Mother of Crow
By jenny K Brennan
This Sundered World, book 2
A spirit-punk steam-punk tale we don’t know where, maybe not even why, and most certainly not how.
Draft exclusive to House of Imp. Copyright 2017 Jenny K Brennan – All rights reserved.
Build me pretty, break me prettier
“Isn’t she a beauty? Such a marvel. Just see those lines and how it all fits together.” He interrupted himself “jenks?” Lord Lee Reginald Maddow, outfitted in his finest, already well on his way to flat out drunk, looked around the crowd in search for the man in question. He frowned and waved his brandy glass in irritation at no one in particular, splashing licker on his white starched sleeve “Oh there you are.” Maddow’s face split into a grin as his chief surgeon, or scientist, or body magician, or whatever the hell they called themselves these days, hurried through the crowd toward him , mumbling apologies to whoever would listen. Lord Maddow slapped him on the back. “Jenner! So pleased. so, so , pleased. Good man, now show our dear friends this miracle. go on now.” he said pointing his glass at the unmoving woman at the front of the room.
Peter Jenning, thirty going on seventy, not so much a scientist or doctor as a hack with a knack for understanding the human construction and how to modify it, stared blankly at maddow. he straightened his newly acquired ill fitting waistcoat and offered the man a clumsy bow. “It’s Jenning, Sir.”
Maddow sputtered. “Jenkings, right. didn’t I say that?”
Jenning sighed inwardly, conjuring a smile of sorts. He glanced at the gathered nobility while still speaking to maddow. “Yes, of course, Sir. Jenkings it is.” Jenning groped in a pocket for his handkerchief to wipe the sweat from his face. The damn thing wasn’t there. In his other coat, of course. He had forgotten it In his hurry to make himself presentable to the Lords and ladies. Well, damn it to hell. And they were all staring, waiting for something. He drew his sleeve across his face in a moment of defiance. The glory faded quickly when he caught a disapproving glance from Lord Maddow. never too drunk to have a stick up his ass, that one. But regardless of his dislike for the man, or maybe thanks to it, Jennings was firmly placed back on uncertain ground where the thoughts refused to come. He was there to do something. But what was it? What the hell was he supposed to do? Seconds of panic turned into eternity. . Someone coughed wetly and fancy dresses rustled beneath all those decorated faces. Ladies. Women. What were they doing here? Looking at him. What did they want?
“Jenks!” His employer hissed.
Jenning jumped at the sound and instantly the thoughts were back. Ah, right. Money. Those hags had husbands with money. And they needed that money to wake the dead. Thus this ridiculous spectacle. Waking the dead. That’s what it was. Not that she was really dead. Not quite dead.
Just… Just not quite alive.
not yet. He swallowed and managed a nod and another awkward bow that no one noticed.”yes, Sir.” He croaked. “Certainly, Sir.” ” He coughed and turned to the item he had been working on for weeks now. Or was it months?
Maddow waved him to continue. “Kennings here will show us something…”
Jennings tuned out the voice and thought about the work left to do. Making the sell. and once Jenning focused on his latest creation he found his confidence. Even having to deal with Sir Maddow and his ludicrous ambitions, this was his doing. The clueless lord couldn’t fit two pieces of clothing together to make them fit, and Jennings had built a brand new creature from bones and trash and metal. His Mother would have whipped the pride right out of him. But that bitch was long gone from the influenza and she couldn’t poke and prod at his inner thoughts anymore. This was his, and only his. he finally moved, stepping up to start the prepared presentation, and took up his place next to the silent subject. Did she even breathe? Jenning knew she did but for someone other than him, she would appear long gone. A beautiful corpse, but a gonner nonetheless. Despite himself, the unmoving form unnerved jennings. He wouldn’t have chosen to keep her in stasis for so long. There was no telling what went on in the mind of a body kept somewhere between life and death for a prolonged period of time. but again, maddow wanted a show. and if the mighty Lord Maddog’s new pet monster woke up a drooling idiot, it was apparently worth the gamble.
Maddow spread his arms wide and his customary self-satisfied smile dazzled the audience. “Ladies, and gentlemen. Let me present to you the future. ” he paused to allow Jenning to prepare the subject for the awakening.
