Chapter One

She gazes up at you with those tear stained eyes. Her little hands are resting on your swollen belly and she lies curled on your lap, disabling you from moving. You feel uncomfortable. You want her to leave. You can't think of anything but your duty, and how she will get in the way if you don't do anything. This kiddie—Lucy?—she probably had a... An apparition. You know this because of a conversation between you and your mistress—Miss Weaver. You had asked a question, been called an idiot, and then left with an explanation. Naturally, you lack an emotional and schema area from your mechanical brain. So it doesn't hurt you—frankly, you agree. After all, you are the puppet. A little toy strung by the commands of others.

But you have never been thrown into such a dilemma as the one you face right now. Your tongue lolls at the side of your large puppet mouth as you blink your eyes wider, sucking the image in. Your sleep-driven smile fades into a menacing snarl. Why is this Lucy girl out past the curfew? And sitting on you! You know this isn't right. You are not allowed to give comfort. She knows this, too. She is going to get you into trouble.

Her voice is as soft as Miss Notch. "I'm sorry, I was sleepwalking. I'll... I'll go now!" in sudden panic, her mind snaps awake and she leaps off you. As if her little lie isn't bad enough. Without effort, you open your mouth and chains come spewing out, chasing after her and ensnaring her into their iron grip. Her eyes are outstretched in utter horror as she gawks back at you with those golden flecked chocolate eyes, tears immediately swimming inside. She thinks she is going to the dungeon, you realize. Oh, you pathetic fool.

She's not looking at the chains. She's looking at you, at your gigantic mouth that can swallow anything bigger than her. The idea slowly begins to dawn on you. She thought—why?—how fooli—well... You look down at yourself. Look at her. Put yourself in her shoes. You don't see a big figure; you see a monster whose skin is fabric stitched together in various places. You are nothing but a machine to her. A steampunk. And yet your belly can consume organic foods—only organic. And it was a big stomach. In fact, you are big. True, you are made of clockwork inside-but that doesn't mean that you are going to go against your mistress's orders and consume a human being! That is beyond wrong. You shudder in horror at the thought.

She's staring at you with those owlish eyes, frightened at the concept. She fears that you might move, to her or away. You slowly activate your chain-retriever and she shrieks in terror when she slides across the floor towards you. Lucy is horrified; it's obvious to even you. You remain calm and collected, and just as it looks like it's going to pull her up to your mouth, you pause it's procedure. And glare at her with eyes of a hawk. "What are you doin' past your bedtime, kiddie?" you demand. You want a crystal clear answer why you were interrupted from your slumber in the hallway corridors. Her eyes hold the answer instead.

For a moment, you are close to feeling something. A glimpse of memory, perhaps. A flicker of emotion tracing it. But before your conscience can pull you into the watery depth, you push it aside and release your hold on Lucy. Sit down. Stare at her with tired, remorseful eyes—wait, is that right? Are you really remorseful? Emotions. Her tears are rivers now, sobbing harder. You seem to mentally release her from your mind, but she responds quite eccentrically. She scampers to you in spite her phobia of you and squishes her little body up into your cotton-stuffed skin. She wants more comfort than being afraid. You know this.

Her little face rubs into the squishiness of your chest—you just give a bleak, vacant stare ahead, your tongue still hanging from your mouth like string. You don't care. You just want her to be a quiet kiddie. When you gaze down at her again, you cannot fight the automatic urge to put your sloppy arm over her. Originally, you do this just for your belly, but this time she was in the way.

Her breath is soft and short as she falls away from consciousness. You let your eyes wander awkwardly as you ponder; what had occurred to induce this behaviour? She must have had a bad dream. She must have. Why else would she be bothering you in the dead of night? You're quiet, serenely quiet, muted at the state of affair. What do you do? What do you say? You don't know because, stated bluntly, you're pretty stupid. No offense, but by standards, that's the truth. You're programmed with nothing more than the desire to fulfill Miss Weaver's every command. Clockwork and not a single drop of pity, regret or empathy. So what would you know about comforting a child?

Her eyes flicker open to meet yours. They're like candle light in the crisp autumn twilight. Curious and free. Full of will and knowledge. By all means, she's learning and adjusting to her scientific surroundings; it's just so hard for a normal pupil to be suddenly transferred to something so complex. Those big, watery blue eyes ask you this: what about you? What have you wanted? What of the life you might've loved?

