Henrietta and Benedict didn't bother to pack.
Benedict grabbed two horses from the stables, giving one to Hettie. He frowned.
"You can ride?"
"Of course." She said, indignant. Never bareback, but I'll manage, She thought.
Riding sidesaddle with no saddle was near impossible, but within moments they were riding as quickly as they could to the Crease. The horses' massive hooves shook the cobbles like thunder.
There was no chance to talk. They were going too fast, it was too loud, and there was too much to navigate. But Hettie felt like her heart might explode from happiness. If, of course, Benedict wasn't lying...
If only it weren't for Hugo.
Hettie wasn't surprised. She was shocked at how calm she was about it, but it didn't unnerve her. Hugo never seemed... like the others. Too angry for no reason. Too fiery. One minute loving (her lips curled at the thought of the kiss) and one moment cursing her for her nobility.
But would the others believe her?
And what was he going to do?
For some reason, the idea that Hugo was going to implement the plan terrified her more than the idea that Benedict would. Perhaps because she had never fully been able to associate her husband with evil. Or maybe she was just relieved.
She pulled the horse to a stop.
Hettie ran into Temper Mints, Benedict close behind. It was eerily quiet in the shop.
"Mina? Carl?" She called. "Drake? Becca?!"
There was only a sob.
Hettie motioned for Benedict to stay put. It was too much to explain all at once. She hurried into the mechanics room.
Becca was sitting on the floor, holding what looked like a mechanical heart in her hands.
"We were close." She whispered to Hettie. "I could feel it. But maybe it will never be."
Hettie regarded Becca and the mechanical heart.
"Pi." She said simply. "It doesn't glow as strongly. I think... I think he's dying, Hettie. For real this time." Becca looked up, her face stained with tears. "I can't say goodbye. I can't let go. Not until... not until I've seen him again. Spoken to him."
Hettie was silent.
Strangely, Hugo seemed far away. The idea of him taking over Seolfor seemed distant. Unimportant. Their panic seemed foolish.
It could be dealt with later.
Hettie sat down beside Becca, looking at the soul. Becca clasped it in her hands, swathed in a muddle of grease-stained skirts.
"I had a friend who was an automaton, growing up. An ugly thing. But I could talk to him, and he didn't make fun of me for my father. My father was insane. But I didn't know. I was too young." Becca murmured.
Hettie touched her hand.
"I loved him." She traced a vein of copper wire with a fingernail. "I didn't know that he was a machine. He told me that he had a master, a terrible one. He had run away. I think it was whoever was evil enough to create an automaton body for him." A tear dripped onto her hand. "He was my only friend, after father died and my toy was destroyed. I worked as barmaid, just trying to survive. He came, ever day. He would stop anyone who hurt me. He would talk to me. And I... I fell in love."
"Oh, Becca." Hettie said, tears in her eyes as well.
"Then one day he kissed me. Then his master came. An old lady. She was furious, mad. She shot him. He fell over. I saw in his chest, for a moment, springs and gears and wires. I knew he wasn't dead. But try telling that to a chime." She said bitterly. "They carted me off, wrote me off as crazy like my father. They put me in an asylum. But the women and girls there... they talked to me. Only they were unhinged enough to believe me. And they told me ideas. Grand ideas of how it was possible."
She was silent for a moment. Hettie watched her, engrossed in the story.
"And then I had a reason to escape. I left and dug him up. He was perfect as before. Complexion still ruddy. Just a machine. I tore back the skin of his chest and found this." Becca tapped the heart-shaped device. "It glowed. When I touched it, it brightened, like it knew me. And I pulled it out and... ran." Her voice stopped shaking.
"And Carl found you?" I asked.
"I explained what I could, but I hid the soul. I knew... I knew he would think it witchcraft." Becca caressed the machine. "Now it's too late. Without a body, without humans... he can't live. He has no reason to. He's dying."
Benedict was standing in the doorway, listening with rapt attention. Hettie wished she could do something for Becca. Anything to help her.
"Becca... what did you mean by you were close?"
Becca lifted her head again, mane of curly hair falling over her shoulder. "Carl had almost finished the machine. It wasn't perfect. But it might keep him alive. It was just an analytical machine of sorts, not a true automaton.
Hettie stopped. Automaton. I'm an idiot.
"What was it that Carl was doing to... make it work?"
Becca frowned. "No AI in the first place. More or less an automaton's mechanics."
"Then if we removed Nemo's Artificial Intelligence..."
Becca's eyes grew wide. "Carl is an idiot!" She leaped to her feet, kissing the heart. "Nemo!"
"Oh, Nemo!" Hettie thought Becca might hug the mustached man. Benedict looked at the strange machine quizzically.
Becca flipped the little man on his back and turned him off, then slid a panel off his torso to reveal intricate workings. She removed a cube that zapped with electricity.
"Bring me that spool of wire." She gestured vaguely to a table. Hettie picked up what she hoped was the right thing and handed it to Becca. Becca worked silently for a few moments.
When she finished, Nemo looked worse for the wear.
The soul was connected to the torso of the automaton via a few strings of wire. The heart lay on the table, unable to fit inside the Automaton.
"But it will still channel it all into the machine." Becca said confidently.
She turned it on.
Nemo's unseeing eyes blinked, and his claw-like hand clamped open and closed.
He rotated his head around towards Becca's voice.
"Beccers?" Said the rusty speakers.
Becca burst into tears.
* * * * *
Benedict was a bit unnerved. A girl in love with a machine. It was unnatural. But so was the glowing mechanical heart that she had hooked up to the automaton.
Or perhaps it wasn’t the girl that was so strange. Perhaps it was Hettie… her seemingly being fine with it. Henrietta squeezed the tall, dark one’s hand.
The girl, presumably ‘Beccers’ was sobbing and grinning at the same time. The automaton let out a rusty laugh.
“Oh Becca… I suppose the little secret got out. How- how long have you known? And… where am I?” The hand scratched at the body of the automaton. “I can’t see a thing.”
“Oh, Pi… we had to build a new body. It doesn’t have eyes yet… Hugo’s making them. It’s been over a year. Almost two. I can’t believe that your soul hadn’t…. died.”
“Who’s Hugo?” Pi asked.
Henrietta looked over at Benedict guiltily. I hadn’t wondered before what it would be like to have a best friend turn out to be so… evil, he thought. Then he frowned. That’s what Hettie went through, but a hundred times worse…
"He's the arrogant one." Becca sniffed.
"He's the one who's going to mess up. Badly." Henrietta frowned.
"I know you don't like him, but isn't that a bit harsh?" Becca asked. Benedict smiled. Good... she wasn't tempted to leave with him after all.
"Becca, I hate to interrupt this, but... Hugo's going to take Benedict's plan and try to take over Seolfor." Henrietta toyed with her necklace. Benedict stepped forward and whispered to her.
"Don't let him get that key, Henreitta. It is important. Very."
Becca jumped back.
"Who's Benedict?" Pi demanded.
"He- he's Hettie's husband." Becca stammered, eyes flitting from Benedict to Henreitta.
"Don't worry. He's... it's fine. But we have to stop Hugo." Henrietta said.
Becca seized them up for a moment. "Mina? Carl? Geneve? Drake? Anyone else know or in on Hugo's plan?"
"Well I've missed a lot." Pi huffed.