Sometimes, even the most unlikely person can change the world
Seventeen-year-old Petra Wade, self-taught clockwork engineer, wants nothing more than to become a certified member of the Guild, an impossible dream for a lowly shop girl. Still, she refuses to give up, tinkering with any machine she can get her hands on, in between working and babysitting her foster siblings.
When Emmerich Goss–handsome, privileged, and newly recruited into the Guild–needs help designing a new clockwork system for a top-secret automaton, it seems Petra has finally found the opportunity she’s been waiting for. But if her involvement on the project is discovered, Emmerich will be marked for treason, and a far more dire fate would await Petra.
Working together in secret, they build the clockwork giant, but as the deadline for its completion nears, Petra discovers a sinister conspiracy from within the Guild council … and their automaton is just the beginning.
A machine is more than its function, more than the parts that shape it. The gears, pinions, and springs, they make the machine tick, but deeper than that—beyond the spindles and bearings, beyond the weights and levers—a machine is truth.
Petra Wade stood at the foot of the University steps, her hands in the pockets of her borrowed trousers. Her heart hammered in her chest as she looked upon the gleaming monument of scientific study, the anticipation of this moment finally a reality. She nervously twisted the stem of her pocket watch, feeling the familiar click of the ratchet against the winding gear.
Until now, her only experience with clockwork mechanics and design was her weekly studies with Mr. Stricket after her shift at the pawn shop, repairing pocket watches and grandfather clocks, or making clockwork contraptions out of spare parts, but she knew she had talent enough to compete with the best engineers the school had to offer. Yet the Guild would never allow it. The world of tickers was the world of men.
So, slipping her hands from her pockets, she tucked the loose strands of her hair back into her borrowed cap and gave herself the once-over, making sure that her brother’s clothes covered any femininity that might betray her to anyone inside. Satisfied that she looked the part, she marched up the University steps, determined not to let something as trivial as her sex stop her from pursuing the career she deserved.
Students milled about the door, discussing pitch circles and circumferential velocities. Petra’s skin quivered as she passed over the threshold. The rich scent of paraffin and gasoline replaced the salty air outside. The floor pulsed with the jarring oscillations of the subcity below, the steady hum of perfectly fitted gears vibrating within her bones. Her fingers twitched toward the screwdriver in her pocket. From the foyer, she could see the cluttered mess of schematics that papered the walls of the main workshop. Columns of unused gears stood at attention in the far corner, waiting for an engineer to affix them to a gear-train. Levers rocked and cranks spun, driving gears and sliders. Steam whistled through pipes. Blowlamps hissed and sputtered over metal joints. The workshop sang an engineer’s lullaby.
Petra grinned. She belonged here.
To the left and right of the entry, lift gates stood closed before clusters of students, the lights above the doors flashing yellow as the lifts sped up and down the shaft, disappearing beyond the high, arched ceiling, brass so polished it gleamed like gold. From the lifts, stairs curved upward along the foyer walls, leading to the upper-level workshops, with the entrance to the main workshop below.
Petra inhaled a deep breath. She could do this.
She marched toward the large, circular desk in the center of the entry hall, walking stiffly and purposefully with her hands clenched at her sides. Behind the desk sat a weedy, thin sort of man, annotating a printed letter. His hair was thin and graying, and he wore a name plate pinned to the breast of his coat—W. Plaskett.
Petra cleared her throat.
“One moment,” he said without looking up, continuing to scribble in the cramped margin at the bottom of the letter, until finally, he capped the pen and put the letter aside. “Yes?”
Petra cleared her throat again and spoke in the deepest voice she could muster. “I’m here to apply for the upcoming term.”
“Are you a returning student?” he asked.
Mr. Plaskett reached across the desk, grabbed a blank application file, and readied his pen. “Your name?”
“Wade,” she said, her heart beating faster. “Solomon Wade.”
He scribbled the false name. “And date of birth?”
“March 22, 1864,” she answered, knowing that she didn’t look the least bit nineteen, though only two years shy of the age herself. She tugged on the brim of her hat, shading her soft features from the overhead lighting.
“Former institution?” prompted Mr. Plaskett.
The scratching of his pen stopped.
Petra stiffened. Solomon said they’d accept anyone from Eton. Mr. Plaskett bent over and dug through a drawer of files, mumbling the names of institutions as he thumbed through the tabs. Petra gripped the stem of her pocket watch and waited, panic creeping up her throat.
