The Dancer and the Shattered Shell

Posted: January 27, 2016 in chuck wendig challenge, steampunk, Uncategorized
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This week’s challenge over at terribleminds, another ten titles! (Seriously, if you are ever in need of a quick title to try and write to, I highly recommend that site).

This is a bit of steampunk fantasy and no one dies! I know, I was as surprised as you.

“What is that?” Killian asked, clambering over the junk pile.

Micaela stood over a gleaming chrome shell, a metal casing fashioned into the form of a woman. She shrugged. “Don’t know. A statue maybe? Who knows what the quality have in their homes. Or what they consider junk for that matter.”

“I suppose.” Killian came down the pile, his sack bulging with odds and ends, scrap for the Orphan’s Market down in Veringer Square. “Think you’ll get something for it?”

Micaela ran a hand over the chrome shell, then pausing and peering closer. “I’m not taking it to the Market.”

Killian ran a grimy hand over his face. “Why not?”

Micaela smacked him not too gently against the side of his head. “What, and get a small bit of coin from the scrappers for the metal? Look,” she grabbed him by the ear, pulled him closer. “See that?” She pointed at a crack in the casing, at the exposed gears and springs. “This isn’t just a shell, is it? It’s one of those mechanicals. You know, the automated servants.”

Killian wrinkled his nose. “Yeah, but it’s busted, isn’t it? Nobody pays for a broken anything except for the scrap dealers.”

“That’s your problem, Killian. You are thinking too small. Silas will pay good money for something like this.”

Killian hawked and spat. “That means dealing with Silas though.”

Micaela shrugged. “His coin buys as much ale as anybody elses.”

“Yeah, you’re right. Let me go get the sledge.”


Silas pulled at the few wispy tufts sprouting from his chin as he contemplated the shell Micaela and Killian had rescued from the scrap heap. “Well, now isn’t this a wonder. You two may have actually found something of worth this time. Never thought I’d live to see the day.”

Micaela wrinkled her nose as she crossed her arm over her chest. It didn’t seem to matter what she’d wear, the old man seemed to never be able to pull his eyes up to meet hers.

“So what is it?” Killian asked. Silas lifted his eyes from Micaela’s chest to meet Killian’s stare.

“An automata, of course.”

Killian sighed. “Yes, we figured that much out. We were wondering if you knew what kind?”

Silas shrugged. “No idea. This one is pretty damaged, but the parts along are worth a small fortune… if you know the right sort of people.” He fished under his counter and produced a small bag.

“Come on Silas,” Micaela protested. “You usually give twice that amount for half the crap we bring in.”

Silas’ lip curled in a sneer as he opened the bag, tipping it part way over. Gold coins gleamed as they half spilled from the purse. “And I usually pay you in copper and bronze bits. Tell me, do you truly wish to haggle?”

“Nope, we’re good here, aren’t we Micaela?” Killian scooped up the purse as well as the few stray coins that escaped onto the counter. “Pleasure as always, Silas.” Killian grabbed Micaela by the elbow, pushing her to the door.

Micaela shrugged Killian off. “We want twice what’s in the bag.”

“What?” Killian and Silas declared at the same time.

“You heard me. Killian, when have you ever known Silas not to haggle?”

Killian scratched the back of his head. “Well…”

“Exactly. Come on now, Silas. Usually we have to fight you over every bent bronze and chipped copper we can get from you. And here you are, offering up more in a day than what you pay out in a year. Which means you want it. So, you can pay for it?”

Silas raised one bushy caterpillar of an eyebrow. “Or what?”

Micaela smiled. “Or we find another buyer. I hear Quince is looking for new scrappers to bring him things. I’m sure he’d offer a nice bonus for something like this, don’t you Killian?

Killian nodded. “I do think you’re right. Or maybe the Scarwhistle Sisters. I’m sure they’d appreciate something like this.”

Silas scowled, and for a moment Micaela though he would throw the two of them out of his shop. “Fine,” he growled, producing another, smaller pouch. “Thieves the both of you.”

Micaela and Killian smiled, and both gave a little bow while doffing imaginary hats.

“Thank you, Silas, pleasure as always,” Micaela said as they left.

Silas grumbled and locked the door behind them. As soon as he was clear that they were gone, a broad smile split his mouth, and he rubbed his hands together in unabashed glee. He shouldered the broken automata with a grunt, carried it into his workroom. There, lying on the table, lay his masterpiece. Silas lacked the skill and tools to fashion his own automata, so he was slowly cobbling together his own. He’d almost completed, but until now he’d missed one final, critical component.

Taking hammer and chisel, he cracked open the shell of the automata Micaela and Killian had brought him, extracting the dynamic core. Carefully he extracted it, and with utmost tenderness he placed it inside the shell of his automata. He closed the shell and, reaching under it to flick on the control switches, turned it on.

Lights gleamed in the crystal eyes as Silas’ automata rose from the table, its limbs elegant and graceful, its movements lithe and sure. It lifted one perfect leg as it twirled around, and Silas clapped his hands together like a boy on his naming day.

At last his dancer was complete.

  1. Aimee Ogden says:

    You’ve created an interesting world here – fun to speculate about what’s happened that there should be almost-intact automatons lying at the bottom of a landfill. Or what it was that compelled this old man to build his own mechanical dancer in secret! I did feel a bit like the two halves of the story didn’t really tie together into a cohesive structure — felt a bit cut off to me when Micaela’s part hands over to Silas’s halfway through.

    Thanks for sharing your work!

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