On the land bridge between Vulcan’s Forge and the Well of First things are the sandy beaches of Winter Harbor Bay.
Who can say why this shadow of a man walks the beach. Perhaps shadow isn’t the proper way to say. . . this half-machine in the image of a man. Draped in his ragged sombrero straw hat, tattered cloak and baggy pants, he fits rather nicely in with the other elderly men and women. The breeze tugs at his cloak, imploring him to run away to far and exotic places. One might describe this time and place as bright, sunny and warm. The most prevalent sound is waves crashing and the cries of the wabes as they tumble in the cascading surf.
She only notices the mechanical parts when she draws closer to him.
She says, “May I walk beside you?”
“To be honest I don’t really care all that much for company. . .”
“I supposed there are no laws forbidding your passage anywhere on this lovely beach.”
She is a pleasure to behold, tawny skin, ample dark chestnut hair, eyes the color of poetry. Her swimwear revealing a sense of dignity as well as her well-formed legs.
He says, “If you wish to accompany me you’ll have to forgive the creaking and grinding of my machinery, and I am given to understand that my rusty scent is less than pleasant.” Truth be told there is no such sound, nor any such scent.
They walk in silence, pausing often. She finds him to be a strangely ferine dream of steel and glass, as though something random inside him might snap and he could spring at any moment.
He says, “I listen without knowing the sounds of this place, no longer demanding to know. Grasping with an open hand if you will.” Weeds and wild blossoms dance in the white noise stillness.
She notices that his foot prints don’t exactly match.
About thirty feet behind them a burly young man in a civil code uniform and a machine have just turned to catch up with them. The machine resembles nothing so much as a man-sized spider made of glass with black rubber veins. The man resembles the machine.
Without turning he says, “Friends of yours?”
“They’ll try to detain me and I don’t wish it so.”
“So, they’re not friends?”
She laughs, a dry and humorless laugh.
“Young Fem, I’m here at the courtesy of the Regent of Regwin. I am no longer a weapon and have no wish to endure an altercation with the local Security Forces.”
“Not the point.”
She says, “Help me,” and then says his name.
He pauses the way machines are prone to do when dealing with teraquads of information. He turns, stops and pulls himself to his full posture.
The young man hesitates and the machine stops. The young man smiles and with his ocular systems he can see smile wrinkles around the young man’s tanned features pull into a reasonable facsimile of a smile. The young man starts to reach for something on his belt.
“We seem to have hit upon a misunderstanding.”
“I would love to have a conversation with you but first, I ask that you re-engage the safety on you weapon and you send the machine away.”
A long silence passes on the sandy silence.
“Son, you misunderstand. (There are several barely audible hisses under the old man’s cloak) I will walk away from this. Will you?”
“This isn’t your affair, sir.”
“I declare that this is now my affair, now either do as I have legally requested or give it your best shot.”
The young man starts to touch something on his belt.
The young man lifts his hands and with a gesture dismisses the machine. It quickly scurries away. “You are impeding official security. They want her at Central.”
“Then they shall have to grow wiser by dealing with disappointment. Look, I have no wish to be a bother to anyone but I take her under my custody. Please contact Central and you’ll see that it is within my rights to do so. Go ahead, call them.”
The young man spends some time arguing with something in his ear. At length he sighs in deep resignation. Holds his hands up in surrender and turns to leave.
“I fought with you dad in the Risty Corridor. Name was Cal.”
“He was a brave man and his son has shown wisdom and courage in the execution of his duties. As I said, this has been an unfortunate misunderstanding.”
The young man storms off, not looking back.
The old man resumes his meander. She follows him.
She says, “Why did you do that? Bring up that business about his dad?”
“The honor of young men is easily bruised, I wish it were not so.”
“They are monitoring us.”
“I really don’t think so. I doubt civilian tech can punch through. That’s probably why they sent him. Besides, what are they going to hear? An old man talking with a beautiful young woman.”
“Sounds dangerous to me.”
“It could be, if we’re lucky.”
She gently takes hold of his human hand.
She murmurs something against his chest, the flesh part. “Is it getting warm in here? Or is it just me?”
She looks at his face, her dark eyes smoky. “Just how much of you is machine, anyway?”
“Look, you haven’t told me your name.”
“What is in a name. . .”
“At least you employ the classics.”
She kisses his chest, almost absently.
“Young lady, you’re kissing me and rubbing your body against me in a very unladylike and extremely pleasant fashion.”
“Stop me if you can.”
She leans her head so that her ear is on his glassy chest. She hears the slightest ‘tic-tic-tic’. She can’t see his face but can hear the smile in his voice, “That’s the old ticker. Bio-steel spring driven cardiac prosthesis. Supposedly the best that money can buy.”
Without taking his eyes from hers he informs her weapons that they need to lay down on the floor. They obey.
She screams and clutches her nerveless hand.
“Eurydice, I’m going to have to ask you to leave.”
“So you’ve known my name all along, have you?”
“People of your profession have a way of showing up in data-bases.”
“Then the poison in your soup was not a surprise?”
“Not really. You see, I don’t really need to eat more than every month or so. I usually eat as a courtesy to company.”
“How many meals have we eaten together?”
“Fifty eight if you count the snack on the veranda day before yesterday. Maybe we could call that half a meal, in that case, fifty seven point five. I have shunted everything we have eaten. My organics are not effected. Wouldn’t matter all that much if they were. The mechanicals would. . .”
“Why? Are you some kind of fool? Why did you let me into your house?”
He is on her before she can even see him move; has both her hands pinned, his half face millimeters from hers. “Many adjectival phrases have been using in conjunction with my name. ‘Foolish’ has never been one of them. I let you in. Now I want you to go. Please leave.”
“They’ll kill me.”
“No. You will deliver this message to your employers and tell them you did your job.”
“They’ll just let me go? After I deliver your message.”
“Yeah, do you need to write this down?”
“I’m not likely to forget.”
“Tell them I have not forgotten that they are in my debt. If they attempt to interfere with me ever again, in any way, I shall return and collect that debt in full and there won’t be a thing they can do about it.”
“You’re a traitor.”
“That stings a bit, but was only to be expected.” He releases her and steps back toward the fire. She shifts her weight, tensing for an attack. “Eurydice, you will now leave, the means of your egress is purely of your own choosing. Personally, I have enjoyed these past few days. All the intrigue and innuendo, truly top rate. And. . .” She relaxes just a faction.
“I have grown passing fond of you.”
She laughs her characteristic laugh. He makes a hissing sound (a laugh as well?).
She turns toward the door.
He says, “One thing, after you run back to them and convey my message. After that. . .”
“What? After that, what?”
“Well you might come by and visit, if you survive. We really are good together.”