“Ah, here it is,” he said. “Eton.” He slapped the folder onto the desk and flipped to the back pages, running his long, narrow finger down a list of names. With a frown, he turned to the next page and scanned the first few entries. “Hmm.” He shuffled through a few more pages before finally closing the file. He clasped his fingers over the folder and peered at her with an accusatory glare. “There is no Wade here.”
“Sorry?” Her voice cracked.
“I have a list of every student who requested a transfer to the University from Eton, and there is no Solomon Wade on that list.”
She stared at him a moment, winding the stem of her pocket watch as she tried to think. She and Solomon hadn’t planned for this. She could demand he check again, but the name wouldn’t be there, no matter how many times he read the list. The winding stem resisted against her fingers as the spring tension in the watch reached its peak. Hastily, she released the stem before the mainspring snapped.
“So, I’m not from Eton,” she blurted out.
He eyed her properly now, taking note of her petite size and the state of her borrowed clothes—oversized and soot-stained. “No. I believe not.”
She raised her chin and stared defiantly back, refusing to be judged, refusing to let him think she didn’t belong just because she didn’t look the part. “You can’t stop me from applying.”
Mr. Plaskett leaned back in his chair. “I have no desire to prevent worthy engineers from submitting applications to the University. However, as a non-transfer student with no credentials or statement of reference, I will need your registration of birth, a transcript of records from your former institution, a seal of approval from the Guild of Engineers, and your tuition fees for the first term. If you can manage that before September, you may then apply for the upcoming term.”
Petra’s heart sank. “What about scholarships? I thought—”
“Scholarships are for students of academic merit only, not—” He arched an eyebrow and appraised her with a sweeping gaze. “—the impoverished. We are not a charity.”
She tightened her hands into fists, the hair on the back of her neck bristling.
Mr. Plaskett smiled thinly—a smug, self-satisfied smirk plastered onto his face. “Now then, if that is all?” When she did not respond, he took Petra’s application file, balled it up in his fist, and tossed the paper into the bin behind his desk. “As I thought. Good day, Mr. Wade.”
Gritting her teeth with a grunt of frustration, Petra swiveled away from the desk and stalked toward the door. The prat. She shoved through a group of students and stumbled over a discarded knapsack, falling to the ground. Her knees banged against the hard metal tiles, and her pocket watch and screwdriver slipped from her pockets and skated across the polished floor. As she moved to reach for them, her hat fell from her head, revealing her long, braided hair.
“Why, it’s a girl,” said one of the boys behind her.
Haughty laughter echoed through the chamber, attacking Petra from all sides. Blood rushed in her ears, and her cheeks flushed under their judging gazes. Not one of them came to her aid or offered to help. Of course they wouldn’t. She didn’t belong there—a girl dressed in boy’s clothing. Humiliation burned at the corners of her eyes. The vibration beneath the floor nauseated her. The smell of oil suffocated her. The clacking and shrilling of the machinery rattled her brain. She had to escape.
Biting back the urge to shout at the boys to mind their own business, she scrambled to her feet and snatched her things off the floor, stuffing the screwdriver back into her trouser pocket and jamming the hat onto her head. Her eyes stung, but she dared not cry. Petra Wade didn’t cry.
Her pocket watch lay on the floor a few feet away. The case had sprung open, and the watch face glimmered in the overhead light. Clenching her hands at her sides, she stepped forward to retrieve it, but a shadow crossed her path and snuffed the yellow gleam reflected in the polished surface. The room hushed.
A large, heavy man crouched in front of her, reaching for her treasured timepiece. His coat strained against him as his fat pinched and bones creaked, like an old, cumbersome machine running without oil. He wore a pin on the breast of his coat, the working planetary gear system of the official Guild seal, ticking in a mesmerizing array of orbiting gears. The largest of the gears was acid-etched with a floral pattern, marking this vast fellow the University Vice-Chancellor, Hugh Lyndon. His thick fingers closed around the gilded case of her pocket watch and fastened it shut. When he stood, the boys around the foyer snapped to attention.
Vice-Chancellor Lyndon stared at the watch, running his stubby thumb over the ornate C that decorated the front of the case. “At ease, gentlemen,” he said. His voice was deep and gravelly, and though he spoke quietly, his voice carried through the hall.
