Infernal Machine

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Short Story (4500 words)
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Publication date: February 2, 2016
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SKU: ES1-1.000270-01 Categories: , , , , , Tags: , ,

Student-Artificer Elijah Saloman discovers what he thinks could be a lost masterwork of the greatest Artificer ever born. He is determined to make it work, even though he has no idea what it is or what it is supposed to do. But when everything that can go wrong does, Elijah finds himself caught in an interesting predicament—trapped within the machine, and at the mercy of the whimsical plaything of a long-dead Artificer with a taste for the exotic. (M/M)

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Sasha swung his legs over the edge of the bed and stood up, crossing over to sit down on the floor next to me. He was incredibly handsome, his long, dark hair hanging loose around his shoulders, his shirt hanging open to better face the heat of the summer afternoon. He frowned slightly at the machine and then poked me in the shoulder. “So what is this thing? You’ve not told me yet.”

“I haven’t?” I frowned, thinking back. Surely I’d mentioned something…?

“No. For four days you’ve barely said a word to me. You haven’t eaten, unless I was feeding you. The only times you’ve come to bed was when I picked you up and put you there myself, usually after you’d passed out on the floor. So what is this thing that you are so enamored of? Other than being the most singularly ugly chair that I have ever seen?”

I grinned at his very apt description; it was a singularly ugly chair, if that was all it was. Surely, that was all the ironmonger had thought it, or else he’d never have let me have it for the pittance I paid. I reached out and ran my fingers over the now-bright brass. “It’s a Carstairs machine.”

“It isn’t!” Sasha gasped, leaning closer. “How can you tell?”

“The hinges. Look at them; no one but Carstairs used that odd box hinge.” It had been that detail that had caught my eye and sent me scrambling after the cart. “That was my first hint. Then I found his mark when I was polishing the brass. There, where the seat casts a shadow. Do you see it?”

Sasha nodded, “I see it… but none of his other works are this ugly. His work was always simple and elegant.”

He was right, of course. Carstairs had been the Artificer’s Artificer, and his work had always been simple in form. The complexity, he’d always said, was on the inside. The design on this chair was elaborate, with brass scroll-work ornamenting nearly the entire construct. “An early work, do you think?” I asked.

“I don’t know,” Sasha shrugged. “What does it do?”

That was the question I was hoping he wouldn’t ask. “I don’t know yet,” I admitted. “I’ve cleaned and polished the entire thing, I’ve made certain that the boiler and the tank work, I’ve replaced anything that looked like it might have needed to be replaced, but I can’t get into this compartment.” I tapped the panel that formed the pedestal for the seat. “It does open… I think. There is a seam here, and hinges on the edges.”

Sasha leaned in close enough that I could smell the light fragrance of the soap he used. He nodded, “I see. Well, that is annoying. You can’t tell what it does without opening the case, and if you break open the case, it might not work at all.” Sasha looked at me with his fabulously wicked grin. “Have you fired the boiler?”

I shook my head, “Not yet. I wanted to be certain that everything else worked first.”

“And everything works now?”

“As far as I can tell.” I glared at the recalcitrant chair. Without a word, Sasha got to his feet, fetched the pitcher from the washstand, and ceremoniously poured water into the tank.

“Then we shall fire this Carstairs’ machine and see what the master wrought and what the student rescued!” he declared, throwing an elaborate bow in my direction. I laughed and went to fetch some kindling.

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