"What do you want, kiddie?"

The way she's looking at you makes you extremely uncomfortable. You just wish the pressure would end. She gawks up at you with round and angelic eyes and lays her head against her your chest, as though attempting to hear the faint spur of your gears in tact. Children are so strange these days. You'd not seen or witnessed anything so peculiar. An undying kindness or sucking up to something—or someone, for that matter. All the wee tykes up around these parts were so mature—had their calm and collective attitudes ready to go each morning. But this little girl? She was nothing close to the word 'steady'. She was a staggering heap of blind fear—not that you're any different from the 'staggering heap' part.

You can feel the gears in your head grinding—seriously, you can. Something at the back of your metallic skull is humming like nothing you'd never felt. It was like, almost laying here with a little tyke up on your belly, was stirring something at the back of your head. You give a blink and—almost uncontrollably—begin to see the world with colour. Being a machine of steam-powered clockwork had prevented you from ever experiencing hue in your visual perception. But what is going on? Lucy is stirring, still half asleep, but those little eyes are peering up at you with the utmost curiosity. Your gears begin to pummel inside your chest, working harder, faster—so much that somehow, if you could feel pain, you would. Your head and hearing is filled with tinnitus. Your world is falling apart, and there's nothing you can do.

The last thing you remember before you experience the full fledged overload is leaning your forehead unconsciously against hers, in an almost comforting manner, had you been the one doing so—at the moment, you were almost possessed by an unknown power inside you clockwork brain.

And then the world goes dark.

~~~00~~~

Chink. Chink. Chink. Chink.

Ba-Bum. Ba-Bum. Ba-Bum. Ba-Bum.

He was more consciously aware of the gears that spun in his mind, but heard them never so loud. They were simultaneous with a beating heart—his beating heart?—and almost felt a change of scenery. What was happening inside him? He was so used to being a weak being of flesh and blood… now he was being merged with something larger, heavier. He felt it was suffocating him. He couldn't breathe. His soul was being crushed into the massive hulk. It hurt.

It hurt. It hurt. It hurt… So much! He wanted to scream out, thrash, tell somebody to get off of him. Get away. Stop doing… whatever it was that they were.

And what about Tom?

Dear Lord! He hoped the boy was in better conditions than he was. The poor thing wouldn't be able to tolerate such madness.

Whiiiiiiiiiirr, click! Whiiiiiiiiiiir, click! Click! Click! CLICK! CLICK CLICK CLICK CLICK—

"Do you remember this—"

"—No, it goes here, Beaver—"

"—, can you hear—me?"

Schhhtzzz. Scchhtttzzz.

"—wAkE—"

"—uP—"

"wAkE uP!"

"Wake up."

"Please."

Chink. Chink. Chink. Chink.

Ba-Bum. Ba-Bum. Ba-Bum. Ba-Bum.

Chink. Chink. Chink. Chink.

Ba-bum (chink!). Ba-bum (chink!).

(Chink… Chink… Chink…)

~~~00~~~

"Where are you going?" That was the first question he had heard from her all morning. The scientist looked up with big cerulean eyes and grinned at his female colleague. She was slightly sickly, a disease, but she had long to live. There was no deadline. She would live just as long as he would, perhaps grow better. Nothing too serious. Weaver continued to stare at him with blunt chocolate eyes, tapered with exhaustion. "I mean, if you're going to reset the tube line, there's no need to…" her blond hair was askew from working all night. "I already fixed it." He smiled impishly and slung his bag over his shoulder laxly.

"No need to worry, Beaver. I'm going to the variety store…"

She choked out the words. "The corner store?! At a time like this? Stinch, you're insane!"

A grin. "Never said I wasn't, your majesty. Want a cream egg? I'll pick up a few slushies for the staff… some Laffy Taffy, too—well, don't just stare at me like that! You saw this coming!" She did. They'd been working for weeks on end, and her idea of a celebration was sleeping in—Stinch's idea was to stock up on junk food. Naturally, one would call him a junkie fanatic. His scruffy black hair stuck out all over the place—which made him look adorable. Matters aside, she fought against the idea.