The room relaxed at his command, but the boys remained, the air in the foyer still and silent as they stared on at the pair of them—Vice-Chancellor of the University and this unknown girl—as if they were some spectacle.
Lyndon flipped the watch open, and deep frown lines creased his brow. The reflection of light on his round glasses obscured his eyes, but then the glare on his glasses shifted, and his gaze flickered from the watch to Petra. He searched for something—fear, subordination, shame. She wouldn’t give him the satisfaction. She gathered to her full height, raising her chin in defiance. He might have been Vice-Chancellor of the University, but Petra wasn’t going to bow down to anyone, least of all him. He was the reason she couldn’t attend the University in the first place.
But he did not challenge her, did not ask why she was there or who she was. He merely looked once more upon the watch, and the crease in the center of his forehead deepened.
Petra watched him carefully, wondering if he had seen the watch before, recognized it somehow—but it must have been years and years ago, before she was born, before Matron found her and took her in. Her pulse quickened. If he knew something of the watch, knew its maker or who might have given it to her, perhaps he knew the answers to questions that had plagued Petra her entire life, questions she had all but given up on. The watch, and the screwdriver in her pocket, were the only two things she owned that were truly hers, found in her pockets the day of the fire, the day she became an orphan, but neither had led her to her true home. Who had she been before the fire? Who were her parents?
Slowly, Vice-Chancellor Lyndon shut the case over the watch face, again running his finger over the gilded C. Petra chewed her lip as questions bubbled up inside her, but she was too aware of the crowd of students standing around her, judging her, mocking her. She held her tongue.
Burying her curiosity and anger and humiliation, she held out her hand to receive the watch and in the politest tone she could muster, addressed the Vice-Chancellor of the University. “May I please have my watch back, sir?”
Lyndon glanced up at her, as if just remembering she was there. “Yes,” he said with a nod. “Of course.” Closing his fist over the pocket watch, he tentatively placed it in her palm.
Afraid she would lose her calm if she stayed a moment longer, Petra nodded curtly and left the foyer without another word, fastening the watch chain to her belt. Ignoring the silent stares of the students, she descended the steps into the courtyard, stealing a brass-plated bench on the far side of the square. The hot metal scorched her skin, even through her trousers, burning the bitter embarrassment away.
She never had a chance.
Even with a disguise, even if she forged all the necessary documents, she would never manage to procure enough money to cover a semester’s tuition. She sighed and buried her face in her hands.
She would never attend the University. She would never become a qualified engineer. She would forever be the shop girl at Stricket & Monfore, or if Matron had her way, she’d be married off to some well-to-do idiot with no sense for mechanics.
A shadow passed between her and the sun.
“Guess you’ll be heading to work soon, then.”
Petra lowered her hands from her face and looked up at the leering face of the pawnbroker’s son, Bartholomew Monfore. Beneath the brim of his newsboy cap, he wore a smirk to match Mr. Plaskett’s.
She fumed. “Shove off, Tolly.”
“Don’t be like that,” he said, plopping down next to her on the bench. He nudged her with his shoulder. “Now listen... me, Norris, and Hoyt are playing cards tonight, and we need a fourth. You in?”
Petra groaned. “Can’t.” She reached up, twisted her braid into a knot on the top of her head, and hid it away with her cap. “I’m working with Mr. Stricket tonight.” Even if she wasn’t working, she’d come up with an excuse.
“Why bother? They said no, didn’t they?” he asked, gesturing to the University. “That’s why you’re out here pouting.”
“I’m not pouting.”
“What do you call this then?” he said with a laugh. She scowled. “Oh, come on, Petra. That school is no place for you. They know it. I know it. Only person who don’t is you. Girls aren’t supposed to be engineers.”
“Shut up, Tolly.”
He merely shrugged. “Just telling it like it is, Pet. Someday, you’ll admit I was right.”
Petra stood up and exhaled sharply. “I have to go.”
Tolly grinned. “Don’t be late for work.”
* * *
Petra entered the overstuffed pawn shop, finding it empty except for the wares. The shelves groaned beneath the weight of trinkets and gadgets that had accumulated over the years—junk to most people. But Petra knew of several treasures hidden in the shelves, buried behind stacks of books and antique silver: old mantel clocks, jewelry boxes with spinning dancers concealed within, handheld calculating machines, and miniature wind-up steamers.
