wondered who could have
penetrated my defences. The man’s knack with machinery is legendary.”
“He’s still alive, sir. Boxer’s team failed to remove him.”
“That was immaterial, Sebastian. I merely had to get Boxer out of the hideout while I moved my
operations to locations unknown to him. He was a spy for the crows, and though I am unlikely to be
arrested on account of my high allegiances, I do not want the bother of some ambitious young cloak
“Von Herder will have a rifle for you by tomorrow evening. Are you certain everything is in place?”
Moran snorted, incensed. “My men are not to be doubted, Scared.”
Scared laughed. “A mere prick in the flank to rile you to superb performance, my friend. No disrespect
was meant.” John squinted against a gust of wind kicked up by the landing zeppelin’s propellers. “Our
dear baron has far too much loyalty to his patron deities. It is a pity his fate must be a messy one. It will
be a stain on an otherwise artful enterprise.”
John read the man’s sudden uncertainty without having to look at him. “Ask your question, Sebastian.”
Moran cleared his throat. “Again, sir, not that I doubt your methods, but Grandfather Clock is only half
the problem. What will we do about the Lady and the black cloaks?”
Scared looked out at the Stack’s glowing apex.What indeed, my sweet? What shall we do with you?
“Grandfather Clock is a creature of logic and precision,” John said. “He allows neither change nor error
and can be handled in no way other than destruction. Mama Engine, however, is a creature of sentiment,
a mother in truth. Leave her to me.”
“Our conference is at an end. Return to your men and prepare.”
Moran quit the roof by the trapdoor, leaving Scared alone with the distant clamour of the dock and the
quiet voices of the two children.
The children would run away tonight, shortly after their meal. Repulsed by horror at him and at
themselves, they would hide in those holes they knew best. And in a few days or weeks, when they got
hungry again, they would return. They would endure more lessons to quiet their hunger. They would
grow. Eventually they would see no need to leave.
Ah, I am ever accepting, my sweet. Ever patient.
The Stack threw its hellish glare into the sky. The heat in John’s brain stem quivered, like a lover
shuddering in a tight embrace.
But though we each love dearly our adopted sons and daughters, they will never be enough, will they?
Just think of what wonderful children we will make, once I have tamed you.
He turned from the docks to see if Boxer was dead yet.