"Stinch… you haven't had sleep all month… you're not thinking properly. Besides that; when you bike into town, you might get dizzy and fall over… you'll be hit by a car!" The thought terrified her. Stinch was so lively and cheerful, and he didn't deserve an ounce of that kind of accident. A huff of annoyance escaped his mouth as the man cocked his head to one side, a smile upon his lips. The beam assured her that he'd return safely and without regrets (he'd be rubbing it in her face for the next few days). Biting her lip anxiously, Weaver shook her head and gazed as he slammed the door behind him.

He was wrong. He would never come back the same.

The wind flew in his hair strands as he sped along the bike trail. He'd almost expected her to accuse him of having an eating problem… her quote about that was specialized. 'Face it, you have an eating problem… and I'm not sugar-coating that because you'll eat it too.' It had amused the staff who had been working on Project X. But not Stinch.

He never ate that much candy… once a week! She declared that he'd turn into a blimp. He had laughed and brushed her off. No need to scowl over something so funny! Like his metabolism would allow that!

Though, he hadn't actually gone out to go to the corner store. Recently he had become a father to a baby boy and the grandmother was at home tending to him. He had intended to go visit in his free time; in the distance he could see their small, modern looking home that sheltered his newborn. To be honest, he was fairly nervous about fatherhood—in general, if he would be a good father. And raising a child alone! The mother had passed away at birth, and the baby was all he had. He loved the boy with his heart and hoped that he could spare some hours at work to just be there, cradling the bundle of joy in his arms.

Pulling on the breaks, Stinch slid off the seat and gathered himself to the door, swinging it open to be greeted with an older woman holding the boy. The woman turned at an 180 degree and beamed when she caught sight of her son's face. "Hello, Thelonius! Taking a break?" Stinch felt his eyes roll at the fancy-go-lucky name he was born with and promptly took his son from her warm arms. The boy gazed up at him with those giant, loving eyes and Stinch's heart melted on the spot. He had loved Tom as soon as he laid his eyes on him.

"Yeah, Mum, but not for long…" his fingers danced along the soft black hair and baby skin, filling him with delight. He bent his head and pressed his forehead against Tom's, where their eyes met head-on. And did not look away. "Hiya, baby boy." He crooned to his child. Tom's joyful face lit up with a giddy smile and he giggled, slurring out words while holing one hand up to touch his Papa's face. Blue eyes clashed with an auburn brown, nothing less than zeal.

Chink. Chink. Chink. Chink.

Ba-Bum. Ba-Bum. Ba-Bum. Ba-Bum.

A screeching of tires on pavement. Pain exploding on him. Screams that he recognized as his colleagues. Hands touched him from all around, delicately picking him up off the road. A car door slams. Another man steps out, inspects him, and urgently is about to drag out his phone when someone stopped him. Beaver Weaver. Her voice with serious as she touches the other man's shoulder—a stranger. She soothes him, just as he is on the verge of a guilt trip, and assures him that they would 'take care of the victim'. That they were doctors. That they had a hospital on the other side of the hill. He offers to help carry the wounded, but she declines it politely and gently urges him to go home. After much hesitation, he does, and the excruciating pain upon Stinch led to never ending darkness.

Beep.

Beep.

Beep.

"He's stable, Miss Weaver. H-he'll be fine…" it was the little girl—Emily Notch. Stinch felt his hand slowly reach out—miraculously, it was the only thing not broken. It fell upon Emily's tear-stained face. He'd always had a soft heart for the baby girl. She was too young to be a maid, working for her family at eight years old. Poverty was a jerk.

His sight was blurry and, with a heavy dosage of painkillers, he didn't expect it to get much better. He felt weak and broken. A woman was leaning over him, smiling with a comforting gesture. "Hey, Stinch." Her smile was weak. "I… I-I told you so." Stinch crinkled his nose and closed his eyes.

"Being right is overrated." nervous chuckles echoed around the room. He felt a feeble beam grace his lips, before he heard Miss Weaver's pathetic sob of guilt. "No, really, Beaver. It's fine. Darma. I should've taken your advice." Her weeping grew hoarse.

"I shouldn't have let you gone!"

"Shh, Weaver, lass. I'm fine. A few broken bones, but nothing to fret over, right?" in spite her guilt, she nodded factually. Stinch smiled. "That's my girl." They weren't involved in a relationship—more so a link that was similar between a brother and sister. Emily pouted by the woman's side and crawled onto the bed with him, curling up at his side. His arms found her hair and smoothed it out gently. "And you, Emily, can stop worrying your little rambunctious head. Bones don't take too long to heal."