She smiled to herself as she breathed in the familiar scents of brassy metal and aromatic polish, and then, grabbing her broom, she began sweeping the dusty footprints clustered around the door and counter. Tolly was, thankfully, nowhere in sight.
Mr. Stricket appeared behind the counter as she swept, wedging himself between the stacks of broken tickers piled around the door to the back room. He carried a box in his bony arms.
Petra always thought he looked like a grandfather should, though he had no children or grandchildren of his own. His hair was thick and white, combed back from his pale green eyes, and he had a spindly look about him, with bony limbs and knobby joints, like the hands of a clock. He always moved so slowly, like the minute hand, taking a deliberate amount of time to do anything.
He set the box on the counter and peered over his glasses at her.
“Petra, my dear, can you put this portable phonograph in the display? Mark it repaired at four quid.”
“Of course, Mr. Stricket.”
She leaned the broom against the bit of blank wall behind the front door and met Mr. Stricket at the back desk. He opened the velvet-lined box, worth at least a half-sovereign on its own, and revealed the repaired phonograph, the brass horn polished to a glossy shine.
Petra craved to see it work, but it had no cylinder to play.
Mr. Stricket smiled. “Go on. Give it a crank.”
She curled her fingers around the handle and wound the phonograph. Smooth, rhythmic ticking vibrated within the mechanism, and she knew somewhere within, gears drove the arbor, tightening the mainspring. She released the crank, and the gears that would drive the sound cylinder rotated in perfect synchronization. Not a single gear was out of line. The faint hum of gear harmony buzzed within the ticker, and to Petra, it produced a sound so beautiful, no concerto could hope to compare.
“It’s brilliant,” she said.
“I knew you would appreciate it,” he said, patting her arm. “You have such an ear for machinery. I’d like to see a mechanical engineer at that school sharper than you.”
Petra suppressed the heat of embarrassment that welled up inside her and replied with an uneasy smile. Turning her back to Mr. Stricket, she carried the phonograph to the display window and perched it on the shelf, carefully arranging the box to showcase the polished horn.
“Are we still on for tonight?” asked Mr. Stricket.
“Of course. Will we be working on the music box again?”
Mr. Stricket nodded. “I think just one more night of work, and you’ll be finished with it. Perhaps we will be lucky enough to hear it play tonight, hmm?” Smiling, he turned his attention to a stack of receipts next to the register and adjusted his glasses on his nose.
Petra turned back to the window and penciled the price of the phonograph on a sale tag. As she placed the card in front of the box, a group of University students turned down the street, headed toward the nearby pub. Petra shrank behind the edge of the shelf. They had probably been among the boys who had laughed at her that morning. Such prats, with their fancy degrees from prestigious institutions. What made them better than her?
She peered through the door window. The one in the front looked worst of the lot. He had a relaxed, arrogant posture, a natural aloofness that resonated with confidence, as if he owned the whole world. His hair was dark, perfectly tousled and casually swept away from his eyes. He laughed at something one of the other boys said, and his proud, carefree features filled her gut with fire, the echo of her earlier humiliation burning in her stomach. If she could just prove herself, they wouldn’t laugh. They’d see she was a brilliant engineer.
As they passed directly in front of the pawn shop, the dark-haired boy stopped suddenly and looked around. Petra froze, pressing herself into the shadows. Did he see her? The door muffled their voices; she couldn’t hear what they were saying. With her head ducked beneath the window, she wedged the door open a smidge.
“Did it break down?” asked one of the boys. “Good thing you signed the contract already, or else the Guild would want their money back.” The quip was met with laughter from the other boys.
“Shove off, Wolfe.”
The dark-haired boy marched back up the street. A strange brass object lay in the road, wobbling and hissing steam as it writhed upon the cobblestone. The boy knelt down and lifted the contraption.
“It tripped,” he hollered. He stood the machine up, and it took a few jerky steps forward. Petra’s eyes widened. It was a ticker—a walking ticker.
“Mr. Stricket, I’ll be out cleaning the front steps.”
She didn’t wait for a reply. She snatched the broom and eased her way onto the landing, careful to let the door close quietly behind her. She didn’t want to draw attention to her presence; the boys might recognize her.