As carefully instructed by Maddow ahead of time, Jennning made a show of drawing the phantomgenic liquid into a syringe, displaying it to the crowd before tapping it several times. As planned, the fluid caught the light perfectly. The resulting sprinkling of coloured light drew a gasp from the crowd. People leaned forward to see better. Hushed mumbling, excited tittering. He had their full attention. It had to be perfect. A perfect show. That was all it was. The tip of the sparkling glass syringe with its too long needle barely touched the smooth pale skin at the base of her throat, Between her collarbones. The syringe hovered above the silk gown, made just for this occasion. it draped her naked skin but revealed beautifully the parts that were no longer her, while hiding the raw ragged edges between flesh and metal. No surgeon, however skilled, could make the transition smooth and pretty. Jenning had thought the outfit unnecessary and had privately thought it too expensive and extravagant for a simple whore. it was a body, not a lady. but Maddow had insisted.
The presentation droned on. Lee Maddow told the story of the poor damaged young lady who had come to him after such a horrific accident. Practiced sympathy, executed with perfection. “ Her name is Mary. And she had tears in her eyes when I refused to assist her. I refused this beautiful young woman. Yes, I am shamed to tell you, ladies and gentlemen. I refused to mend her injuries with steel and clumsy machinery. I refused to Marr her beauty such. Can you indeed find fault in my reasoning? ”
From sympathy to regret to pleading. . He lowered his head and folded his hands in front of him momentarily silent. He waited for the gathered to take a good long look. “This unfortunate girl… Such sweet perfection, ruined.” He let the words fade and allowed the silent young girl on display speak silently for him.
and indeed, she was astonishingly beautiful. There was no denying the perfection. Smooth clear skin, a face to take your breath away, Long silky blond hair had been washed and trimmed and combed so it fell in smooth silvery cascades over her shoulders and down her back. A perfectly shaped, manicured hand showed beneath the single long sleeve of her gown. And showing beneath the hem of a long specially tailored dress they could all see an equally perfect naked foot. the parts of her still exposed by the awkwardly shaped dress shone and sparkled in the sunlight streaming through newly cleaned windows. .
Maddow raised a hand and smiled. He turned toward jenning who stood ready. at a small table next to the carefully propped up woman. On the table, a polished wooden box sprouted cables. No attempts had been made to hide the wiring. They were all part of the show. They connected to the woman with clamps that gripped selected parts of her body. One metal wrist, her one metal ankle, and to a small copper knob protruding where a navel had once been.
That was the one procedure Jenning had nearly refused to perform. When the woman had survived the severing of limbs and the massive blood loss, he had thought that had been it. It had after all been his biggest achievement yet. but Maddow hadn’t been satisfied. Lee Maddow was never satisfied. When Mary had been brought to him, her navel, stomach, and all internal organs had been undamaged. Her flat soft belly had been perfect. It had been so perfect, so beautiful. so…. But who was he to say? Jenning banished the thought. He was ready. The button at the top of the box was ready.
In front of filthy riches and their fleeting attention, Maddow became the salesman, the snake oil pusher, and he continued. “Until today! What I will show you today is simple. It’s a miracle. But a miracle of medicine, not of our great Mother of creation. “Mother of Crow, bless us.” He mumbled quickly. . A few in the audience lowered their heads and mumbled their own quick reverie of the Mother.. some of them even repeated the gesture of infinite sky. Not bad, not bad at all. Less than half were believers. and chances were that more than half of those did it only for show. good. Good.
“this is a miracle of reason and modern science. Because, This woman needs no engine.” He paused for the meaning to sink in. It was unheard of. She was obviously re made. with metals. “That’s right. No motors, no hot steam. As you can see. No permanent wiring. or leaky valves. None of that, my friends. And best of all: There is no need for fuel. No dirty, foul smelling coal or wood or even oil. None of that!” Maddow reached the height of his spiel. he pulled in a deep breath and held it, letting it out slowly. Every eye was on him. and he knew he had them. Simply mentioning the possibility of savings had done it. Fuel , which was a sore point for any machine owner and Every master of metal fused servants, was pricy. And that’s where he got them. Presenting the potential of considerable savings to those cheap bastards would give him all the funds he would ever need. From this point, it was all gravy. The crowd exploded in a cascade of questions and objections. but they were easily answered with non-statements and promises of explanations to come. “This is the future. We no longer need those clumsy contraptions. With this brand new system.” He pointed at the syringe in jenning’s hand and then at the contraption standing at the ready.
