The Havoc Machine

Free The Havoc Machine by Steven Harper

Book: The Havoc Machine by Steven Harper Read Free Book Online
Authors: Steven Harper
Tags: Speculative Fiction
understand. In any case, Mr. Sharpe, you may be sure that he is watching, and he is expecting you. If you do not come now, he will send for you later and you will come anyway.”
    “Does he employ big men who break thumbs?” Thad touched the pistols at his side.
    “No men. And he won’t hurt you, Mr. Sharpe.”
    “Then why should I bother seeing him?”
    Sofiya halted her horse in the middle of the road, much to the annoyance of the drover in the cart behind her. Thad halted as well. “How many people are in that circus of yours, Mr. Sharpe?”
    “What? I don’t know. Sixty, maybe seventy.”
    “Close friends?”
    “Some closer than others.”
    “He won’t hurt
you,
Mr. Sharpe,” Sofiya said, urging Kalvis forward. “Not if you come.”
    “I see,” Thad said tightly.
    “Applesauce,” Dante said as they rode into the city. The streets were already filled with morning traffic—horses with carts and women with baskets and men with bundles and children with books. Morning smells of bakery and manure and sewer slops and beer mingled together. Church bells pealed some distance away. Sofiya’s horse attracted glances, but not many—automatons were striking but not unusual.
    “Does your parrot talk a lot?” the boy asked as they wove their way up the street.
    “Too much,” Thad said. “And I don’t want to hear a great deal from you, either.”
    “Bad boy, bad boy,” Dante muttered.
    “Tsk!”
Sofiya shook her head. “Such a dreadful thing to say to a child.”
    “He isn’t a—”
    “Ah! Here is the hotel.”
    The hotel was wide and stolid, built to endure the steady Baltic winter. They left both horses in the stable next door. Thad was about to order the boy to stay there as well, but Sofiya took his—its—hand with an air of forced no-nonsense and led everyone inside past the desk man to a door on the second floor.
    “Stay here,” she said, took a breath, and went into the room beyond. Thad felt guilty, as if he had sent her to take a punishment he himself deserved.
Don’t be an idiot,
he told himself, and waited in uneasy silence with the boy in the hallway. The floorboards were scuffed but clean, and glass-paned windows at either end of the corridor let in dim light.
    “Have you killed a lot of clockworkers?” the boy asked.
    “Yes,” Thad replied shortly.
    “Is it hard?”
    “Sometimes.”
    “Do you like doing it?”
    That question caught Thad off guard. “I don’t know,” he answered without thinking.
    “Does it make you happy? Your job is supposed to make you happy.”
    “Is it?”
    “In a family, the mother stays home to help the children and keep house and the father goes off to work every day, whistling and happy because he likes what he does and he knows he is earning money,” the boy said, ticking off points on his rag-wrapped fingers. “And the children have lessons or an apprenticeship or they play.”
    “Do they? And what about poor families, when the father takes whatever work he can, and the mother has to work too, and the children as well?”
    “That is very sad,” the boy replied.
    Thad stared. “What do you know about sad?”
    “It was very sad when Mr. Havoc opened up my head and moved things around. It gave me headaches and made me scared.”
    Thad felt his mouth harden into a line. “You are a machine. You can’t feel anything. You can only do and say what Havoc punched into your wheels.”
    The boy didn’t respond. He only looked at Thad for a long moment with those enormous eyes, and Thad found he couldn’t meet them. He looked at the door instead.
    “Doom,” Dante muttered.
    “Shut it, bird.”
    “Why do you keep your parrot when he’s broken?” the boy asked suddenly.
    “He reminds me of someone I used to know.” Thad’s words were clipped.
    “You should fix him. And you shouldn’t be so mean to him. He might leave.”
    “He won’t leave. He’s a machine, and he does what he’s told.”
    “Applesauce,” said Dante.
    The door

Similar Books

Ladykiller

Lawrence Light, Meredith Anthony

The Dead Planet

Jedediah E. Dahl

Sin City

Harold Robbins

Dead Chaos

T. G. Ayer