The dark-haired boy and his automaton came slowly down the street. The ticker stood no higher than the boy’s waist, stepping forward with long, rocking strides. Now that Petra saw the thing up close, it was nothing impressive. It was a prototype at best, a rough experiment thrown together in a week’s time. It might walk, but it didn’t have the efficiency a properly built ticker demanded. Its most obvious fault was the unsightly hydraulic pumps its designer had adopted to drive the legs, leading to an erratic, uneven distribution of power. The entire thing wobbled as it came down the street, the plating that covered its mechanical insides rattling with each jerky step.
Petra could have built it solely out of clockwork, making it run quieter, more efficiently, and without the jolting. It was a matter of linking the right mechanisms.
The weight of the screwdriver in her pocket multiplied. She itched to open the thing up and see exactly how the inept engineer had put it together.
“How much was it they offered you?” asked another boy. His voice carried down the street.
The few pedestrians along the street gathered around the huddle of students, staring at the automaton. A handful of them were probably Luddites, ready to spring on the abomination like rabid apes. Petra absentmindedly swept the landing, listening to the boys.
“A thousand quid, wasn’t it?” said one of the other students.
The number was met with a few audible gasps from the assembled onlookers. A thousand quid was more money than the entire street might make in a year, more than the whole shop of Stricket & Monfore was even worth.
Petra gaped. “A thousand quid for that?” The words were out of Petra’s mouth before she realized. “I could have built that lousy piece of junk in an afternoon.”
The boys swiveled toward her, quickly dismissing her with belittling remarks and laughter as they took in the sight of her. The people along the street whispered behind their hands; most of them knew Petra, or knew of her weird fascination with machines. She gave them no notice—the thoughtless lemmings. Instead, her gaze moved to the engineer. He stared back at her with a bemused smile, but he did not sneer or titter like the others. Petra wanted him to challenge her. She’d show them what she knew of machines.
One of the students piped up, a prudish boy, tall and thin with tawny hair. “You? You think you could build this?” He looked her up and down and glanced at the pawn shop sign above her head with a smirk. “What would a shop girl know about machines?” He pointed to the rickety ticker and laughed. “This is the latest advancement in modern science, you stupid girl. You can’t even fathom the complexities of this machinery.”
Petra’s cheeks burned at the insult, and the humiliation of the morning rushed back to the forefront of her mind. Setting the broom aside, she lifted her skirts and tromped down the steps. The boys towered over her, but she did not back down, raising her chin to stare into her challenger’s face. “It’s a mediocre ticker at best, a clumsy amalgamation of mechanics and hydraulics. I’d be ashamed to call that thing mine.”
“Is that so?”
The voice came from her left, and she whirled on the speaker. “Yes, it—” She stood face-to-face with the automaton’s engineer, that stupid grin still on his lips. She scowled up at him.
“If you have criticism of my machine, I would like to hear it,” he said, crossing his arms. His copper eyes gleamed curiously. “Tell me, miss—what would you do differently?”
Petra stepped away from the group of boys and glared at the University engineer. He thought she’d make a fool of herself. Well, she’d show him. She approached the ticker and knelt at its side, ignoring the other boys’ laughter. The machine stood quietly, the faint hum of moving gears keeping it steady.
She ran her fingers down the grooves that linked the outer plates and felt around its joints. The exoskeleton was flawless—a true work of art—but the driving mechanisms were subpar. Thick, rubber hydraulic lines ran up its legs, the liquid heated by pilot lights at its feet. Petra knew little about hydraulics and steam power, but she didn’t see why the automaton needed the clumsy, inefficient system when clockwork would do. If she could construct two linked mainsprings, she could drive the automaton from a central power source without a battery or hydraulics. The science was sound, but it was still only a theory of hers. She hadn’t been able to test it yet. But from the theoretical clockwork core, joining gearboxes to the proper linkages, she could easily create a stable walking pattern, and the machine would operate without the wobbling or the need for sporadic steam vents.
Petra laid her hand on the machine’s chest. The whir of gears vibrated beneath the brass plating. At least the automaton’s heart was in the right place, though there was a slight catch at every fifth and eighth rotation. One of the gears was unbalanced, throwing the weight of the driveshaft off-center. What she couldn’t figure out was how the engineer controlled the automaton, how it changed actions seemingly of its own accord. She found no operating controls on its exterior, no levers, pulls, or buttons that might be switched on and off. She wanted to take it apart, piece by piece. If she could reach her screwdriver without the boy noticing, she would have the automaton disassembled before he could blink.