Jenning nodded and tried to smile. he was ready. If only the pompous drunkard could get on with it. If it weren’t for the allure of fine compensation, and funds to continue his experimenting, this charade wouldn’t be needed at all. But he would play along. As always. But the beauty of this meeting was that he only needed to pull this crap off this one time. Hook them, and they were home free. once the machinery had started, the humming and electrical sparkling was only for show. The phantomgenic substance was all that was needed. and in fact, the whole thing with the syringe was redundant too. The spirit capturing substance could be ingested, or rubbed directly on the skin. It would work either way.
Maddow continued. “Phantomgenics. Remember you heard it here first. This miraculous mixture Professor Jenkers invented will make fuel simply obsolete. old news. a thing of the past. Ladies and gentlemen. With just a single administration of the phantomgenics, and then” there was a slight pause, maddow realized that his glass was empty so he glared at it. He found his smile and waited for the spectators to quiet down. “And then… an electrogenic pulse will do what steam and oil has done for centuries. This machine,” he swept his arm over the metal grid that hung suspended over Mary’s head, And all the unneeded wiring. “is the future. And this is the moment we have all been waiting for. Dr. Kemper, if you please, do proceed.”
All eyes turned to Jennings. He suppressed a grimace at his new name but turned toward the woman.
“Lord Maddow? If I may?” A thin voice from the back of the room piped up.
Jennings froze. Maddow gritted his teeth and waited for the voice to either go away or continue. it would not go away. The nobility quieted and turned to the speaker. who blinked in surprise at the sudden attention. But he quickly gathered his thoughts and continued. “Apologies dear friends. I would like to ask a question.” He cleared his throat and wiped his brow before blinking nearsightedly at Maddow. “Before you proceed with your excellent and certainly very…”
“informative demonstration. But I seem to be missing something.”
“I would like to be clear on what exactly it is that I…”
Maddow nodded before the man could finish the sentence. “Certainly,” he said, “I’ll be happy to clarify. Please go on.” Okay, Maddow thought, let’s get it over with. His smile never faded. If it stiffened for just a second, few would notice.
“Phantom… genics you say.” The thin man spoke and then moved his lips silently as if searching for his question. “If I’m not misremembering, and I do sincerely apologize if I am incorrect in my assumption here. But Is phantomgenics not simply another name for, how can I say this without causing …. well, I do think that we can all agree that the very name of this process implies a strong association , if not direct relation, to spirit gathering?” his thin eyebrows rose along with his voice. All attention shifted from their host to the little man. A few glances drifted uncertainly to the inert woman, some returned to Maddow, but most remained watching the young Lord Ralph, who they all knew to be something of a trouble maker. Ralph continued. “Of course, this may not at all be what is happening here.”
Maddow struggled for a moment with his face but managed to keep the smile, barely. He cleared his throat, calling for attention. The mystified audience turned to him as one, expecting an explanation. In some cases the aged expression was unfamiliar In some cases they actually wanted to know. The group was divided. In his favour he was sure. Maddow waved his hand and topped up his smile, he nodded as if actually thinking about it. “Certainly, the confusion is understandable. Lord Ralph does have a point. It is reasonable to compare the two and to make that very simple mistake. Especially for someone not inclined toward serious academic studies.”
