A Soul's Worth

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Chapter Three

The loud bell woke Warren with a start, and for a moment he brushed it off as imagination and hid his face back in Ben’s bare shoulder. When it rang again, he lifted himself up in a daze until he realized that the unwelcome sound meant someone was at the door.

He flew out of the bed so quickly that he almost fell over, and he dashed across the hall to his quarters and pulled on some clean clothes. He attempted to make himself presentable on the way to the door, where he had to hiss and shoo Cam away from the front window.

“There is a man outside,” it said helpfully. “Shall I open the door?”

“No!” Warren snapped in a panic. “No. Please go upstairs for now. You’re—you’re something of a secret, do you understand?”

“A secret is something that is meant to be kept unknown,” Cam explained with a bright shutter of its eyes and a tilt of its head.

“Yes. Precisely. You must stay a secret. Upstairs, please, quickly.”

The golem complied, its metal footsteps clanking on the steps before it disappeared into the workshop.

With a quick, steeling breath, Warren opened the front door and put on his best servile smile. The young man standing on the front step was dressed in expensive finery from head to toe—his top hat was almost comically tall, and his dark coat hugged his waist fashionably before splitting into tails that nearly brushed his ankles. He wore a pair of gold-rimmed pince-nez and held a long, gold-tipped walking stick at a jaunty angle in front of him. He smiled brightly at Warren as the door opened.

“Ah. Hello there. Almost thought I’d come to the wrong house. Is Sir Edmund Bennett at home?”

Warren felt the blood drain from his face. Sir Bennett could go months without a visitor, and now someone came asking for him the day after he’d been given over to bloody cannibals?

“Ah, Sir Bennett is...indisposed?”

“Oh, I hardly think so. We have an appointment. My name is Charles Wakefield. Sir Bennett was quite insistent that I arrive on this day at precisely ten o’clock. He called ages ago to invite me. I’m to see an invention of his, and perhaps to purchase it from him, if I’m suitably impressed. None of this sounds familiar to you?”

“Sir Bennett sometimes forgets to inform me of his appointments,” Warren answered uncertainly.

“Well I won’t stand about on a stoop either way, lad. May I come in?” Warren wondered about being called “lad” by a man who didn’t seem very deep into his thirties, but it definitely wasn’t his place to question it.

“Oh. Y-Yes. Of course. Apologies, sir.” Warren stood back from the door to allow Mr. Wakefield entrance, his heart pounding. He thought he felt a light sweat beginning on his brow. He cringed when the gentleman called out rather loudly for Sir Bennett and received only silence in response.

“If you had an idea of what Sir Bennett meant to show you, sir, I could find it for you in his absence. I would hate to think you had wasted your time.”

Mr. Wakefield turned back to him with a conspiratorial smile. “It’s supposed to be a revelation,” he said. “An automaton. Absolutely stunningly lifelike, he promised. Suitable for any kind of work around the home, or even as a valet.”

“An...an automaton,” Warren repeated blankly. Sir Bennett’s intention had been to market golems as mere robots? Unfortunate for him that the cost was more than he realized, and doubtless more than Mr. Wakefield would be willing to pay. A hundred thoughts ran through Warren’s head. Should he say Sir Bennett was on sabbatical? Ill? How to dissuade Mr. Wakefield from getting a look at Cam? Did he even want that? He said he was there to purchase, if the product was right.

“Please wait here,” he found himself saying, and he climbed the steps to the workshop and opened the door. Cam was waiting patiently just inside. Warren urged iy out, and he heard Mr. Wakefield’s boisterous laugh as the golem stepped easily down behind him. “This is the...the automaton,” he said, watching Cam for any intention to correct him.

“I am Cam,” it said.

“By Jove,” Mr. Wakefield laughed, walking in circles around Cam and carefully inspecting it. “It has a name, does it?”

“I am Cam,” it repeated. “Who are you?”

Mr. Wakefield looked at Warren curiously.

“Just talk to it,” he explained. “It will understand you.”

“My name is Charles,” Mr. Wakefield said rather slowly, directly into Cam’s face.

“Hello, Charles. Do you like to read histories?”

“I say.” Mr. Wakefield grinned over Cam’s shoulder at Warren. “This isn’t a script?”

Warren shook his head. “Not at all. It’s completely independent and free-thinking. It answers any question to the best of its knowledge, and will ask its own, as you see. It has only been active for a day, so its responses are somewhat limited, but it has the capacity to learn.”

“Positively miraculous,” Mr. Wakefield said, and he looked back at Cam. “I do enjoy a history on occasion. Done a bit of reading, have you?”

“Yes,” it answered immediately. “I have read many books while Warren Hayward was away and sleeping.”

“That’s you, is it?” Mr. Wakefield asked as he glanced back at Warren.

“Yes, sir. It has no need to sleep, you see, so it’s been active all night. I haven’t structured it, so it’s been reading whatever draws its attention. It seems to enjoy history.”