The engineer cleared his throat. “Well, what do you think of it?”
The group of boys snickered, and she could feel their scornful gazes and the eyes of the others on the street, just as they had stared at her in the University foyer, judging her, mocking her. She gritted her teeth, hating all of them, but hating herself more for putting herself in the same situation a second time in the same day.
She stood and glared at the engineer, and there was a flicker of something in his expression as their eyes met. It wasn’t disrespect or contempt or even indifference, all the things she was used to seeing when someone challenged her knowledge or skill. Instead, he looked at her with focused calculation, as if trying to discern what made her tick. She knew the look well; it was the way she looked at machines.
Petra tried holding the gaze, filling her eyes with defiance and loathing, but his copper stare was too intense, too penetrating. She turned away and swallowed the lecture of gear trains, linkages, and mainsprings. “What do I know? I’m just a shop girl.”
“Don’t waste your time, Goss,” said Wolfe. “She doesn’t know anything. Let’s get on to the pub.”
The engineer acknowledged his statement with a dismissive wave, but his eyes never left Petra’s face. “What’s your name?” he asked quietly.
Petra blinked, entranced by those copper eyes.
“Goss! Come on, mate!”
He frowned and glanced toward the others. “On my way!” He turned back to Petra and offered a polite smile. “I’m sorry about them,” he said softly. “They’ve never met a girl quite like you.”
“And you have?”
The engineer merely smiled. “Well I have now, at the very least.”
Petra eyed him curiously.
“Until next time,” he said, withdrawing with a slight tilt of his head.
He turned toward the pub, and not a step behind, the automaton sprang to life and tottered behind the engineer like an obedient pup. How did it move without contact? No matter its shoddy workmanship, the engineer had somehow fashioned a way to control the ticker without physically touching the contraption. She distractedly walked back to the pawn shop steps and inadvertently stubbed her toe on the bottom stair, her eyes on the automaton.
The students filed into the pub down the street. When the last of the other boys disappeared behind the open door, the engineer casually glanced back toward the pawn shop, but his eyes lingered for only a second. The automaton turned and ambled in, and the door shut behind them. The huddled masses dispersed, leaving the street dull and empty once again.
Petra plopped down on the stairs. Her screwdriver slid from her pocket and clattered against the stone, her enthusiasm for mechanics crashing to the ground along with it. Aside from steam-power and hydraulics, she had considered herself a prodigy of ticker mechanics. She had studied machines all her life, and never had she read or devised of a way to control tickers from a distance without the aid of some sort of connecting device.
And some arrogant University engineer had figured out a way to do it. The thought burned her from the inside. There was more for her to learn, and she wasn’t going to stand by and let some University fop outclass her. She climbed to her feet, her eyes on the pub door. She’d find out how he did it—one way or another.
* * *
“Hand me that bit there,” said Petra, her fingers knuckle-deep in a musical box frame. She sat at the work table in the back room of the pawn shop, with Mr. Stricket hovering over her shoulder.
“Which one?” he asked.
“The governor assembly.”
Mr. Stricket handed over the part. Petra wedged it into the base of the musical box and screwed it into the bedplate. Then she carefully connected the gear train, and finally placed the pin next to the air brake.
“Finished?” asked Mr. Stricket.
She gave the musical box the once over and nodded. “I think so.”
“Give it a wind.”
Petra turned the crank handle. The pawl clicked on the wheel of the mechanism, holding the mainspring in place. Two months of work, and so far, so good. She rotated the crank three times and sucked in her breath. One gear out of line, one tiny mistake, and the box wouldn’t play. She pulled the pin from its holster, releasing the air brake and the mainspring. Silence. The air brake whirred, and everything turned like it was supposed to. One second ticked by. Two seconds. She had failed. Three seconds. She had done something wrong. Her mind picked through the months-long process of repairing the musical box, trying to figure out where she might have made a mistake, and then the music played. A tinkling sonata reverberated from the musical box, silencing her doubts.
Mr. Stricket patted her on the shoulder. “Well done, my dear. Well done.” He crossed the room and sat in his old wicker chair in the corner, tapping his foot to the melody. “There’s not a ticker on the face of this earth you couldn’t fix.” He smiled proudly.