The thin little man actually seemed to bristle and started to reply but Maddow cut him off with an assuring smile. He nodded. He directed one index finger toward the ceiling, waited. He had hoped to avoid this, but now that it had been brought up, he couldn’t be seen to try to avoid it. “As I’m sure you are all aware of, in this enlightened society, the science of energy and life homo-teneki-thesis, is the basics of the newly developed motor as well as biblioneuric formulaic thinking and it is as you all understand quite basic and perfectly technological in nature.” And since everyone thought that everyone else understood. So they all agreed. Such basic science. Practically more common sense than anything. Naturally. Relieved, the audience resumed their observation of the remade woman and her attending scientist. Wasn’t he the surgeon too? Doctors, professors, they were all the same. What was interesting now was the sparkling needle and how the woman did look very much dead. But if Maddow said otherwise. Who were they to say? Lord Ralph stood helpless at the fringe of the excitement. He glanced around, but no one paid him any mind. He sighed, blinked, and resigned himself to watch. But his intoxicated host wasn’t quite done. Maddow set the final nail in the coffin of Lord Ralph’s reputation. With a tight smile, he finished his impromptu presentation. Never mind that the only one listening, barely, was a minor nobility, who didn’t know his place. “I can assure you that it is not the case. This process is completely different from spirit gathering. “What you, my good man, is referring to is an old theory about the collection and imprisonment of spiritual knowledge. Naturally, that barbaric practice was condemned by the church and banned. Phantomgenics cannot be mistaken for such outdated satanic beliefs. I assure you. What we create here has nothing to do with ghosts and,” he paused to chuckle at the entertaining thought and shook his head. “spiritual adventuring. Such a ludicrous notion. One might wonder where such a distinguished gentlemen could have even heard of such nonsense. Superstition. Surely not, My good Sir.” He raised an eyebrow and waited. Ralph said nothing. With a final cold stare at Lord Ralph, Maddow scanned the room for further questions, knowing there would be none. he turned and waved at Jenning. “If you would, kennings? is she ready? ”
Jenning quickly raised the syringe into position and at a final nod from Lord Maddow he slowly pressed the needle into pale skin, broke it, and slid it into her body. He proceeded to employ the drug, depressing the plunger slowly. At the same moment, he pressed the button on the box on the table. Gasps and and a quikly suppressed yelp from the audience proved the perfection of his timing. The thin metal rods crisscrossing each other over their heads hummed and flashes of bright light swam around the metal, illuminating the woman, bathing the polished metal and shiny silk, creating a better spectacle than Maddow could have ever imagined. A hush fell over the people. A low crackle from the metal grid was the only sound heard for several seconds. the people with the funds to sponsor a bright new future, seemed pale and lifeless in front of the glowing apparition. “Silence please, dear friends,” Maddow said needlessly. All eyes were on the remade woman. No one seemed to breathe as Jenning removed the empty syringe and stepped out of the way. This would be it. A completely new way of fusing man and machine had been born. There was a limitless supply of energy in the emptiness around them all and they had found a way to tap it. Not only to fuel the new types of humans sure to fill the market, but to drive those machines that now demanded fossil fuels and endless maintenance. “Behold, Ladies and gentlemen. See again. There is no engine and no heavy machinery to drag around. Mary?” Maddow stepped forward,. “Mary, my dear, it is time to come back to us now. he raised a hand and placed to fingers under her chin. He turne her face up slightly and leaned closer. As breathless as the watching crowd, he talked to her. “Be alive.”
And in an instant she was.
Jenning’s heart shot up into his throat and started galloping. Mary’s face twitched. then her mouth tightened in sudden awareness. No matter how confident he had been, Jennings hadn’t been sure. he still wasn’t sure she would be fine. Mary’s remade right arm jerked to life and rose with a few uncertain jerks and twitches. But it steadied quickly and she held it in front of her. Not until then did she open her eyes. Her expression was unreadable when she folded one finger and then another. Her body shuddered and she blinked The shudder subsided as the electrogenic sparkling faded and finally stopped completely.
The audience surged forward for a closer look and excited conversations broke out all around Maddow and he grinned in satisfaction. Mary turned to them, suddenly aware of the presence of people. But But they weren’t important. She turned her head slowly to the tastelessly dressed man who stood too close. He wasn’t important either. She ignored him. Instead, she returned to look at the thing in front of her. , waved it and the polished metal threw cold light at her face, intensifying the pale features. Maddow stood in front of her now, preparing to deal with any problems that may arise from an involuntary body modification. But it would be easy enough. Jenning had things at hand to ease the poor girls difficulties to adapt. He smiled and gently took her biological hand in his, squeezing it. Mary didn’t see the man standing in front of her. Not at first as her blurred vision cleared and the thing, that finely crafted abomination that was and was not a part of her transfixed her. What she saw was a hand, perfect in every detailed mechanism, polished and glimmering in the light from the window. A masterpiece of body-modification. A hand that obeyed