“Enjoys, eh? Incredible.” He tilted his head to inspect the joints of cam’s head and neck, adjusting his pince-nez. “What powers it?”

Warren hesitated for just a moment, but then he said, “A small reactor. It will never need to be recharged, and will last into the foreseeable future. The body itself will likely break down before the reactor. I would show you, but it’s been built to avoid having the chest cavity opened—trade secrets,” he lied with an easy smile, surprising himself.

“Ha! Quite so. Well, it’s a shame Sir Bennett isn’t here; I’d love to take this machine off your hands for the sum we agreed upon. It would be an absolute smash at parties.”

Warren spotted Ben poking his head out of the room behind Mr. Wakefield, but he cleared his throat and kept his attention on the gentleman. “Truth be told, Mr. Wakefield,” he began hesitantly, not positive in the slightest that the words pouring out of his mouth were a good idea, “Sir Bennett hasn’t been home for some time. He told me he was traveling to India for study, and I haven’t heard from him since.” He glanced down at the floor with a humble expression. “I...took it upon myself to continue his work, since I had nothing to do with him gone but keep up the house.”

Mr. Wakefield turned to face Warren then with a curious lift of his eyebrow. “You mean to tell me that you, and not Sir Bennett, built this machine?”

“Yes, sir.”

“What exactly is your purpose here, boy?”

“I am an apprentice, sir. Sir Bennett was to teach me about...about mechanics. I assisted him in his workshop.” Only half a lie.

The gentleman laughed and clapped Warren so hard on the shoulder that he almost stumbled. “Brilliant, lad! What did this thing say your name was—Warren what?”

“Hayward, sir.” He could see Ben staring at him from the hallway door, but he steadfastly ignored his incredulous look.

“Well, if Sir Bennett isn’t here to make good on his promises, Mr. Hayward, then that’s no reason your hard work should go unrewarded, I say.” He reached into his coat pocket and retrieved a billfold, which made Warren hesitate. He hadn’t thought this through. If this gentleman took Cam with him, the golem would surely not be able to keep the truth from him, and it would become clear upon even the briefest inspection that it was only a hollow husk, not a machine. “Eleven hundred pounds was the agreed upon number, I believe.”

“Eleven—” Warren choked on the words, and he could see Ben’s bulging eyes down the hall. “Sir, I—I must be frank with you.”

“Yes? What?” Mr. Wakefield looked up from his checkbook, where he had already touched pen to paper.

“This automaton, it is—it is a prototype. See, here, its jaw is misaligned, and it hasn’t been properly buffed. I can build you another,” he promised, immediately panicking. He purposely avoided looking across at Ben.

“Ah. I see. How long will that take? I have a banquet coming up in two weeks’ time, and this would be an absolute hit.”

“Two weeks? Two weeks...should be plenty of time.”

“Ha! Excellent. Take this as an incentive, then. I expect a timely and impressive product, Mr. Hayward!” The gentleman scribbled into his book, and with a quick tear of paper, handed Warren a bank slip clearly marked with a signature and a promise of £100. He was almost too busy gawking at it to notice Mr. Wakefield’s offered hand, but he quickly recovered and shook it fervently.

“Yes, sir. Timely and impressive.”

The gentleman took one more appreciative look at Cam before he moved to the door, and Warren opened it for him and closed it when he’d gone. He turned slowly back toward the room, feeling lightheaded.

“What did y’go and do that for?” Ben asked in an unbelieving whisper as he moved out into the corridor. “You’ve promised him a golem, Warren!”

“Eleven hundred pounds, Ben. That kind of money will change our lives. That could support us for years!”

“But you don’t know how to make a golem! Except for the tiny detail of it costing a human life!” He leaned in to hiss the last few words, gesturing over to Cam to illustrate his point. “What do you intend to do about that?”

“Well, I’ll—I don’t know. Sir Bennett must have notes. I drew the circle myself; I could do it again.”

“And the whole giving-your-life-in-exchange aspect?”

Warren frowned down at the check in his hand, feeling his stomach twisting into knots. Even just this hundred pounds would be enough to live on for well over a year, but the money would be no good to him dead, and he wasn’t quite so altruistic as to sacrifice himself for Ben’s financial security.

“I don’t know,” he said finally, but he could feel a dark tingling in the back of his mind. “I’ll figure something out.”

“Figure something out? Are you insane?”

“Just—I need some time,” he said, pressing his palms to his temples. “I need some time.” He dropped the check on a table as he moved by Cam and Ben, and he hurried up the stairs to the workshop, ignoring the golem’s protests that that was “Cam’s room” as he shut and bolted the door behind him.

He leaned on the door a moment, raking his fingers through his hair as he scanned the room for something that might help him. He moved over to the bookshelf and began spilling books onto the floor, discarding histories and philosophical treatises and setting aside anything that looked like it had any magic in it at all. There had to be a way to do it without blood magic.

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