Petra couldn’t help but beam. She replaced the casing around the base of the musical box, and the song intensified, perfectly captured within the instrument. Placing her screwdriver on the table, she leaned back in her chair. The melody within the musical box was proof of her skill, but what good was skill when she could do nothing with it?
She rested her head on the back of the chair with a heavy sigh and stared at the ceiling.
“Is something troubling you, my dear?”
She sighed again.
Everything. An overwhelming barrage of things. She couldn’t attend the University because she was a girl. She would never become a qualified engineer. She would never amount to anything. She made a fool of herself twice in the same day, completely losing any chance she might have of attending the University, in disguise or not, and proving just how daft she was in front of probably the finest student the University had ever taught. She groaned. And there was absolutely nothing to be done about any of it.
The music slowed to a stop.
But what bothered her most was the fact that there was some aspect of mechanics that she was completely ignorant of. She hated not knowing.
She sat up and twisted around in her chair. “Mr. Stricket, have you ever seen a ticker—a machine of any kind—act without someone directly controlling it, without being linked to a control apparatus or programmed to follow an engineered, repetitive function?”
Mr. Stricket seemed to think about it. “I don’t think I follow.”
“Is it possible for a machine to act without direct intervention, almost autonomously?”
“That would be extraordinary.”
Petra frowned. “But you don’t know how it could be done?”
“I imagine they study that sort of thing at the University,” said Mr. Stricket.
She swallowed back the acidic embarrassment in her throat. “Yes,” she said quietly. “I expect so.”
Mr. Stricket took a deep breath and stood, his joints creaking nearly as much as the old wicker chair beneath him. “It is such a shame the Guild forbids women to attend. I know at least one bright young woman who deserves a place there.” He crossed the small room and reached for something atop the shelf above the table. “Now, I have something for you.” He pulled down a dark wooden box and carefully placed it in front of Petra.
“What is it?” she asked.
“Open it up.”
She carefully opened the lid, revealing soft felt lining along the walls of the box, but nothing else. “It’s empty.”
A smile spread across his thin face, a twinkle in his green eyes. “It’s for the musical box.”
Petra inhaled a sharp breath and shook her head. “Oh, Mr. Stricket, I couldn’t.”
“Yes, my dear, you can. I bought that musical box months ago as a gift, to congratulate you.”
“Congratulate me for what?”
He cupped her face in his hands and stroked her hair. “Petra, if I ever had a son, I can only imagine that he would have been something like you: passionate, strong-willed, and a deft hand with machines.” He smiled. “He would have been my apprentice at the shop at a young age, learning to repair and build tickers.”
Mr. Stricket placed his hand on her shoulder, tears glimmering in his eyes. His smile quivered. “I may not have a son, but I do have you. You have been my apprentice since you were old enough to turn a screwdriver, but today, you are no longer an apprentice.” He gestured to the table, and to the musical box. “You, my dear, are a master. This musical box is proof.”
The heat rose in her cheeks, and the corners of her eyes stung, but she did not cry. Petra Wade never cried. She blinked back the traitorous tears as she stood and faced Mr. Stricket. She wrapped her arms around his frail body like she had done as a child, ever since the first day she wandered into his store and he taught her the secrets of clockwork.
“Thank you,” she whispered. “For everything.”
He smoothed her hair. “Of course, my dear.”
About Brooke Johnson
Brooke is a stay-at-home mom, amateur seamstress, RPG enthusiast, and art hobbyist, in addition to all that book writing. As the jack-of-all-trades bard of the family, she adventures through life with her fiercely-bearded paladin of a husband, their daughter the sticky-fingered rogue, and their cowardly wizard of a dog, with only a sleep spell in his spellbook.
They currently reside in Northwest Arkansas, but once they earn enough loot and experience, they’ll build a proper castle somewhere and defend against all manner of dragons and goblins, and whatever else dares take them on.
Brooke and Harper Voyage Impulse are giving away a $25 Gift Card!
Terms & Conditions:
- By entering the giveaway, you are confirming you are at least 18 years old.
- One winner will be chosen via Rafflecopter to receive one $25 Gift Certificate to the e-retailer of your choice
- This giveaway begins April 27 and ends on May 15.
- Winners will be contacted via email on May 17.
- Winner has 48 hours to reply.
Good luck everyone!
ENTER TO WIN!