her with perfect accuracy. It was hers but it was other. she felt the smooth movements when she curled it into a fist. She felt the pressure. she even felt the warmth of the sunlight on the glimmering surface. She saw the thing and she hated it. She knew what had happened. She knew what it was. Mary’s face twisted, turned ugly. The initial moments of horror showed for only that; a rare few short moments where Mary allowed her feelings to show. The pit of grief and disgust, bottomless as it was, flashed in a second of weakness before she clamped down on it. Mary hardened back to her previous self, hard as the steel that now made up a large portion of her body. Cold as the anticipating gleam in her makers eyes. Mary calmed her breathing and returned Madow assessing stare with one of her own. The man who had promised her that this very thing would never happen. The man that had held her as she lay between the rails. Where greedy gravel drank her blood and vision finally began to fade. It hadn’t gone as easy as she would have wanted, but there was no doubt that injuries would kill her quickly. A little bit of planning would have been better perhaps. Placing her neck directly on the rail instead of impulsively walking in front of the oncoming shrieking train would have done the job quicker. But that didn’t matter now. The man who had peered beneath the train, held her one remaining hand in his, and told her that everything would be alright, had betrayed her. Instead of transportation for remaking in one of the prison surgeries, she had taken her destiny into her own hands. But rather than letting her escape, this man had remade her according to his own agenda. She didn’t know how she knew this. she had never met the man before trying to kill herself. but she knew what had been done with her, and why. She looked into his eyes and the Mary that had survived the streets since offering herself for the first time to a man not unlike the man before her, had finally failed. She had failed to die. This man had taken even that away from her. Mary smiled. But it was a smile that Count Maddow had never seen. A smile devoid of life, lacking any emotion other than pure hatred. Mary didn’t dwell on troubles. she dealt with things and never gave in to regret. She had long since lost the ability to love. But the seething hatred for the man who had thwarted her plan to rid herself of people just like him, finally made Maddow look away. His self-satisfied smile faltered and finally died. But before he turned his back to her, he exchanged a quick glance with Jenning who nodded. The meaning was all too clear. “Take good care of our young lady now. We will chat more later. There is much to speak of, you and I. When you have settled in, of course. ” Maddow mumbled, looking at her but directing his words to Jenning. “My Lady. ” He nodded to Mary and kept her gaze longer than was comfortable for any of them. But in the end he yielded, and looked away. His confidence rushed back with another radiant smile and he turned back to his noble guests. Mary stirred uncomfortably in her restraints. But nothing could be done now. She relaxed and it took less than a minute to survey what had been done to her. It was bad. But it could have been worse. she let go of all thoughts of what had perhaps once been. It was easy to let it fade into the nothing that was before. Finally looking away from the lord she turned her thoughts to the now. She had been given a new lease on existence, no matter that it had been against her will, she had gotten another chance. and with that, she had found a brand new purpose. But she would have to bide her time. She would wait and see. and learn. The man who had awakened her with his invention stood watching her, unsure of where to look, really. She was his masterpiece. she was the thing that shouldn’t be. And he had made her. Remade her. A dead whore that he had made into something new. She was his by right. But never had he felt so taken. The breath caught and he quickly pulled a second syringe out of a pocket. The power over her continued existence was no comfort. It was a meaningless power and he knew it. this woman was never his. He may have moved every part of her body, touched every inch of skin, violated her form to the core of her. But she would never be owned by anyone. Not even Maddow. Mary’s cold smile lingered as she looked Jenning over. pointedly ignoring the second needle. Just a man. Men, she could deal with. Jenning stepped closer but she shook her head and spoke softly, so quietly that the excited spectators wouldn’t hear her. “Jenning. I am correct? ” rough from disuse, her voice scraped uncomfortably. Jenning hesitated but nodded. He stepped nervously from foot to foot and couldn’t quite meet her unblinking eyes. Mary sighed, suddenly tired. Her face softened. The icy smile turned warm and almost genuine for the briefest of moments as she focused on the sweating scientists. “I will cause no trouble, Jenning. That concoction of yours will not be needed. ” She glanced at the syringe in his hand. A sedative? A poison? It didn’t matter. and closed her eyes. So tired. so very tired. Her defences fell away and it was suddenly so hard to remain standing. Slowly, she opened her eyes and looked at Jenning beneath charcoaled lashes and innocence. “Jenning. ” She mumbled, tasting the name, finding it appealing. “You saved me. ” She quickly looked down, shuddering in her bonds. Blinked away a sudden tear. She closed her eyes with a deep sigh. She turned her face away from the man and left it at that. It would be a start. A second later any thought of Jenning, The Saviour, left her mind to make room for more immediate matters. She needed to rest and learn about her new body. If her life had been hard and unforgiving before, it was nothing compared to what would come. Rest, bide her time, and then.
next up: Chapter 2 – The choices of butterflies