Weaver looked doubtful, turning her head away softly. This was caught in his eye and he frowned slightly. "Something wrong?" she nodded slowly, unable to meet his gaze.

"I—" her throat choked up again. He reached out a hand and placed it on her shoulder from where she sat on the edge of the bed. "We did some examination, Thelonius. You… You were hit at one hundred twenty miles per hour. Highway speed." His eyes widened. "Your bones… even if they do heal, they'll never heal properly… you won't be able to put any pressure on them. You'll have to be in a wheel chair the rest of your life… And I can't see you that way!" her eyes were the bank of rivers. "Th-that's why… Why we have to do this…" She placed a sleeping gas mask on his face, with his hand weakly fighting back. "We'll help you… We'll help you, Stinch…"

And everything went dark.

Chink. Chink. Chink. Chink.

Ba-Bum. Ba-Bum. Ba-Bum. Ba-Bum.

He was so used to being a weak being of flesh and blood… now he was being merged with something larger, heavier. He felt it was suffocating him. He couldn't breathe. His soul was being crushed into the massive hulk. It hurt.

It hurt. It hurt. It hurt… So much! He wanted to scream out, thrash, tell somebody to get off of him. Get away. Stop doing… whatever it was that they were. But he couldn't for he was no longer floating in darkness… he saw a bright light and staggered over in his new, heavier form.

Chink. Chink. Chink. Chink.

Chink. Chink. Chink. Chink.

Chink. Chink. Chink. Chink.

"Stinch…?"

"…you hear us?"

"Respond…"

Your eyes flicker open. The world and overhead is grey and contrast. Something wet hangs at the side of your mouth. Reaching up with something—a limb?—you double take when you examine this.. thing. It is a sloppy stub where the hand is supposed to be. Questions start to flood into your head—Who are you? What are you? You look around. See a woman holding a bundle of blankets. Is she cold? No… there's something in the blankets. A mini human! A masculine face, but nothing recognizable. Who are these people? Your brain curiously ponders whether it is your birthday. Surely you would know who these people are?

"… O-only one way to find out…" the woman was saying. She leans into you and her big eyes sink into your own. "What's your name, creature?" she asks it like it is a test. You like tests. You give a dopey smile and think… and nothing comes up, so you say nothing.

Shock sat in her eyes. And then fury. She immediately pulled her head away and shrieks loudly, pointing a finger at one of the scientists. "YOU FORGOT TO TRANSFER THE MEMORY WITH THE SOUL!" she wails and looks down at the baby in her arms. It stares back up at her with the most zeal innocence, not having a clue what is occurring. A scientist suggests 'transferring the memory separately', but she sobs and holds the child to her chest. "No… it's too late! Without it, he's lost everything…" The baby starts wailing, and something inside of you stirs. You immediately throw your arms out for the screaming child, a maternal instinct you've never felt before in your life.

She catches this. Stares down at the baby, and something in her eyes light up. She holds the baby in front of you. "Do you remember this?" her voice is like silky honey dew, sweet and quiet. You stare at the baby, which seems oddly curious of your strange appearance and stops his crying enough to look at you with those huge amber eyes. "H-hold him," the woman sobbed, urging him forward. You inch your stubby limbs out for the sweet innocence and hold him promptly against your chest. The skin on the infant is not stitched together and made of fabric like yours. No, it smells sweet and soft. Feels like silk. Your eyes squint as something comes on—the baby softly chews on your fabricated skin and smiles up at you impishly, but you say nothing—can't say anything, because you have no idea who this baby is.

And the woman knows this, because at this moment, she cries harder than she ever has in her life.

~~~00~~~

When you wake up, Lucy is still there. You know who exactly you are and how you became this weird machine. And you would deal with Miss Weaver tomorrow. But for now, when Lucy is staring at you with those teary little eyes, you can't help but cradle her the way you held your son in your human life. You turn on your side and she snuggles close to you in the darkness, her shaking shoulders coming to ease. You put your limb-arm on her cheek and gently stroke it, whispering things to her you would have never said if that epiphany hadn't occurred.

And lastly, before you both give way for sleepy darkness, you lean your forehead to hers and felt your eyes clash.